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July 2, 2007 |

Today I lost a dear friend and colleague, Peter Lyman. My heart goes out to Peter’s family.

I had been working with Peter for three years now, on a large ethnographic project that has taken up the majority of our work days over that period of time. It’s hard for me to imagine carrying on without working side-by-side with Peter, but we will eventually, and the project will become one of the many important legacies of Peter’s time on this planet. Peter’s contributions to scholarly life were unique in that they ranged to from foundational theoretical work in social science, to empirical studies that captured new trends in information science, to practical interventions in institution building. In addition to his work in the academy, Peter advised a wide range of organizations such as Sage Publications, the Research Libraries Group, and the Internet Archive. I was always inspired by his ability to navigate multiple social worlds, and understand the texture of culture, technology, and social institutions as an integrated fabric.

I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to get to know Peter and work with him, though our time together was much too short. Even though I knew him through many of the most difficult years of his life, when he was struggling with brain cancer, Peter never lost his serene and warm approach to life and to work. While I fretted and fussed, Peter never lost perspective on the bigger picture of why our work was meaningful, at the same time, always putting his students and colleagues first in his decision making. Even in his very last days, Peter made sure that we were all taken care of, conveying his love an affection to the people close to him at every opportunity he had. I look at Peter’s relationships to his friends and family, and his stunning poise in the last days of his life as a model that I will always strive to emulate.

One of Peter’s colleagues, Nancy Van House asked us to collect our memories about Peter, and here is some of what I wrote:

I first met Peter on a clear, balmy day in San Francisco in August 2004. I was attending a meeting at the offices of the Exploratorium, to discuss the pilot project that the MacArthur Foundation had funded on learning and digital media. It was a day of fateful encounters.

Peter was just leaving the offices to go for a walk along the water with Alison Billings who was one of his M.A. students at the time. I had been looking forward to meeting Peter because I had heard a lot about him from his advisee danah boyd who I had gotten to know just a few months earlier. After Michael introduced us, one of the first things Peter said was “I think we should work together!” I didn’t realize that with that he had officially brought me into the fold. I also learned later that this warm and welcoming approach, particularly to junior scholars is one of Peter’s signatures. During the meeting, he had Alison present on the work that they had done together, noting that his greatest pleasure in doing this work “was so I could work with smart young people like Alison.” Later I got to know Alison, as well as all of the other Master’s students that had helped with that pilot research. And I came to understand Peter’s ethic of supporting his colleagues and students which has been an ongoing theme throughout our years working together.

It was such a bright and beautiful day, and a gorgeous view out by the water. I pulled out my camera phone to capture the moment. I don’t do that very often. Even though I’ve lost track of that camphone picture, that moment of walking in the cool breeze of the marina with Peter, Michael, and Alison is still etched so clearly in my mind.