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Conference Report


D-Lib Magazine
January 2003

Volume 9 Number 1

ISSN 1082-9873

ASIST 2002: Report on the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science and Technology

November 18-21, 2002, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


David Robins
University of Pittsburgh

Red Line


The American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIST) has changed its name three times over the years. Its focus as a society has changed throughout the years as well, although not all of these focus shifts were reflected in the Society's name. That is, the addition of "and Technology" to the end of its name does not tell the whole story of the Society's evolution.

For example, ASIST is becoming more sensitive to sessions, studies and plenary speakers who focus on "knowledge" as an area of research. Several things evidence this shift. At the ASIST 2002 Annual Meeting in November, the Wednesday plenary speaker, David Snowden (an internationally known speaker and researcher on topics such as storytelling and narrative as forms of learning in organizations) began his talk with the statement that knowledge management (KM) efforts, to date, have largely been a failure. In his opinion, the emphasis on documents, decision-support systems, and content management (first generation KM), and on the "separate" entities of tacit and explicit knowledge (second generation KM as championed by Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995) rendered them too ponderous to effectively implement. (See Snowden (2002) for more detailed explanations.)

Snowden contended that the emphasis in KM should now be on more manageable efforts such as narrative management (NM). NM is a way of acquiring and making available tacit knowledge that is not as complex as storytelling. NM would, for example, allow a person to simply speak into a tape recorder while driving or sitting in the office. These tapes can then be analyzed, categorized and stored for future use by others working in similar subject areas. Much discussion followed concerning how these recordings (i.e., their transcripts) might be shared. Snowden is an effective speaker, and his topic was an appropriate one for this ASIST conference.

The shift of focus toward knowledge management was also in evidence in the ASIST 2002 technical sessions. For example, panel sessions such as, "Mapping the Knowledge," "Community and Forms of Knowledge," and "Knowledge Management and Organizational Climate," to name just a few, characterized the broadening ASIST view. In addition, the pre-conference programs set the tone for a knowledge focus with the one-day Saturday Knowledge Management Summit, "KM in the 21st Century: Moving Forward, Sustaining the Momentum."

Another particularly interesting pre-conference session was organized by Joette Stefl-Mabry of the University of Albany. She brought together representatives from Apple Computer Inc.,, PLATO Learning Inc., and Classlink Technologies to explore ways in which academia and corporations could work together to provide educational solutions involving human expertise facilitated by information technology. For a group exercise during this session, Cisco systems provided wireless cards to link a number of notebooks (provided by Apple Computers Inc.) and PC laptops (provided by IBM Corporation). One of the main points of discussion in this session was the fact that getting information for course delivery was not the major problem facing educators. Rather, it is the organization of educational materials and information that presents the real challenge for educators. Therefore, the problem before educators is one for which information science can provide help and expertise.

It would be misleading, however, to suggest that the entire focus of this year's ASIST annual conference was on knowledge management. The cognitive view was well represented in two sessions on user modeling, with US contributors such as Nick Belkin, Javed Mostafa, and international contributors such as Carolyn Watters, Javier Pereira, Claudio Rojas and Kurt Englmeier. Panels and papers dealt with conceptual issues including one prominent panel, "Conceptions of Information as Evidence", featuring Marcia Bates, Michael Buckland, Jonathan Furner, and Anne J. Gilliland-Swetland as panelists.

Other conference panels focused on new directions in libraries and books. For example, in "The Library of the Future: Interweaving the Virtual and the Physical" Nancy Roderer, Shirley Dugdale, Barbara Wildemuth, and Kerryn Brandt discussed the boundaries of what we currently call "libraries" and how libraries might be conceived and configured in the future. Similarly, Chris Forbes and Heting Chu discussed the current state of E-Books as a medium in terms of economic and use models.

Two sessions were devoted to digital libraries. In one, Pascal Calarco, Tim Tirrell, Phillip Long and Ed Wallace presented various ideas regarding "Digital Libraries Supporting Distance Education." They dealt with standards and interoperability for courseware, as well as with efforts to facilitate sharing of courseware among institutions. The other digital library program, "Foundations of Digital Libraries: Organizational and Management Issues," took a management perspective. In this session, some very interesting cases were presented—for example, there was a presentation about DSpace, which is a joint project of MIT Libraries and Hewlett-Packard to create a technical report repository. Other projects discussed in this session included the Library of Virginia's Digital Library Program, The American Memory Historical Collections at the Library of Congress, and the Library of Congress Ameritech National Digital Library Competition.

Monday's plenary session, entitled "Openness, Privacy and National Security Post," dealt with digital information from a different perspective. The plenary focused on the tension between the need to protect information that could jeapardize national security (particularly in light of terrorism threats), and the public's right to access public information. José Marie Griffiths moderated this session with two keynote speakers: Lee Strickland, United States Senior Intelligence Service and currently a visiting professor at the University of Maryland; and Thomas Blanton, executive director of the non-governmental agency, the National Security Archive (NSA). The unique format of the session allowed a dialog between Strickland and Blanton, as well as audience participation in the discussion. Although Strickland and Blanton spoke from somewhat different perspectives, their lively dialogue was not confrontational. The primary focus of the topic of information security centered on legislation regulating what government information may be made public. This plenary session was both timely and useful, and it would be interesting to see the open format used again in future conference events.

Outgoing ASIST president Don Kraft's address to attendees was upbeat. He stressed the need for service to the Society, emphasizing such service pays dividends to the individual providing the service as well as to the organization as a whole. Newly elected president Trudi Bellardo-Hahn was equally optimistic, stressing the need for participation at all levels in the organization.

Major awards were given to some highly visible and deserving recipients this year. Karen Sparck-Jones received the Award of Merit, the lifetime achievement award offered by ASIST. Her work on linguistics and experimental Information Retrieval (IR) systems since the 1950s is some of the most cited work in IR and information science. Sparck-Jones was not able to attend the meeting, but Edie Rasmussen accepted the award in her behalf and also read Sparck-Jones' address of acceptance. Carol Tenopir, a prolific author and researcher, won the ASIST 2002 Research Award.

In spite of the current economic downturn, ASIST attendance increased over last year. The final count is not in, but it was certainly in excess of 800 participants. Conference chair Edie Rasmussen should be proud of a well-run and extremely interesting conference.


Nonaka, I. & Takeuchi, H. (1995). The Knowledge-Creating Company. London: Oxford University Press.

Snowden, D. (2002). Complex acts of knowing-paradox and descriptive self-awareness. Available online: <>.


Copyright © David Robins

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DOI: 10.1045/january2003-robins