Debbie Rabina

Distinguished Teacher 2011–12

Debbie Rabina is an associate professor at Pratt’s School of Information & Library Science (SILS) located on the Manhattan campus. She holds a Ph.D. in information science from Rutgers University and an MLS from Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

A full time faculty member at SILS since 2005, Dr. Rabina’s research and teaching focus on government information, information law and policy, and information systems of international organizations. Her articles are published in peer-review journals in the field and she is a frequent presenter at conferences. Dr. Rabina’s most recent publications are on European Union information policy, national security, individual privacy and public access to government-held information, and copyright licenses and legal deposit practices of grey multimedia materials.

Dr. Rabina is a member of the Federal Depository Library Council, an advisory board to the Public Printer of the United States, and chairs the New York City chapter of the Government Documents Special Interest Group.

Dr. Rabina teaches courses focusing on content and policies regarding collection, dissemination, and permanent public access to information, specifically Information Services and Sources; Information Policy; Government Information Sources, International Information Sources and Academic Libraries and Scholarly Communication.

After hours Dr. Rabina, a native Manhattanite who spent 16 years in Jerusalem, enjoys hiking, reading books, needlework, and her newly acquired status as an empty nester.

Commencement Speech

Thank you Senate, President Shute, Associate Provost Zikopulos and most of all, thank you students.

To some of you in the audience today, it may be news to hear that Pratt has a School of Information & Library Science, SILS. We are a relatively small school at Pratt, but our impact is felt across the Institute. While we are proud that if you are hearing of SILS for the first time, you hear of us in the context of our excellence in teaching, I would like to spend the next few minutes talking more generally about the place where art, design, architecture, information, and life meet.

If necessity is the mother of innovation, then certainly the necessity behind every innovation you will contribute to the world- be it in the fine arts, photography, graphic art, package design, or the many other fields you are now educated in- is a strong information system which the innovator relies on. Information facilitates our human drive for self-improvement and innovation.

Libraries and information sources often fall victim in times of financial hardship. At a time when people most need access to information in areas related to employment, career development, or education, library and information services, which guarantee permanent public access to information sources such as the Statistical Abstracts of the United States or, are no longer being funded.

Just a few weeks ago, I heard Provost Barna talk about his vision for the future of Pratt. He described what we do here as “making the invisible visible,” and provided an example of recent work with data visualization by human geographer and spatial information designer Laura Kurgan. Kurgan’s work uses underlying data sets from the Statistical Abstract, made available to the public through the work of information professionals in thousands of libraries and other information-based institutions.

As information professionals, we are dedicated to collecting, disseminating, preserving, and providing permanent access to public information. Scores of people worldwide use this information to draft policies in all areas of our work, to inform decisions, and to support innovation and creativity in multiple fields, including the arts.

Over the generations, information professionals with specialties in cartography, in metadata, in geographic information systems, in data management, in indexing, and in knowledge organization, have created those information systems that are behind Google Maps and Google Earth, and every GPS we use.

They come to Google through open-access collections made available by librarians and information professionals across every field, in thousands of universities and research centers, media centers and museums, governments, cultural and scientific institutions across the world.

This is where our graduates are. They are at university libraries and public libraries, and in the Smithsonian and in law libraries, and in the Library of Congress. They are in the Brooklyn Museum and at the Frick, in Entertainment Weekly, in ABC News, and in StoryCorps. That is where our graduates are.

While the bulk of human wisdom nowadays come in electronic form, it comes to our hands through the work of information professionals such as SILS graduates. When we think of Wikileaks, we think of it primarily as a collection. We see our responsibility in preserving this collection and making it available for building public access collections such as the Internet Archive, the Wayback Machine, the Hathi Trust and others.

Information professionals take data- and increasingly this is unstructured data such as pictures, videos, or tweets, data that it is no-one’s job to manage- and we make it our responsibility to manage it.

Libraries and information are about connecting and communicating. Connecting people to information, and through that connecting people to people, people to art. We allow conversation to develop between individuals and their environment, through information. The right access information is so cherished by Americans that it provides the basis for the First Amendment and is protected several times in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Information professionals provide something that is intangible, and thus often get overlooked. Our role is, as Provost Barna said, to make the invisible visible, to disseminate it in the great vastness that is the world’s digital library, such that you may use it to propel the art, creativity, and innovation which you create. Think of the underlying structure of information, the collection and preservation and sorting of information that allows you to locate data when you need them, ad think of the information professionals who make it possible.

This award may have my name on it, but I could not have become the teacher that I am- and trust me, I am not paying lip service here- without the support of the SILS faculty. Dean Giannini, whose ethical conduct and commitment to academic freedom creates an environment where I am able to thrive, deserves some of this recognition, as do my colleagues at SILS, who include librarians, information professionals, programmers, educators, philosophers, and musicians, and with whom I regularly discuss ideas for teaching and research which expand the extend of my teaching and research practices

And finally, to our students, I want to thank you with a quotation from the Talmud: “From all those who have taught me I have learned. A great deal I have learned from my teachers; from my friends- even more than my teachers, and from my students, most of all.”

Thank you for this honor, and congratulations to you all.