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The Lowdown on the ASIS&T 2002 Annual Meeting
By Aaron Louie
December 2, 2002

Ah, Philadelphia. The city of Brotherly Love. The birthplace of the United States. What better location for the 2002 annual meeting of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T), an organization that values community, free speech, and information science research?

I will attempt to give you a taste of what it was like, through the eyes of six of the 10 or so iSchool students (by far the largest student contingent of any university at the annual meeting) who braved the jet lag, surly customer service, and mid-November weather to experience the adventure of the ASIS&T 2002 annual meeting. Our panel includes:

  • Steve McCann (MLIS Day)
  • Maria Ovalles (MLIS Day), recipient of the ASIS&T student chapter Annual Meeting Scholarship
  • Kim Prater (MLIS Day)
  • Kari Holland, (PhD)
  • Elaine Chu (MLIS Day)
  • myself, Aaron Louie (MLIS Day).

Good things

Most of us felt that the best part of going to the ASIS&T Annual Meeting was the camaraderie we shared with the other students we met at the conference. We had plenty of opportunities to socialize, both during the official conference events and during off-hours. We spent several evenings exploring Philadelphia's tourist sites, pubs, restaurants, and clubs with our new friends.

Kim especially enjoyed hearing from other students about their programs, which often seemed too focused on either libraries or information technology - but not both. "It renewed my appreciation for what the iSchool is trying to do in building an interdisciplinary faculty and set of programs, and made me more aware of how challenging that can be," she said.

Other networking opportunities presented themselves constantly as we rubbed shoulders with the LIS world's celebrities - including Marcia Bates, Eugene Garfield, and Michael Buckland - and faculty and professionals from across the globe. Copious social events, like the Newcomer's Reception, International Reception, Student Reception, President's Reception, and the Awards Banquet allowed us to interact with these people in an informal setting. Our dean, Mike Eisenberg, also took a group of us to the Syracuse University alumni reception, where we were treated to food, drinks, and good conversation with a sizable group of faculty and students from Mike's alma mater.

The next most popular, and probably the most well-attended, aspect of the annual meeting was SIG/CON, the meeting of a special interest group whose mission is to lampoon the whole conference by presenting bogus research for pure entertainment. This year's theme was "Just-In-Time Research" and featured abstract generation via Mad Libs (we managed to contribute "fondle" and "cross-pollinate", among others) and psychic query prediction. Our very own Joe Janes happens to be SIG/CON's most frequent and revered presenter, and this year he did not disappoint, presenting on the efficacy of such novel searching methods as throwing darts at a map of the Internet while drunk and using dowsing rods.

Oh yes, of course, there were also the serious presentations, which made up the bulk of the actual conference. Kari liked the "mix of the academic and the more pragmatic, professional presentations." The events that garnered the most raves amongst our panelists were:

  • David Snowden's plenary session on the importance of trust, narrative, and multiple perspectives in knowledge management
  • Marcia Bates, Michael Buckland and Anne Gilliland-Swetland's, presentations on "Conceptions of Information as Evidence,"
  • Frumkin, Bailey-Hainer, Staples, and Calarco's presentations on open source software in digital libraries, and
  • Lee Strickland and Thomas Blanton's plenary session on openness, privacy, and national security.

Bad Things

Unfortunately, the quality of the presentations was nearly impossible to predict. Any talk that sounded interesting had the potential to be anything but. One panelist told me, off the record, that "some of the presentations were not as academic or research-oriented as I expected. And to be honest, some were boring, despite their interesting titles." Choosing good presentations became an art, and Kim suggested jumping between the many concurrent sessions to select the best one.

Kari, Kim, and I all volunteered to be session monitors for the conference. As a result, our admission fees were waived, but we had no control over which sessions we were assigned. This meant that we had to miss some of the presentations we wanted to see. However, there was a serendipitous aspect to the random assignment of sessions....

Then there was Philadelphia. The weather was blustery much of the time, but we took that in stride. What bothered many of us was the preponderance of second-hand smoke in nearly every public place we went. The locals, especially those in customer service, were often brusque, rude, or unresponsive, but I chalk that up to cultural differences, to which we eventually acclimated.

One particularly annoying aspect of the trip was a general lack of energy. This was due to jet lag, sleep deprivation, and not having enough time to do everything. Elaine explained, "There's a lot going on and if you try to participate in it all, you get very little sleep." Kari would have liked more time to go swimming in the hotel's pool. Steve found it difficult to catch up on course work before and after the conference. Time management and afternoon naps became essential elements of survival as the conference continued.

Lessons Learned

Given these pitfalls, what do our panelists suggest for those attending next year? Maria advocates arriving a day or two before the conference in order to get acquainted with the city, the hotel, and the event space. She and most of the others also suggest reading up on all the sessions to be as educated as possible on what will be presented.

In general, it's good to be prepared. Don't forget to bring business cards and at least eight copies of your resume - you'll have many opportunities to share them, both with individuals you meet and at the job placement center. And don't forget to arrange with your professors ahead of time for assignments and classes you may miss while you're away.

You can also save money by planning ahead. Steve got a great deal on his hotel room through, Maria got a scholarship through the ASIS&T UW Student Chapter, and Elaine, Kim, and I saved by splitting a room. Kim believes there are other benefits to having roommates at the conference. She notes, "I would have spent more time watching cable TV and less time sightseeing, networking, and chatting into the wee hours without my great roomies."

Elaine and Kari suggest asking veteran conference-attendees for their advice, both before and at the conference. Kari advises, "Do not be afraid to ask questions at presentations. The presenters like talking about their work and the best presentations are the ones with the most discussions." There are other perks of getting acquainted with faculty members and professionals at the conference. We all managed to find tickets to the Awards Banquet (normally $60) by asking around.

The last bit of advice we'll leave you with: Go! You'll learn a lot about future job opportunities, explore new research and technologies in the field, and meet some really interesting people. You'll arrive home exhausted, behind in your schoolwork, and $600 poorer, but the benefits of attending the ASIS&T Annual Meeting, according to our panelists, are definitely worth it. See you in Long Beach, CA, next year!

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Edited by Michael Harkovitch

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