The Smithsonian Institution announced plans yesterday for a massive exhibition called "The Information Revolution," to be housed in the National Museum of American History on the Mall. It will be the most expensive exhibition in the museum's history.

Smithsonian Secretary Robert McC. Adams told a press conference that the planned exhibition on computers and other advanced communications technology, which is meant to open in 1989, will be three to four times the size of the Smithsonian's existing computer exhibition. It will require a $4.3 million fund-raising campaign, and Adams said he began meeting yesterday with industry officials to solicit contributions.

Adams said the Smithsonian decided to plunge into the expanded exhibition "because of the rapidity with which the 'Information Revolution' is changing our world.

"In the hindsight of history," he continued, "this proliferation of new ways in which to think about and use information will almost certainly be seen to rival the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century in its impact on the substance and quality of human life. We might well regard the information explosion as the dominant achievement and characteristic of our times. The Smithsonian Institution can do no less than help the American people gain perspective on these profound changes and feel at home in what can properly be called a new information age."

The planned exhibition, Adams said, may be only a first step in meeting this need. "Years away, perhaps still over the horizon, but potentially more responsive to the magnitude of the challenge, we envision the possibility of an entire museum devoted to the information age."

A computer museum has already opened in Boston. Adams said that the Smithsonian's exhibition will be aimed more at the general public than that one is.

"More than 5 million people visit the Museum of American History" each year, he said. "Yet many of these visitors are wholly unfamiliar with computers and other modern information technologies, some perhaps even fearful of them."

The exhibition will be housed on the first floor of the museum, which already has thousands of objects relating to the subject. Among them, museum spokesmen listed "an original, pioneering Hollerith punched-card tabulating system (used to compile results of the U.S. census of 1890), sections from the Harvard Mark I (one of the machines that introduced the beginning of large-scale digital computation), the UNIVAC I (which enabled nonscientists to engage in computerized general-purpose data processing) . . . the Bell telephone, experimental apparatus used in the development of the first transistor, early silicon computer chips, the first laser and Telstar (the first commercial communications satellite)."