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Magazines > Information Today > January 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 20 No. 1 — January 2003
Report From the Field
ASIST 2002 Annual Meeting
By Robin Peek

"Information, Connections, and Community" was the theme of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIST) 2002 annual meeting, chaired by Edie Rasmussen of the University of Pittsburgh. The event was held November 18­21 at the Wyndham Franklin Plaza Hotel in Philadelphia. It attracted an audience of approximately 1,000 people. 

As is typical at an ASIST conference, the 43 Special Interest Group programs, 49 papers, and 17 posters covered a broadspectrum of topics. The 69 sessions included presentations on information retrieval, bibliometics, knowledge management, scholarly publishing, and social issues. 

There was one rather unusual session worth noting. "Touch, Talk, Think—Technology" was hosted by the ASIST Special Interest Group on Human Computer Interaction. This panel session was designed to create a "knowledge share-in" in which participants had the opportunity to get involved in an educational Web portal and be part of a "Delphi Study-on-the-Fly." 

Plenary Sessions

The opening keynote, "Openness, Privacy, and National Security Post 9/11," featured Lee S. Strickland, career attorney and U.S. intelligence officer, and Thomas Blanton, executive director of the nongovernmental National Security Archive. They talked about what is a "public" record and discussed contradictions between openness/transparency principles and security concerns. 

The plenary session was given by David Snowden, director of IBM's newly formed Center for Action Research in Organizational Complexity (CAROC). He discussed the success using archetypes that cite oral history as alternatives to intellectual capital management systems. Snowden explained how CAROC is "creating focused interactions between many sources of knowledge to enable the emergence of new meaning and insight." 

Scholarly Publishing

During the session titled "The Role of Unpublished Research in the Scholarly Communication of Scientists: Digital Preprints and Bioinformation Databases," Travis Brookes of SPIRES argued that e-prints have become the published works in high-energy physics because citations show that's where the action is. Researchers read e-prints, not journals. Brookes claims there's not a lot of junk in the SPIRES database because most of the submissions ultimately end up in the archival journals. He believes that if a particular post is junk or rambles, "it is just skipped over and not cited." 

Greg Paris of the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research asked, "When is something published?" He noted thatwhat's published is a summary of the data, but not the data itself. What about presentations of incomplete data, such as theworks in progress that are often discussedin conference proceedings? Paris feels that different fields must come to understand what they each mean by "publication." 

Cecelia Brown of the University of Oklahoma discussed Genbank, the National Institutes of Health's genetic sequence database that comprises an annotated collection of all publicly available DNA. She believes that making data public is necessary if science is going to move forward. Brown observed that a key factor in getting researchers to submit their data toGenbank occurred from 1989 to 1990 whenjournal editors mandated it. 

A similar point was made in another session called "The Changing Face of Scientific Communication: Developing New Models for Scholarly Publishing in the Electronic Environment." Here, Julia Blixrud of SPARC asked if funding agencies should encourage researchers to register with online institutional depositories. 

David Cohn, managing editor of the Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR), said that his publication has received 600 submissions, which have resulted in 56 publications. This suggests that researchers are willing to embrace the new alternatives. But while JMLR has made a commitment to rigorous yet rapid reviewing, the editorial process remains the slowest part of the system, much like with traditional journals. Cohn also statedthat his journal's editorial and administration costs are borne by volunteers. 

Semantic Web

One very popular session was on the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) current and planned Semantic Web activities. As an example of the future of the Semantic Web, James Hendler of the University of Maryland stated that you could "walk into the room and your cell phone becomes smart." He said that the Semantic Web is already here, in niches. The current Semantic Web is much like the early days of the Web in that small companies are now being born. 

This session included a discussion of the Ontology Working Group's (OWG) efforts to develop a language that will extend the semantic reach of XML and RDF metadata projects. Hendler, who also chairs the OWG, told the audience that his group has released the first draft of all the documents it hopes to publish. They are available at the W3C Web site ( and include a guide and a walk-through document. 

Eric Miller of OCLC acknowledged that developers of the Semantic Web realize "metadata is hard." He also noted the work of the DARPAAgent Markup Language Program (, a project whose goal is to develop a language and tools that will facilitate the concept of the Semantic Web. Miller also discussed, a facility to demonstrate the ideas and concepts that lead to the Semantic Web. 

Other Digital Divides 

There were a number of sessions devoted to social and policy issues, including several that specifically focused on the digital divide. One of the problems that became apparent is that the term "digital divide" can be interpreted many ways, depending on how the issue is framed. 

Ronald Rice of Rutgers University summarized recent research that shows there is more than just an Internet digital divide; there is also a mobile phone digital divide. Of the 1,305 respondents in his study, 59 percent were current Internet users and 54 percent were current mobile phone users. But interestingly, 10 percent of respondents had stopped using the Internet and 9 percent had stopped using mobile phone service. On a similar vein, Mary Stanbury of Kent State University presented the results of a research project that identified access, opportunity, skills, and demographic divides. 

But there was another divide—a financial one—that clearly was on the minds of many at the conference. The nationwide state budget crises promise to reduce—or further reduce—the budgets of libraries, colleges, and universities. This concern, coupled with the meltdown of the technology sector and worries about federal interests in funding research, had many questioning the future health of research activities. 


Robin Peek is associate professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College. Her e-mail address is
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