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of the American Society for Information Science and Technology         Vol. 30, No. 3        February/March  2004

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Annual Meeting Coverage

Humanizing Information Technology: New Directions in Information Science Practice, Plenary Session 1
by Steve Hardin

Steve Hardin is associate librarian in the Cunningham Memorial Library at Indiana State University, Terre Haute, IN 47809; email: shardin@indstate.edu

The nature of design, digital archives and portals were topics at the opening plenary session of the 2003 ASIS&T Annual Meeting. The session, Humanizing Information Technology: New Directions in Information Science Practice, featured three speakers who approach the issues from very different perspectives.

Jodi Forlizzi, who works with the Human-Computer Interaction Institute and School of Design at Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU), opened her presentation by asking, "What is design?" Her answer design is the "human power of conceiving, planning and making all the products that serve human beings in the accomplishment of their individual and collective purposes."

An earlier generation considered design problems as systematic problems to be solved. Later, there was a growing interest in input from users. Most recently, she said, we have started to acknowledge that the designer's implicit knowledge in solving the design problem is essential.

Forlizzi discussed the role interactive design plays in today's products. It is the process of defining product behavior, including artifacts, services, environments and systems. It engages emotions, evokes experience and fosters social and behavioral change.

Consider emotion and design, she said. Emotion forms the "basement" of our experience. It coordinates planned activity with artifacts and interfaces in the environment. It also evaluates the outcomes of activities.

How do products mediate the emotions we feel? They support our functional and aesthetic needs, yielding different emotional responses. These needs change as we age and change our values.

Forlizzi discussed a robot used to deliver medicines in hospitals the patients regularly decorate it. Something designed to be a tool has an unintended dimension in that it is also fun. We cannot really predict, she said, how someone will react to a product. We can only create the conditions levers for an intended experience. People will always have intended and unintended responses to products; that fact forces products to evolve in the marketplace.

CMU's Project on People and Robots deals with how older people interact with robots. How may a product look? How does it behave? How may it be used? Project participants want to make robotic products that people will use.

She showed a video on The Hug, a project concept. As people age, their physical and social space declines; opportunities for social interaction dwindle. So the researchers created The Hug a soft, huggable telepresent object. Seniors can use hug robots to talk and share hugs with others at a distance. Their hugs begin to slowly warm, creating a comfortable heat. They can even leave "hug messages" for each other. The Hug uses existing technology sensory technology supplemented by communication technology. Small motors provide small vibration. Thermal fibers make the product comfortable, radiating warmth.

In closing, Forlizzi said all this activity shapes our experiences and ultimately shapes human society and culture.

Next, Anne Gilliland-Swetland, an archivist at the University of California at Los Angeles, discussed digital asset management and electronic archives. Digital asset management, she said, frames institutional management activities strategically. When applying this approach, what the institution values most is use. When objects are digital, there are many more ways they can be used; they can be more useful than nondigital objects.

The worlds of digital asset management and electronic archives are overlapping, Gilliland-Swetland said. Digital asset management helps us think about these concerns in strategic ways. She included a personal anecdote. Several years ago, she was recruited from the University of Michigan to UCLA. Her new dean called her and said she'd been approached by Dreamworks, which was looking for assistance in developing a digital asset management system to be the core of a whole new enterprise. In particular, Dreamworks wanted to hire archivists. They wanted Gilliland-Swetland and colleague Marcia Bates to visit the Dreamworks studio and discuss what they wanted to do. At Dreamworks, they were shown concept art to be used in the movie "Prince of Egypt." Dreamworks was building collaboration with various archivists. Animation is very expensive, and a well-designed digital archives management system can help keep costs down.

After completion of a digital archive, there are promotion and distribution issues. Each user may need to retrieve and modify assets. Digital asset managers need to anticipate all the various users' different needs.

Traditionally, the role of the archive has been custodial. But that's changing, she said. In the 1990s, one commentator presented the idea that archives should move from being a storer of information to a presenter of older information. Post-custodial and noncustodial approaches say the value of archives is increased if they remain in an easily accessible location and format.

The digital assets management worldview includes the entire information life cycle, Gilliland-Swetland said. But all the stages of the life cycle occur at the same time.

Digital asset management is value-driven, she concluded. It doesn't draw hard distinctions between different sizes and shapes of archival objects. It deals with a layering of asset accessibility and needs. It also encourages users to use the content and create derivative work.

The final speaker in this plenary session was Brian Detlor of McMaster University, who spoke about library portals and enterprise intranets and the goal of setting up "knowledge portals." He views portals as more than just retrieval systems. They let people create knowledge and share it with colleagues. Libraries that have websites that permit these activities will be more useful than those that do not.

Detlor related that an irate librarian once asked him, "What does a business professor know about portals?" He said he has a good background in this stuff, actually. Chief information officers are real visionaries. Some are even quoting Vannevar Bush. It is exciting to see them "get it," Detlor said. He told the angry librarian the library could create a space in which people could turn to get information.

Just what is a portal? Detlor describes it as a site that provides a path to content and services through a single access point. Its purpose is to help people gain an integrated view of the information. Without a portal, people become comfortable with one or two information sources, he said; a portal lets people work smarter by automatically integrating new information sources. The portal improves information seeking. It creates strategic advantage.

Library portals, he said, are typically described as user-centered, customizable interfaces to collections of library resources. They can include broadcast search tools, electronic reference services (such as Ask a Librarian) and personalization features. They feature enriched content (such as author biographies, book reviews, tables of contents and book jackets) and virtual communities. Consider the Amazon.com world, he said. It provides those things he wishes his library would provide.

Library portals are more than Web-based front ends to library catalogs, he stated. They may be subject gateways and digital libraries. They are environments where users personalize and interact with library resources, using them not only to access information content but also to communicate and collaborate with others.

Detlor mentioned a working paper he helped write, "Fostering Robust Library Portals: An Assessment of the McMaster University Library Gateway" (available at www.business.mcmaster.ca/msis/profs/detlorb/Working_Paper_4.pdf). He said the report was well received; administrators used many of its recommendations to revamp the library website. One idea: reduce library jargon. The report also offers suggestions on better human-computer interaction (HCI). It recommends not structuring the site on the physical structure of the library, which he said is a common mistake. Another outcome was to raise awareness of librarians at McMaster and get them to spend time and resources developing the portal. Creating the portal is not just a one-time task, he said. It is a continuous project. If we don't do it, students will tend to use things like Google and Amazon.com to get their information.

Enterprise portals (intranets) are applications enabling companies to link internally and externally stored information. Enterprise portals provide users with a single gateway to personalized information needs. They include things like express search engines and links to internal websites. They may also feature real-time news feeds, links to external websites (competitors), automated content classification, metadata and update features. The content doubles every 12 to 14 months, so there is no way a human can keep up, he said. An automated approach is needed with librarians helping guide the process.

Detlor defines knowledge portals as personalized browser-based applications that let knowledge workers access information, collaborate, make decisions and take actions. Knowledge portals support knowledge work and signal the potential value of information.

There will be much more on the subject when Kluwer publishes Detlor's monograph, Towards Knowledge Portals: From Human Issues to Intelligent Agents, in 2004.


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