SoIC News

Rob Kling Passes Away May 15th, 2003

Rob Kling


Rob Kling, Ph.D, 58, IU's Professor of Information Systems and Information Science at SLIS and Director of the Center for Social Informatics

May 16, 2003

Bloomington, Ind. - Rob Kling, Ph.D., Indiana University's Professor of Information Systems and Information Science at the School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) and Adjunct Professor of Computer Science, passed away unexpectedly Thursday morning in the pre-dawn hours of May 15th. He was 58 years old.

Indiana University's Dean Blaise Cronin at SLIS says, "Rob Kling's accomplishments are legion, and well documented. He was quite simply the brightest bloke with whom I have had the pleasure of working. Infectiously curious, playfully serious, razor sharp, generous of spirit, and wonderfully open-minded."

A brilliant scholar and prolific writer, Dr. Kling is described by another colleague, Alan Dennis, from IU's Kelley School of Business as "an icon in our field having spent time at the Stanford Research Institute, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, UC Irvine, and most recently here at Indiana University."

Dr. Kling directed an interdisciplinary research center at IU, the Center for Social Informatics (CSI). He served as the Editor-in-Chief of The Information Society (TIS), both a scholarly and mainstream publication for the information technology profession. He also served on the editorial and advisory boards of several scholarly and professional journals including, European Journal of CSCW, Information Technology and People, Social Science Computer Review, and Accounting, Management and Information Technology.

In addition to his scholarly pursuits, Dr. Kling directed the SLIS Master of Information Science (MIS) Degree Program, and oversaw program planning and student recruitment. Among the courses he taught at SLIS were Computerization in Society, Digital Libraries, and the Seminar in Information Science.

"Dynamic enthusiasm is insufficient to describe how Rob approached everything in life," says Debora Shaw, Associate Dean at SLIS. "His analysis and insight transformed the trivial to significant, providing, among other benefits, the foundation for the field of social informatics. Rob's friends, colleagues, and students have been stunned by our loss of a guide whose ideas challenged and encouraged us to accomplish more than we thought we could."

Dr. Kling's research interests were extremely wide-ranging. Since the early 1970s, he had been a leading expert on the study of social informatics which investigates aspects of computerization — the roles of information technology (IT) in social and organizational change and the ways that the social organization of IT is influenced by social forces and social practices. Dr. Kling studied how intensive computerization transforms work practices and how computerization entails many social choices. He early observed that complex information and expert systems are integrated into the social life of organizations and conducted studies in numerous kinds of environments, including local government, insurance companies, pharmaceutical firms, and high-tech manufacturing.

He had a far-reaching impact on the professional worlds of social informatics and information technology. In a flurry of e-mails — entirely appropriate to Dr. Kling's passion for the socially transforming nature of online communications — colleagues from around the globe are responding to his untimely demise with initial reactions: "such an original thinker," "he is truly a hero in our community," "he had a deep concern, personally and professionally, in the welfare of the public and the impact that technology has on quality of life," "a great man and a person contributing so much," "a presence larger than life," and "a brilliant and creative colleague... but more importantly he was a good friend who took the time to support and mentor those who sought him out. He will be missed for his academic contributions, his leadership, and his perennial good nature."

Dr. Kling was co-author of Computers and Politics: High Technology in American Local Governments (Columbia University Press, 1982) which examined how computerization reinforces the power of already powerful groups. He was co-editor of PostSuburban California: The Transformation of Postwar Orange County (University of California Press, 1990). The book examines the way that Orange County California is organized in a new social form beyond the traditional city and suburb, one that is spatially decentralized, functionally specialized, and mixes a rich array of residences, commerce, industry, services, government and the arts. PostSuburban California won the Thomas Athearn Award from the Western Historical Society in 1992 and was reissued in paperback in 1995.

Kling also co-edited Computerization and Controversy: Value Conflicts and Social Choices (Academic Press, 1991), exploring the social controversies about computerization in organizations and social life regarding productivity, worklife, personal privacy, risks of computer systems, and computer ethics. (Dr. Kling is the sole editor of a substantially rewritten 2nd edition of Computerization and Controversy published in 1996).

Computerization and Controversy is a uniquely valuable collection of writings that marked the beginning of the field Rob named social informatics. He continued to write seminal articles on the value conflicts implicit in and social consequences of computerization, and was recently studying the effective use of electronic media to support scholarly and professional communication.

SLIS Associate Professor Howard Rosenbaum remarks, "Rob was a man of towering intellect who was very generous with his ideas. His intellectual curiosity and capacity for work have been inspirational. I often wondered how could one person know so much about so much and then realized that one of Rob's gifts was a prodigious memory — he seemed to remember everything he had read and could call up ideas and their authors at will. His academic integrity and rigorous standards made those of us around him every day better as he led by example."

Dr. Kling's research has been published in over 85 journal articles and book chapters. He presented numerous conference papers, gave invited lectures at many major universities and the National Academy of Sciences, and presented keynote and plenary talks at conferences in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. He consulted for private firms, non-profit organizations, the Congress of the United States, and foreign governments about the opportunities and problems of computerization. In the late 1990s, he served on the Executive Committee of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Committee for Computers and Public Policy, the American Sociological Association's Committee on Electronic publishing, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science's (AAAS) National Conference of Lawyers and Scientists.

Dr. Kling organized special workshops about the social and managerial aspects of computerization, served on the program committees of several major national conferences, and was Chair of an International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) working group on the Social Accountability of Computing. Dr. Kling was a visiting Professor at the Copenhagen School of Business and Economics and at the Solvay School of Business at the University of Brussels, as well as a Research Fellow at Harvard University's Program on Information Resources Policy and a Visiting Researcher at the Gessellschaft fr Mathematik und Datenverarbeitung in Bonn, Germany.

Dr. Kling's scholarly and professional accomplishments have been recognized nationally and internationally. In 2001, he was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1987, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Social Sciences by the Free University of Brussels. In 1984, he received a Service Award from the Association for Computing Machinery. In 1983, he received a Silver Core Award from the International Federation of Information Processing Societies.

Kling was born in August 1944 and grew up in Northern New Jersey. He completed his undergraduate studies at Columbia University (1965) and his graduate studies, specializing in Artificial Intelligence, at Stanford University (1967, 1971). Between 1966 and 1971 he held a research appointment in the Artificial Intelligence Center at the Stanford Research Institute. He held his first professorship in Computer Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1970 to 1973. He was on the faculty of UC-Irvine 1973-1996 and held professorial appointments at UCI's Center for Research on Information Technology and Organizations and Graduate School of Management. In August 1996, he moved to Indiana University-Bloomington as Professor of Information Systems and Information Science.

The family has established a SLIS scholarship at the IU Foundation in Rob's memory: the "Rob Kling Social Informatics Scholarship Fund." SLIS has provided matching funds. Individual contributions can be made to the fund in his memory. To ensure that the funds are directed to this purpose, checks should be made payable to the "IU Foundation" with the name of the scholarship fund on the memo line.

Mail to:
Indiana University Foundation
P. O. Box 500
Bloomington, IN 47402

If you have questions about the scholarship fund:
(812) 855-8311

Dr. Kling is survived by his wife, Professor Mitzi Lewison of Bloomington, Indiana and his sister Ellasara Kling of New York City. The family welcomes friends and colleagues to call at the house over the next week.

His wife, Mitzi will organize a "Celebration of Life" in honor of Dr. Kling in the near future. SLIS is planning a memorial event for the early Fall. Information about these events will be available through SLIS.

Photographs, comments, and reminiscences about Dr. Kling from friends are available online at: Those who would like to add comments should send SLIS e-mail to


SLIS's Cronin says, "He added so much to the life of our school and IU in a relatively short time. He enthused and inspired us all, young and old, seasoned and wet behind the ears. I cannot bear to think that the Big Man's face will never again peer around my door. Those of us who have had the pleasure of working with Rob Kling know just how fortunate we are."

Eleanor Wynn from Intel Corporation recalls, "Rob was a long-time member of US ACM, and served actively as a member of the Executive Committee for many years. He had a deep concern, personally and professionally, in the welfare of the public and the impact that technology has on quality of life. Rob will be missed." She adds, "Rob was personally important in my life. I have known him since about 1980. He was a great leader in the field of information systems and social informatics. His journal The Information Society was unique and an especially valuable contribution."

One of his former students, David Marshall Bricker, when trying to describe to an IU co-worker the far-reaching impact that Dr. Kling had in his profession, reflected, "Rob Kling was like the Albert Einstein of social informatics."

Related Internet Links:


Media Contacts:

Diane J. Squire
Director of Marketing and Communications
Indiana University, SLIS
School of Library and Information Science
Phone: 812-855-5530
Fax: 812-855-6616
Emails: or

David Marshall Bricker
IU Media Relations
Indiana University, Office of Communications and Marketing
Phone: 812-856-9035
Fax: 812-855-7002
E-mails: or

See Additional Story:

Indiana Daily Student (reposted with permission)
Tuesday, May 20, 2003
SLIS professor dies at 58: Kling remembered as a 'team player' and an 'inspirational' force in education

Posted May 16, 2003