Accept no substitutes

Steve Cisler – first Internet librarian

Steve Cisler in 2007

I just heard via twitter that an old net.friend had died.

I met Steve Cisler at INET 93 when he was working for Apple as their digital libraries guy. Steve saw the Internet as a great place for public libraries even then. He had been involved in WAIS, Gopher and other projects already having helped the Blacksburg Electronic Village get started with an Apple server.

For a while I saw a lot of Steve and then our paths diverged even though I was becoming more of a library person and he was becoming more of a technology person. Luckily for us all, Steve kept his librarian identity as his technology skills and his abilities to evaluate how technology works in the human worlds to the too soon end.

But to say that Steve was a technology person misses many points.

In 2004, Steve took his “Unconnected” trip across the USA during which he visited with unconnected people and remained unconnected himself. Luckily his Unconnected blog — kept by someone else — kept us in touch with his travels and we can still read his reports today.

Steve started another blog in February 2005. Originally for a conference at Santa Clara University, “Digital Divide or Digital Commons: Toward Global Knowledge Sharing,” the digitalcommons blog continued long beyond the conference until December 2007.

Steve was very excited by the One Laptop Per Child, but he also had reason to have that enthusiasm tempered by his experiences in the Third World as is seen here in an article he posted on the OLPC News in October 2007, “A Short Movie About Information and Communications Technology.”

Steve identified himself in this way at the iCommons wiki (hosted on ibiblio):

Steve Cisler is a librarian who has worked on community network projects in the 1990’s and has worked on ICT projects in Guatemala, Ecuador, Jordan, Uganda, and Thailand, as well as rural parts of the United States. From 205-2006 he chaired a working group on “Piracy in the Pacific Rim” for the Pacific Rim New Media Summit during the Zero One art festival in San Jose, California, in August 2006.

He works for the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Santa Clara University and has started the KnowledeX project to network social entrepreneurs who have participated in training at Santa Clara University. He is also interested in the organizations and institutions such as public libraries which strive to open the world of knowledge to all users, but still operate inside the existing copyright regimes. In other words, groups that are on the borderland between open source/information and proprietary information and knowledge.

His web log is

No surprise in many ways that I would learn of Steve’s death via the latest connecting technology from a mutual friend, Howard Rheingold and later verified by Andy Carvin. Steve was connected to us deeply even when he was unconnecting.

Some of Steve’s friends have been posting their memories of him here.


  1. Andy Gordon

    What a loss. Steve has always been among the most predictably interesting and thoughtful contributors to the development of and conversations about information technology and its consequences. He was never afraid to stand outside the consensus and to say what was on his mind, in a genial but uncompromised way. We will miss him terribly.

  2. judith pepper

    Steve Cisler was an inspiration with the development of La Plaza Telecommunity in Taos, New Mexico. Steve offered this technical neophyte encouragement, advise and always commitment to building community technology, particularly for those in the Digital Divide. His quiet poise and dignity carried so much weight in the world of information and community technology. I celebrate his life by sending a huge kiss and thank you to him and his family for sharing so much of his knowledge with so many.

    Judith Pepper
    Past Executive Director
    La Plaza Telecommunity

  3. Philip Cooley

    Steve was a classmate of mine and Northwestern. He taught me about more stuff than any of my professors. I just learned of his death via the Nortwestern alumni news. I am sorry I did not maintain closer contacts. He will always be in my hreart.

  4. Dreamer


    I liked his “unconnected” blog when he was the owner…

  5. mark semmens

    for seven years ,prior to migrating to tasmania to help pioneer wine,I numbered Steve Cisler as my best mate.We met and partnered winemaking over a crate of Napa cabernet Sauvignon.A more fascinating individual,i’ve never known. steve majored in comparative religions at Northwestern. both of us being passionate about,we started the Contra Costa wine group, amateur winemakers,going strong now with membership closed at eighty. He easily enthralled,a well read librarian.We kept in touch for awhile via aerogrammes,seemingly, he reverted back to that mode of communication,tossing e-mails aside.I can imagine the things he world of done ,travelling the world with Apple.Peace corps all over again. so many people were lucky to get to know that tall, fain dinkum,kentuckian. good onya matey,you done the planet proud.
    Mark Semmens
    Deviot, Tasmania

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