Get to Know SIG AH: Arts and Humanities

SIG AH logo

SIG AH logo (courtesy SIG AH)

Our next interview in the “Get to Know A SIG / Get to Know a Chapter” series—after an unplanned delay—is with SIG AH (Arts and Humanities), which “explores the applications of information science to the full range of activities in the arts and humanities.” SIG AH is on the smaller side of our ASIS&T Special Interest Groups, but is no less active and vibrant than many of our bigger SIGs! To learn more about SIG AH I interviewed Jeremy L. McLaughlin, SIG AH chair, an ASIS&T New Leaders awardee, and a graduate student at the San Jose State School of Information. We talked about SIG AH’s areas of interest, the activities they engage in at ASIS&T Annual Meetings and elsewhere, and the benefits of becoming a member and volunteering to help out with the SIG. There was also a particular emphasis in this interview on SIG AH’s engagement with their members. We hope this interview allows you to get to know SIG AH better, and perhaps become interested in volunteering to help them out with their events, activities, and other initiatives!

About SIG AH

Adam: So how long have you been a member of ASIS&T, and then how long have you been a member of SIG AH?

Jeremy: I’ve actually only been an ASIS&T member for about a year now. And I originally got involved through the Student Chapter at San Jose State. Then I applied for a New Leader Award, and I had known that I wanted to be part of SIG AH, so as part of that New Leader Award I mentioned specifically that I wanted to be involved with SIG AH, in that capacity, as a New Leader as well. That’s how I became involved more formally with SIG AH, and attended the 2014 ASIS&T Annual Meeting, and spoke with the previous chair, and became the new chair for the next two years.

Adam: So basically in both cases your membership has been pretty short, right?

Jeremy: Yes, exactly, in both… I’ve only been an ASIS&T member for, geez, it’ll be a year this month so it’s not even a full year yet! [chuckles]

Adam: Right. But then when you apply for a New Leader Award, when you want to get involved, that’s usually what ends up happening, right? So congratulations, definitely!

…that’s the great thing about ASIS&T, in general, is you can jump in on your own, or there are various opportunities like awards that you can be involved in that help push you in.

Jeremy: Yeah, thank you! You’re exactly right, that’s sort of the point; you can either jump right in on your own—and that’s the great thing about ASIS&T, in general, is you can jump in on your own, or there are various opportunities like awards and things that you can be involved in that sort of help push you in, in some cases. And in this case, obviously, it’s been a very good fit and I’m very happy working on this SIG. And what I do with the Student Chapter, finding new ways to collaborate and working with other groups, or collaborating with different SIGs and Student Chapters, and growing our visibility overall, it’s very exciting.

Continue reading

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ALISE 2015: Breaking down silos, pouring coffee

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the ALISE 2015 conference in Chicago. ALISE is the Association for Library and Information Science Education. Its members are LIS faculty members, and the research presented mostly focuses on issues related to LIS education. It’s also perhaps the most important place for new PhD graduates (or for those who are almost finished with their PhD) to have preliminary interviews for LIS faculty positions.

This year’s theme was “Mirrors & Windows: Reflections on Social Justice & Re-imagining LIS Education.” Many of the sessions covered issues related to those interested in social justice, such as how to provide information services to traditionally under-served groups and how to handle gender and color differences in teaching and learning. Although the theme might sound narrow at first glance, it actually is something that affects both practitioners and faculty members in LIS, because everything we do has the potential to touch marginalized topics and groups. I hope I’m not violating any copyright rules by posting this, but this cute, bold, and useful card was provided in the conference packets:


The closing speaker was Saskia Sassen, a sociologist who based her talk on her new book, Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy. For me, the most memorable part of her enjoyable but disturbing talk were slides she provided about which entities control the wealth in the world. (Think 1%). It helped me understand a little more about why it has been so difficult for hard-working people to pay for living expenses, especially around the time of the housing crash a few years back. I’m glad I attended the talk, but now I’m questioning all the banks even more!

I was honored to serve as an invited panelist in the opening plenary session, entitled “The Space Between Us: A Conversation with Association Leadership About the Future of LIS Education.” As the name implies, the panel featured leaders from both practitioner and academic professional associations that are either in LIS or related to LIS. Tula Giannini from the Pratt Institute and Sam Hastings from the University of South Carolina moderated the panel. Here is a list of the panelists:

  • Sandy Hirsh (Professor and Dean, San Jose State University; ASIS&T President)
  • Clara M. Chu (Professor, UNC Greensboro; ALISE President)
  • Ronald Larsen (Professor and Dean, Pittsburgh; iSchool Caucus Representative)
  • Barbara Di Eugenio (Acting Director of Graduate Studies and Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois, Chicago)
  • Courtney Young (Head Librarian and Professor, Penn State Univ.; ALA President)
  • Amy Cooper Cary (Marquette University; Society of American Archivists)
  • Diane Rasmussen Pennington (Ashford University, CAIS Vice-President)

And here are some of the points made in the panel, based on my sloppy, disjointed notes:

  • Sandy noted how ASIS&T’s recent name change reflects its push for internationalization, and how its Information Professionals Task Force is making plans to unite the profession.
  • Clara discussed the need to stop “siloing” our professional associations.
  • Ronald presented his statistical analysis demonstrating that there is an increased demand for non-traditional LIS candidates such as Data Analyst, and a decreased demand for traditional LIS positions such as Reference Librarian.
  • Barbara said that computer science suffers from public misconception. (Hint: it’s not all about programming!) She suggested looking into the Computing Research Association and CSAB accreditation.
  • Courtney said ALA accreditation is in place to make sure that our schools are effectively moving forward through strategic planning, and that LIS education should include a balance of research, theory, and practice.
  • Amy emphasized the importance of technical education in archivist training. Fewer Baby Boomer retirements than expected and job cuts are factors that are making it difficult for new archivists to find jobs.
  • Finally, I suggested the need to describe the field differently to prospective students so they would better understand the realities of LIS practice, such as the importance of technical skills, assertive communication skills, and continuous adaptation.

We had a respectable amount of time for discussion after we presented our initial comments. Several audience members brought up great points. We probably could have talked all day, but it was lunchtime. I believe these issues need to become action items rather than just discussion items! The changing nature of the field is undeniable, and our degree programs need to reflect our evolution. Our professional associations can work together and draw on their respective strengths to make sure that our LIS education programs are meeting the needs of students and employers, but exactly how this can be done still seems to be in question. Please provide any ideas you have in the comments!

On a much less challenging note, I didn’t stay at the conference hotel. Instead, I stayed at an amazing boutique hotel a few blocks away called the ACME Hotel Company. It was so amazing, I would even recommend taking a trip to Chicago for the sole purpose of staying at this place. Each room had a chalkboard on its door, so I practiced my artistic skills one night:


And this note was in my room:


Sure enough, I had a thermos of hot, delicious coffee waiting for me at my requested time each morning. The delivery person placed the thermos on the ground, knocked on my door, and walked away, which meant I could grab my thermos and start ingesting my caffeine before looking presentable. The hotel provided real cream and Truvia packets (my favorite sweetener) in my room.

Come to think of it… can I go back?

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On webinars on webinars

How many of you know about ASIS&T’s webinar program? The association provides a wide range of webinars. Most webinars are free for ASIS&T’s members, and they are archived so you can view them at any time. With our webinars, you can learn about new things at any time and from any place. They’re so nice to have when you’re between conferences and you want a professional development fix, or when you can’t attend conferences at all due to time or money restrictions and want a professional development fix. Anyone can attend an ASIS&T webinar, and anyone can propose one as well. They are mostly on educational topics of interest to the association, but some have been used to conduct association business as well, such as meetings for chapter leaders.

Back in 2012, after I had chaired the Webinar Task Force and was chairing the subsequent Online Education Task Force, I presented “The ASIS&T Webinar on Webinars: How to Propose, Organize, and Present a Webinar.” As its title implies, and as noted on the website, this webinar talks about the following:

  • A summary of the fact-finding results of 2010’s Webinar Task Force, and how these results are informing the direction of the new Online Education Task Force and the Education Committee,
  • How to suggest webinar topics for continuing education purposes,
  • Innovative ways in which your SIG, chapter, or other ASIS&T entity can take advantage of the webinar software for programs and business meetings,
  • How to work with ASIS&T headquarters when scheduling a webinar;
  • How easy it is to use ASIS&T’s webinar software as a webinar organizer and presenter.

I was so honored to lead the work on the webinar program, especially since I was appointed by Linda Smith, our president at the time! I’m so pleased to see that ASIS&T has sponsored so many webinars in the last few years. Webinars are an amazing benefit of ASIS&T membership, regardless of your position or status in the field.

Given my connection to our webinars, you can imagine how happy I was to attend the ASIS&T webinar called “Producing Effective Online Programs: Experiences and Lessons Learned,” on January 21. (Shameless self-promotion: my “Webinar on Webinars” was mentioned in the session.) The presentation included tips and viewpoints from Marisa H. Martinez and Jeremy L. McLaughlin, leaders of the ASIS&T Student Chapter at San Jose State University, as well as Karen Miller, Co-Chair of the Education for Information Science SIG (SIG ED). This chapter and this SIG both have an excellent track record of providing quality online programs, and there is quite a bit of wisdom in their presentations. If you had any doubts about presenting a webinar before viewing this session, they should all be gone by the time you’re finished with it.

As much as I want to encourage all members (and non-members!) to attend our webinars, I hope you will consider presenting one as well. We have a wealth of knowledge in our association, and we can can benefit from all that we have to share with each other. We can can get some ideas from SJSU’s talk: not all online programs necessarily have to be webinars.

If your SIG or chapter has an idea for professional development that might not be best presented in the webinar format, let me know about it. As ASIS&T’s Social Media Manager, I’m extremely interested in facilitating the use of the latest interactive platforms and formats to share our association’s cutting-edge ideas, skills, and research.

So, innovate away, and never stop learning… but remember to tell us about it!

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ASIS&T Web Site and Branding Project Status Update

Please see the message below from Kevin Hoffman from Seven Heads Design about the status of our web redesign project. You can view our progress at any time by visiting

If you have any comments or questions about the developing site, please fill out the form at and let us know what you think. Thanks so much!

–Diane Rasmussen Pennington, Chair, Task Force on Web Presence


During December and early January, the Seven Heads Design team has been focused on two major efforts for the ASIS&T project.

First, we finalized the full back end of our WordPress installation, which is highly customized to ASIS&T’s needs. The most complex component of this effort includes integration with existing membership database, so that Chapters and SIGs will not lose any information about existing membership rosters, but the joining and renewing process can be fully automated, not requiring any manual effort on the part of ASIS&T staff members. We’ve also been adding a number of upgrades which simplify and improve this process, including

* User defined avatars (images)
* A much improved form design
* Online credit card payment that works well on any size or type of device (smart phones, tablets, and more)
* Simplified payment rules, removing smaller payments from the process based on SIG memberships and journal subscription type
* Username lookup to prevent an existing username from being reused before the whole form is filled out

Additional customization of WordPress includes the following modules:

* Group profile information (Chapters and SIG’s)
* News and blog content
* Information science pioneers from the history of information science

Volunteers and staff have been inputting and reviewing existing content since the beta launch in November. One of the ASIS&T volunteers single handedly input 40 different biographies of pioneers. Thanks!

The other major effort has been finalizing the branding guidelines and associated materials which govern how to represent the ASIS&T brand in different situations, such as in sub groups, printed materials, and emails/website content. To that end, we’ve developed and rendered every single Chapter and SIG with a simple logo to start with that follows the branding rules. We’ll be making these materials available to ASIS&T members on the beta site shortly, most likely before the end of January.

Finally, we are testing and refining the processes for renewing membership, and the membership directory lookup, and squashing bugs as they arise in our beta. So far we’ve added over 150 bug fixes and improvements to beta site since launch, and we continue to address anything that arises in regular use. We feel confident that we are on track for a formal launch some time in February, at which time we’ll continue to make fixes for anything that comes up after the formal launch for a few weeks.

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Get to Know the Simmons Student Chapter

Our “Get to Know a SIG / Get to Know a Chapter” series returns today with our first featured student chapter! We talked to the ASIS&T Student Chapter at Simmons College, which runs programs of interest to students of the Simmons School of Library and Information Science. The Simmons chapter is one of our most successful, receiving or sharing ASIS&T’s Student Chapter of the Year award six of the past ten years, including for 2014. To learn more about the Simmons chapter I interviewed Linnea Johnson, the chapter’s Faculty Advisor, Manager of SLIS Technology, and adjunct faculty at Simmons; and Anne Pepitone, outgoing Chair of the chapter and a just-graduated master’s student at Simmons SLIS. We talked about the activities that the Simmons chapter offers to its members, the benefits of getting involved and volunteering, its collaborations with other groups within and outside of ASIS&T, and other topics of interest. We hope this interview allows you to get to know one of our most successful student chapters better, and interests you in becoming involved with your own regional or student chapter! (The interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity.)

About the Simmons Student Chapter

Adam: How long have you been a member of ASIS&T and how long have you been a member of the Student Chapter at Simmons?

Anne: I’ve been with the Simmons chapter for two years now, as well as the national chapter for that long.

Linnea Johnson

Linnea Johnson (photo: Simmons College SLIS)

Linnea: 2004 was my final year as a library science master’s student and is also when I became a member. At the end of 2009, I was asked to be the advisor of the student chapter, so my role shifted and it has been fantastic and very rewarding.

Adam: And have you been a member of ASIS&T, the whole organization, the whole time?

Linnea: Yes, I’ve been a member since 2004.

Adam: Sure. And I assume the chapter mostly focuses on the master’s students at Simmons, right? That’s the main target audience?

Linnea: Yes.

Anne: Yes.

Adam: And do you focus mostly on research activities, or on practice, or on a combination of those?

Anne: We like to do a combination of both; that way students get the optimal ASIS&T experience, the practice also with the research.

Linnea: For us a combination works out well. Because my day job is Manager of Technology at SLIS, I try to encourage some of my student team members to get involved with ASIS&T and the student chapter because I think it is a great leadership opportunity for them. Wearing my staff hat, we are already doing a lot of things, in regards to workshops and different programs, which we offer for our students, faculty, and staff. This segue makes sense. Hands-on sessions work out really well, but we also like to bring in practitioners out in the field who can give students a perspective and they can see what kind of opportunities are out there.

Adam: Right, and that makes sense and that’s great. Would you say the chapter has changed a little bit over the course of those years that you’ve been involved with it?

Linnea: For sure. My involvement as the student chapter advisor has spanned the past five, almost six years now, and we have definitely evolved over that time. Before I first got involved, we were certainly doing some activities, but it was not quite as active as we are now. A prior advisor unfortunately become ill and when I was asked to be the advisor, I took it quite seriously. I viewed it as an opportunity not only to increase our activities and outreach, but also introduce or start thinking about some new things to do. Continue reading

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Get to Know SIG DL: Digital Libraries

ASIS&T SIG DL logoOur next interview in the “Get to Know A SIG / Get to Know a Chapter” series is with SIG DL (Digital Libraries), which “provides a forum for discussion about research, development, and use of digital libraries in corporate, academic, and public contexts.” SIG DL is one of the largest of the ASIS&T Special Interest Groups, and one with quite a broad range of interests and activities. SIG DL also won the 2014 SIG of the Year award, as awarded at the recent ASIS&T Annual Meeting in Seattle.

To learn more about SIG DL I interviewed Kevin Comerford, SIG DL chair and Digital Initiatives Librarian at the University of New Mexico, and Virginia (Ginnie) Dressler, incoming SIG DL Communications Officer and Digital Projects Librarian at Kent State University. We talked about SIG DL’s areas of interest, the activities they engage in at ASIS&T Annual Meetings and elsewhere, the benefits of becoming a member and volunteering to help out with the SIG, and their engagement with their members, among other topics of interest. Hopefully this interview allows you to get to know SIG DL better, and perhaps become interested in joining and contributing to their activities and efforts! (The interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity and to reflect additional follow-up conversation with Ginnie that occurred via e-mail after the interview.)

About SIG DL

Adam: How long have each of you been a member of ASIS&T, and how long have each of you been a member of SIG Digital Libraries?

Kevin: I’ve been a member of ASIS&T for two stretches of like seven years each. I go back to the 90s, when I first joined ASIS&T. And I’ve been a member of SIG DL for three years now.

Ginnie: So, I was a member of and started going to ASIS&T in 2008, though I’ve been more involved with the local chapter, the Northern Ohio Chapter. I’ve been part of SIG DL for I think a couple of years, although this year is probably the first year I’m really actively involved.

Adam: So both of you are relatively new, in some ways, to the SIG, in that you’ve only been involved for a couple of years, three years at the most, right? But you’re excited to get involved?

Kevin: Definitely.

Ginnie: Yes, it seems like a good group, I think.

Kevin: Most definitely. When I first joined ASIS&T, before it became ASIS&T (with the T), there was no SIG DL and there really wasn’t a whole lot of emphasis on digital libraries. And I’ve been pleased to see it develop over the years to where digital librarianship has not only gained a presence at ASIS&T, but has really become one of the more interesting forces in developing where the organization is going and providing services to ASIS&T members.

Adam: So somewhat it’s obvious in the name, that SIG DL focuses on digital libraries, right? But perhaps could you be a bit more specific in the topics that the SIG focuses on, and whether it focuses mostly on research, practice, or a combination of those?

Kevin: SIG DL is very wide-ranging in its scope. We cover everything from digital publishing and scholarly communications to digital asset management and research data management. This includes both interests in technology and tools used for various digital librarianship practices and projects, but also in digital library programming and services that are provided through digital libraries. So, we have a lot of, a wide-ranging membership; we have university professors at iSchools, and we have a lot of practitioners who are in one of the areas that I’ve mentioned. Some of them are in cultural heritage, digitization and publishing online, and some of them are corporate, and then we have some in the motion picture industry, and we have some who are actually research data management specialists.

You know, “digital libraries” covers a multitude of sins [group laughs] and on one hand, internally, you know, nobody really knows what a digital library is, because it can be so many different things to so many different people. And so with the programming that we’ve offered, through our webinar series, and through our sponsorship of the Digital Liaisons events, and so forth, we try to be as varied as our membership, and provide a lot of different programs and areas to help provide the professional development that the members are looking for. Continue reading

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ASIS&T’s new website is up!

It’s a soft launch in beta, but it’s up! Check it out at!!!

This website is the culmination of over four years of work for me. When Linda Smith was president, she asked me to chair the Webinar Task Force, which was charged with investigating our new webinar program and making recommendations for future webinars. One of our recommendations was to consider formats of online professional development other than webinars, so we became the Online Education Task Force under Diane Sonnenwald’s presidency. During our work, we realized that we needed to make our online presence in general more unified and updated. Andrew Dillon directed the formation of the Web Presence Task Force, and this Task Force has continued under Harry’s leadership. All Task Forces have sought frequent and wide-ranging input from the membership through online surveys, focus groups, and we’ve written Bulletin articles to update everyone about our processes and findings.

After making the decision to redesign the website, a few Board members drafted a call for proposals, which we distributed widely in the spring. Harry wanted us to unveil a new site at the annual meeting, so we had to work quickly. The Task Force reviewed all proposals, and earlier this year, we unanimously chose Seven Heads Design to create a new visual identity, identify personas that exemplify our diverse membership, write web-friendly content, and develop a WordPress site with custom templates. Kevin Hoffman, founder of Seven Heads, chaired the IA Summit in 2013, so he had already worked closely with Dick Hill and ASIS&T.

We had a kickoff meeting this summer in Baltimore in which a constituency of ASIS&T members and staff worked with the Seven Heads team to think about possible designs that would present content on the home page and develop a visual appearance that would exemplify us. We also had a persona workshop at ASIS&T Headquarters with content specialists to help us focus our message and determine who our audiences are. Dick and I have met weekly with Seven Heads. I’ve posted certain elements of the new site, such as logo options and site organization issues, here on this blog.

The Task Force has been amazing! When we received drafts of deliverables, they worked quickly to provide detailed and thoughtful comments. I would like to recognize my Task Force members: Joseph Busch, Andrew Dillon, Kate Dillon, Beth Lawton, Adam Worrall, and from the staff, Jan Hatzakos, and Dick Hill.

The site is still in beta. Not all pages are fully functional and not all pages exist. We will finish everything up as soon as possible, but we also wanted you to be able to give us comments, and the practicalities behind hard launching a new site right when the meeting is happening seemed overwhelming for the task force and the staff. Check it out.

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Get to Know SIG CON – an exclusive interview with Dr. Puppybreath himself!

While the “Get to Know” series started with our post on SIG HFIS was not intended to continue until after the upcoming Annual Meeting, your intrepid ASIS&T Social Media Contributors were lucky enough to receive a lead one day on contacting the distinguished and illustrious Dr. Llewellyn C. Puppybreath III, perhaps ASIS&T’s most famous member and the permanent and perpetual chair of SIG CON. Tasked with following this lead and with help from Candy Schwartz of Simmons College and Gary Burnett of Florida State University (this year’s SIG CON Program Chair), I was able to have a small number of questions sent to Dr. Puppybreath and, a couple of days later, received an encrypted e-mail from what appeared to be a throwaway Gmail account, presumed to be from the man himself. Unfortunately the password for decryption was unknown, but I figured this was the doctor testing us. Setting to work with the other contributors, it took only four hours to realize that the correct password was blindingly obvious to anyone familiar with Dr. Puppybreath’s extensive oeuvre in information racketeering (as we of course were) and thus decrypt the e-mail to reveal a set of answers.

Having solved the encryption, we are happy to present an exclusive interview with Dr. Puppybreath himself, permanent chair of SIG CON. New or prospective ASIS&T members may not know of the special role that SIG CON plays in the Association, be aware of the areas its sessions and activities cover, the benefits of attendance at and participation in these activities, and how the SIG engages with its members. Even well-established ASIS&T members may find something that engages them in the following interview. We certainly hope that this interview helps everyone to get to know SIG CON, and strongly recommend everyone in Seattle for the 2014 Annual Meeting attends this year’s 40th Annual SIG CON Session on Tuesday, November 4th at 8:30pm!


Adam: Dr. Puppybreath, I hope you are willing to answer our questions so that new and prospective ASIS&T members are able to learn about SIG CON. Perhaps you could start by explaining SIG CON’s special role and history in the Association, and the topics and areas that it covers.

Dr. Puppybreath (we presume): I am certainly willing to espouse the tenets and traditions of SIG CON to those who may have not be familiar with it, although it is, nevertheless, one of those things you simply have to experience to grasp completely. We have been on the very cutting edge of research areas across all areas of information science since our inception, and continue to be so; we are the only SIG that considers almost anything to be within the special interest of our group. In past years we were perhaps best known for advancing the important theories of baloonean logic and titular colonicity, with more recent forays into knowledge mis-management, the murky history of ASIS&T, the secret life of information — not to be confused with the social life of information, which we also discussed well before those social informatics folks came along — and the metaphorical meaning of snowmen.

But we started with the help of Brian Aveney, Sue Martin, and Hank Epstein, and with a focus in the coterminous operation of neo-nodes. Neo-nodes, of course, were the data science of early 1975. Unfortunately, unlike the present example neo-nodes did not trend for very long, and we quickly moved onto concurrently obsolete nomenclature (which remains popular today; we’re now an Association but still retain the A and the S in our acronym!) and conservation of nutmeats (less popular, sadly) for our first session on October 29th, 1975 in Boston. Between now and then we have had many ASIS&T firsts — to say nothing of world firsts, of course — present in the published and unpublished proceedings of SIG CON sessions. I was particularly proud of our 20th session in 1994, the year in which we received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the SIG of the Year Award Jury. Sadly I was not able to make it to Virginia due to, shall we say “legalities”… but welcomed the support offered by attendees and the Jury to SIG CON and for my own troubles. And I apologize yet again to Ralf Shaw. Continue reading

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Place-as-information: Lessons from The Big Easy

#asist2014 is almost here! I can’t wait to see everyone!

But first, I had to go to a conference before the conference, which perhaps gives new meaning to the term “pre-conference.” I’m writing this from a coffee shop in New Orleans. I’m here for the AACE E-Learn conference. I presented a paper called “What does it mean to learn in an online classroom? A phenomenographical analysis of first semester students.” The paper seemed to be received well, and I’ve attended some really informative sessions about the use of social media in education, e-health in education, and other topics of interest to me.

The conference is at the Sheraton on Canal St., right across the street from the Marriott that was the site of #asist2011. I keep looking at the Marriott and thinking about when we had a kazoo-playing contest at SIG CON. It concerns me that I remember SIG CON more than anything else at the conference, but you just don’t forget playing the Imperial March on kazoo with some of your favorite colleagues. You just don’t.

This is my third conference in New Orleans. My first conference here was the American Library Association conference in 2006. It was the first major conference held here post-Katrina. I had reservations about going, but I was so glad I did. It took a long time to get dinner, and you couldn’t get coffee past noon, because there simply weren’t enough people here to meet the demands of so many hungry and thirsty librarians. But I was happy to spend my money here in a tiny effort toward helping this wonderful city recover.

At ALA, I went to the necessary sessions, but I did spend time trying to understand what had happened here in that 2005 hurricane season. I had just defended my dissertation in March 2006, which investigated the image retrieval needs and desires of photojournalism professionals. Some of the photographers who participated in my research covered Katrina and Rita, and the stories they told me were just unbelievable. Seeing the city in person was the only way for me to make the stories slightly more real: The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center was still being cleaned post-disaster; opaque paper covered the glass doors to the non-cleaned sections. (What was behind that paper?) The bus tour I took of the devastation, with the water lines and the spray painted number of corpses found on each house, was unforgettable. The tour guide drove us past libraries that had been destroyed in the flood; he said that while organizations had been donating books, the libraries had no shelves to hold the books. I took my first visit to Bourbon St.; the tacky places and the bars were open, which was somehow relieving to see. I had a conversation with a drunk guy on Bourbon St. that went something like this:

“Are you one of the librarians?”


“That’s great! I’m a librarian from Paris, France!”

(At which point my friend thankfully pulled me away from him…)

During my wanderings at ALA, I found an outdoor elevator somewhere in the Riverwalk Mall/Convention Center area. It was not operational. I took a picture of it. It stood out to me because the buttons were rusty, and there was a dirty coating all over the door. To me, it was symbolic of what this city had once been, juxtaposed with what it was at that point. I spent a long time looking at it.

When I came back here for #asist2011, I made sure to find that elevator again. I took another picture of it. The rust and dirt had been cleaned up, and it was working. For me, it still held the symbol of a city that will likely forever be in recovery.

Yesterday, I went for a walk in the Riverwalk Mall area yet again. I wanted to find the elevator. I was certain I could find it. But I never found it. Over the last three years, the mall had become an outlet mall, and the outside of the Convention Center looked like it had been renovated again. Turns out I was right. I took this picture as I was approaching the Convention Center:


Wooot! Renovations! It’s thrilling to see progress in this city with which I’ve developed an interesting bond, but I want to know what happened to that elevator. Did they tear it down as part of the renovations? Did it look too different for me to recognize it? Did I remember the location incorrectly? I have no idea. I’ll be thinking about it for a while.

While looking for the elevator, a term came to mind: place-as-information. Let me explain.

Many of us are familiar with Michael Buckland’s classic “Information as thing” JASIS article. In the paper, information-as-thing is any kind of information that an information retrieval system can store and retrieve. The other two types of information mentioned in the paper are information-as-process (what you know changes when you learn something) and information-as-knowledge (the stuff that is communicated).

And, also, consider a concept that I’ve been pondering since graduate school that comes from one of Marcia Bates’ papers: “it is not unreasonable to guess that we absorb perhaps 80 percent of all our knowledge through simply being aware.”

In our field, we like to say “information is everywhere.” I interpret this very broadly. My three trips to New Orleans, for example, have afforded me the act of gathering information about this place by simply being aware of what is here and what is happening here. The surroundings provided me with information about the state of the place. Place-as-information is certainly subject to individual interpretation. Watching Katrina news coverage in 2005 and then interviewing photojournalists who covered it influenced my interpretation greatly, but being in this place has given me so much more information.

I never visited New Orleans before Katrina, so I’ll never know what it felt like to be here before the disaster happened. Today, it feels to me like a city that is filled primarily with visitors and people who serve the visitors. I don’t see people downtown who are working in offices or running errands. Was it like this before Katrina? I don’t know. I wasn’t able to gather information in this place at that time to find out.

Place-as-information must be contextual and situational because the place will change based on context and situation. Certainly not every place changes as drastically over nine years as New Orleans has, but it happens everywhere. My current hometown of St. Louis changed the moment the Ferguson situation happened, and it continues to change in Ferguson’s aftermath. It will be different yet again when we’re in St. Louis for #asist2015. I hope you will take the time to notice what information can be gathered from the Gateway to the West when you’re there. You will learn more than you might expect.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’re about to head to Seattle for #asist2014. Pay attention to what information the place gives you. What does Pike Place Market tell you about food? What wisdom does Mount Rainier hold for you? How is the city different with hundreds of information scientists invading its center? Take in the conference, but take in the place too. Yes, this will require leaving the hotel, but if you do it, you will learn something other than what you’d learn attending yet one more session. Read the proceedings paper instead. Be in the place. See what it tells you.

And help me find that elevator.

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Ghosts in the System: LIS and the Unexplained


As we approach the midpoint of Autumn, which signals the end of harvest season (at least in certain northern latitudes) and the impending approach of winter, it’s hard not to think of a holiday that’s a particular favorite of mine. Building upon its historical antecedents, Hallowe’en allows us to engage in revelries and conceal ourselves within disguises that reveal additional dimensions we usually hide from others.

quote-man-is-least-himself-when-he-talks-in-his-own-person-give-him-a-mask-and-he-will-tell-you-the-oscar-wilde-198035As always, Oscar says it better.

It also provides an opportunity to turn our thoughts to things we don’t see in our everyday lives. Whether or not one believes in their existence, it’s difficult to deny the attraction that stories about ghosts and other “paranormal” phenomena have for many of us. Even those who swear by the rigors of science, rather than the vagueries of wishful thinking and admonishments to “just believe,” sometimes can’t resist the draw of horror, science fiction, fantasy, or other genres that take us into realms that offer extraordinary possibilities.

quote-i-can-believe-anything-provided-that-it-is-quite-incredible-oscar-wilde-288227Oscar does it again…

In the spirit of the holiday, and thinking about the near universal appeal of such stories, this posting is a thought piece about how those of us in LIS might consider the needs of people who wish to find purportedly true accounts about unexplained phenomena, as well as the challenges they face in doing so. Indeed, regardless of what one might personally believe, the degree of uncertainty and debate about the veracity of various unexplained phenomena (and stories thereof) can act as a metaphor writ large for many “down-to-earth” information-seeking problems.

“Information Action” and the Paranormal

At least within LIS, the University of Tampere’s Jarkko Kari has done the most research into unexplained phenomena. His 2001 dissertation, a follow-up to his 1996 Master’s thesis, focuses on “the process of information action in the context of interest in paranormal phenomena” [3].

For the purposes of his study, he considers “process” in dynamic terms, rather than in a fixed or static sense. Brenda Dervin’s Theory of Sense-Making acts as a foundational model for his study, although Kari makes some concrete modifications for a more substantive and testable theory related to his topical focus.


Rather than definitively saying whether or not unexplained phenomena exist, whether broadly or specifically, Kari discusses what emerged from interviews with 20 respondents who either subscribed to the Finnish paranormal magazine Ultra or attended Ultrapäivät, a Finnish paranormal seminar. Given Kari’s recruitment pool, his respondents were already quite keen on the paranormal, with a number of them reporting a range of paranormal situations that drove a series of information actions.

Based on the data yielded from his sample, Kari proposes five stages to information action in relation to the paranormal: situation, information need, information source, the information acquired, and information outcome. Given the relatively high level of belief in the paranormal by Kari’s respondents, a fair number of them reported situations with some kind of paranormal aspect or impetus. Furthermore, possible resources may include not just anything “about” the paranormal in a variety of media (which I’ll discuss later), but also purportedly paranormal ones for obtaining such information. In fact, the latter act as a primary focus of subsequent articles by Kari (2011, 2009), and he identifies the information source stage as the point where respondents were most likely to face barriers.

Given that Kari’s study primarily focuses on people for whom the paranormal is an integral, even normal, part of their lives, it seems suitable to consider as well what might drive such an information need for those with a keen but casual interest in the unexplained. Whether believers or skeptics, perhaps they stumble upon purportedly true stories about unexplained phenomena, and then try to suss out which accounts seem reasonably likely to be true and which ones aren’t.

ItchyScratchyDepending, of course, on their respective agendas.

More broadly, Kari gives some justifications for taking such research seriously, including advocacy for more openness to exploring new ideas, the historical and current persistence of belief and interest in unexplained phenomena, and understanding how we think.

Controversial Knowledge (001.9)

Beyond Kari’s work, the topic of information pertaining to unexplained phenomena remains virtually unexplored within LIS. As Kari mentions in his dissertation, this is likely due to the lack of sufficiently compelling evidence within current conceptualizations of science. When scientists study such phenomena, they typically find relatively prosaic explanations to account for unusual experiences. Just to name one example, sleep paralysis has been proffered as an explanation for accounts of alien abduction.

There have been some exceptions among scientists, too. The late John E. Mack, a psychiatrist who taught at Harvard Medical School, came to believe in the veracity of alien abduction accounts. In a different field of study, biological anthropologist Jeff Meldrum examines the possibility that certain cryptozoological creatures, most especially the mythical creature commonly known as Bigfoot or Sasquatch, actually exist. Furthermore, a handful of universities have sanctioned research focusing on such phenomena as extrasensory perception (ESP) and, to a lesser degree, spirit activity. In the case of the former, the primary impetus typically derived from its potentially practical (military and intelligence-gathering) uses, such as remote viewing.

GoatsThe basis for a movie starring Goat!

One is more likely to find unexplained phenomena discussed within the humanities and social sciences. Rather than focusing on whether or not such things exist, however, these fields typically look into the ways they’re symptomatic of the hopes and fears of people within a variety of sociocultural contexts. That in itself is fascinating, whatever one believes, as those kinds of approaches enable us to consider (1) how our “filters” influence our conceptualizations of such phenomena, (2) how people decide that certain unexplained phenomena seem like more compelling possibilities than others, or (3) why certain people are considered sufficiently authoritative and credible within their respective communities centering on unexplained phenomena.

The Unexplained and LIS

Cognitive Authority

It isn’t much of a stretch to think about concepts from LIS in relation to the needs and behaviors of those seeking information about various aspects of the unknown. Given the sharp divide that exists between hardcore skeptics and those who believe in the existence of unusual things (albeit in a variety of configurations), Patrick Wilson’s theory of cognitive authority seems suitable to consider. After all, in whom does one invest authority about the unexplained, or specific domains thereof? What makes that person seem credible? Does one trust the skeptic who relies on current science, or might that person have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo… which might make someone who believes in the unknown (whether based on personal experience or not) seem more compelling… even if such belief might, in a worst case scenario, contribute to bringing about an age of ignorance akin to our worst imaginings about the Middle Ages… which might make more rational explanations for unexplained phenomena seem more compelling yet again?


As mentioned above, persons who believe in the existence of unexplained phenomena have their own ways of conceptualizing that particular domain of knowledge. It seems little surprise, then, that formal categorization practices surrounding them can also have some inconsistencies, which reflect the sociocultural contexts in which they emerge.

On its own, the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system’s treatment of unexplained phenomena provides some interesting examples. (For non-LIS folks, or LIS folks who would like a refresher, here’s a DDC guide from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s library.) From my time working in a public library in the late 1990s, I remember seeing a 1967 book about unidentified flying objects (UFOs) shelved someplace in the 629 section (Other Branches of Engineering). I forget which subsection, but I’m guessing Astronautics (629.4). For what it’s worth, here are the subsections for the “other” branches:

 629.04 Transportation engineering
 629.1 Aerospace engineering
 629.2 Motor land vehicles, cycles
 629.3 Air-cushion vehicles (Ground-effect machines, Hovercraft)
 629.8 Automatic control engineering

Interestingly, the book was published just a few decades after the post-World War II UFO / alien mythology had begun to take off. (The idea of considering the mythological aspects of the UFO phenomenon is the central point of Keith Thompson’s even-handed 1991 book Angels and Aliens.) I’m also guessing that the 629 section offered the “best fit” for the time, at least within a classification system that has always reflected a late 19th century Anglo-American zeitgeist, and that has difficulty accommodating areas of knowledge and understanding that don’t evenly fill out the DDC’s neat partitioning of classes, divisions, and sections.

What made the 1967 UFO book stand out was its physical and conceptual distance from other similar ones, which were right near the circulation desk. As was the case then, one can find a number of relatively newer books about unexplained phenomena in the Generalities class (000), near the very beginning of a DDC-based collection. Books within the 001.9 subsection (Controversial Knowledge) relate to the following sub-subsections:

 001.94 Mysteries (with further divisions for extraterrestrials, cryptozoology, etc.)
 001.95 Deceptions and hoaxes
 001.96 Errors, delusions, superstitions

But that isn’t the only place one can find items about unexplained phenomena. There’s also the Parapsychology and Occultism division (130), with the 133 section (Specific Topics in Parapsychology and Occultism) typically dominating that area. Even individual subsections within 133 are likely to outnumber other whole sections within the 130 division. One example of the latter is the now roundly discredited field of Phrenology (139), which was perceived as legitimate around the time the DDC was created.

Below is a listing of the subsections for 133:

133.1 Apparitions
133.2 Parapsychological and occult aspects of specific things
133.3 Divinatory arts
133.4 Demonology and witchcraft
133.5 Astrology
133.6 Palmistry
133.8 Psychic phenomena
133.9 Spiritualism

For anyone who’s wondering about 133.4, Janet Tapper has written about the presumptions of DDC regarding the “place” of Wicca (now under sub-subsection 299.94), as well as DDC’s lopsided divisions favoring Christianity within the Religion class (200).

Some of the aforementioned phenomena from DDC subsection 001.9 and section 133 reappear in other areas, primarily within the Folklore (398) section of the Social Science class (300):

398.2 Folk literature
398.3 Real phenomena as subjects of folklore
398.4 Paranatural and legendary phenomena as subjects of folklore

Along with some “controversial knowledge” and parapsychological / occult topics, the 398 subsections can also encompass such things as fairies, elves, Arthurian legends, mythical places like Atlantis, and so on. Related to the academic approaches mentioned earlier, the treatment is more likely to contextualize such topics. Also within the 300 class, the 366 section within the Social Problems and Social Services division (360) encompasses works about Secret Associations and Societies. Although not necessarily pertaining to unknown or unexplained phenomena, the 366 section is divided into subsections for specific orders, some of which have been associated with arcane knowledge, rituals, and conspiracies:

366.09 History, geographic treatment, biography
366.1 Freemasonry
366.2 Knights of Pythias
366.3 Independent Order of Odd Fellows
366.5 Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks

This is worth mentioning because some people associate such societies directly with other unexplained phenomena, and can somehow connect Freemasons with (for instance) aliens, demonic rituals, or both.


Even without the kind of conspiracy scenario mentioned above, such phenomena (or perceptions thereof) could be considered fluid after all. Put another way, whatever one believes, the reifications of these categories actually reflect the sociocultural contexts in which they emerged. Or, in the case of the conspiracy scenario above, the reified categories can be smashed together to formulate accounts of malevolent secret doings. In a similar vein, thanks to a pastiche of ideas popularized by sketchy character Erich von Däniken in the 1960s, the “heavenly visitors” from various belief systems throughout the world have occasionally been retrofitted with the kinds of things one might find in the 629 section of DDC.

giorgio_tsoukalos_aliensErich taught Giorgio everything he knows.

Conversely, as pointed out in Thompson’s book about the mythological aspects of the modern UFO phenomenon and related to the fluidity of categories suggested above, stories about elves, fairies, and other magical creatures of yore share some similarities with popular perceptions of extraterrestrials in contemporary times. This idea was initially espoused by computer scientist and astrophysicist Jacques Vallée, whose interest in UFOs stemmed from an incident that occurred one evening while he was working with the French Satellite Tracking Program in the early 1960s, and which prompted his supervisor to order the destruction of the relevant data.

yourenotmysupervisorIf only Cheryl / Carol were there…

Rather than approaching the topic of UFOs as a conventional believer or skeptic, Vallée found it more suitable to analyze the phenomenon from a broader anthropological and historical perspective. However, his approach differed from von Däniken’s heavy-handed ideas regarding the appearance of “nuts-and-bolts” extraterrestrial spacecraft in our past. Rather, Vallée took a more subtle approach, which focused on commonalities among:

… religious visions, mystical raptures, appearances by supernatural creatures, and flying saucers… all sharing similar characteristics and effects on the human observer, depending on the predominant belief structure of a given culture (Thompson 1991, p. 101).

It also challenged this assumption:

… that the mere cataloging of sighting reports would… bring about a definitive resolution to the UFO phenomenon (Thompson 1991, p. 102).

Broader Implications for LIS

Given the challenges mentioned above with categorizing unexplained phenomena, as well as the ways that cognitive authority seems to play a role in considering their veracity, Thompson’s usage of a term typically associated with LIS (“cataloging”) seems quite apt. How can we really categorize something, whether UFOs or other unexplained phenomena, whose nature remains elusive and whose likelihood of existing defies current science? Especially when perceptions of them are tempered by sociocultural and historical lenses, and when persons vested with formal authority tend to downplay them publicly?

More broadly, one could even consider the issues discussed above as sharing parallels with, or acting as broader metaphors for, information-seeking in more “normal” contexts. One example is lay health information, where cognitive authority can be very important, as patients may utilize blogs and discussion forums written by and for persons with the same illness (Neal & McKenzie, 2011), but which might be at odds with (or act as complements to) content from more formally-recognized resources like medical databases.


Whether with regard to unexplained phenomena or more down-to-earth matters, we need to consider more closely how to enable people to find information that’s most useful to meeting their various needs. They include the extent to which:

  • we should guide people to resources with varying kinds (if not levels) of authority, even if we might be personally skeptical of some of them,
  • we can achieve an appropriate balance among such resources, and
  • we can enable people to find the “best” second-hand information possible, which they can synthesize with their firsthand experiences, as well as second-hand information they’ve already acquired.

As well, we should consider the ways sociocultural constructs, including forms of categorization, might be driving perceptions of such needs.

Considering the central topic of this posting and its metaphorical aspects, it seems no wonder that the library as an institution (and, I suppose by extension, IS) has often been portrayed in the broader media as a place that can invoke a number of fears, ranging from the Kafkaesque to the downright spooky. Drawing upon Michel Foucault’s thoughts regarding discourse, Gary and Marie Radford (2001) discuss this idea in an article that’s also worth a read.

With all that, I wish all of you a Happy Hallowe’en!

Now to start looking for the hidden projector that keeps flashing at me an image of a librarian in Victorian clothing…

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