Report From the Field
ASIST 2002 Annual
By Robin Peek
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
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."
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."
During the session titled "The Role of Unpublished Research in the Scholarly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
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.
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 (http://www.w3.org/2001/sw) 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 (http://www.daml.org),
a project whose goal is to develop a language and tools that will facilitate
the concept of the Semantic Web. Miller also discussed SemanticWeb.org, 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
Robin Peek is associate professor at the Graduate
School of Library and Information Science at Simmons
College. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.