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The Scoop on Joe Janes
By Katy Shaw
October 25, 2002

Since Joe Janes is up for tenure this year, the staff at the Silverfish decided to ask him a few questions about his life at the iSchool…and before. Want to know what his new book is all about? Ever wonder what kinds of movies he likes to watch? Now's your chance to find out the dirty details.

Editor's note: We edited our original interview with Joe to conserve space.

Silverfish: Where did you go to school?

Joe: I went to Syracuse University for all my degrees. I started out in the computer science department, and pretty rapidly figured out that wasn't for me. I did the double major with a mathematics major as my primary degree. I got my MLS and went into the doctoral program, and ten years later I had three degrees. I was out of degrees, and so it was time to move on.

I have a really interesting perspective, partially because of the nature of that school, and partially because of what I wound up doing. I started out life very much wanting to be a librarian - I still think of myself as a librarian - and yet I was also trained as an information scientist. I don't see the division between that, so I am both. I think that has served me well. It allows me to bridge communities - [to] see the bigger picture.

Silverfish: Then what did you do after you finished school?

Joe: I got my first [faculty] position at Michigan, which was great. I loved that place and I did really interesting work there. I taught a lot of fun classes and got myself in trouble more than once, but always in a good way.

Silverfish: How long have you been at the iSchool here?

Joe: I came here in January of '99, just a few months after Mike [Eisenberg], and so I guess it's coming up on four years. I was one of the earlier people as part of the expansion.

Silverfish: What are you currently researching and what are your current areas of interest?

Joe: Well, I've been all over the place. Having reflected on it recently, it really seems as what a lot of what I'm interested in is how people help each other find information. My primary interest, I guess, is in the library context. I think there are really interesting challenges and issues there. I studied relevance for many years while I was a faculty member at Michigan - how people make decisions about information that's presented to them. My dissertation was on the mathematical theory of searching for information in a conceptually organized space. Recently I've been studying digital reference in libraries. So it's all sort of [the same thing], but it's manifested in different contexts and ways.

Silverfish: What's your new book called?

Joe: The new book is called Introduction to Reference in the Digital Age. It's trying to lay out where we are - what the environment that seems to be unfolding in front of us has to say, particularly to the library reference community. What kinds of opportunities are there, what kind of challenges are there, how things are going to be different, how things are going to be the same. I spend a whole chapter really talking about what the nature of the reference encounter is really like, what the reference enterprise is like - its history, its goals, its motivation and so on. Are there things that we don't have to do anymore and are there things that we should be emphasizing that we haven't been?

Silverfish: What classes are you teaching, and what classes will you be teaching next quarter?

Joe: This quarter I'm teaching 520 for the evening people, which is the Introductory Information Resources, Services and Collections class. And I'm also teaching the first Research Design class in the doctoral program. The next two quarters I'm teaching 521 for the master's program. It's called Principles of Information Services. I'm teaching it in the evening in the winter and in the day in the spring.

Silverfish: Sounds like you're busy.

Joe: I am, of my own making. I have to admit, it's hard for me to say no sometimes. So I find myself going to Cleveland to speak to the academic librarians of Ohio. And I'm giving a lecture at LC in the winter, and speaking to the army librarians next spring. And the Texas Library Association in the spring, and the theological librarians want me to come. So I get out - I get out sometimes a little too much. It gives me a chance to see what goes on in the world, and to talk to people and learn from them, which is a lot of fun. And writing…I just had a thing in [Library Journal] a couple of days ago and a column which has all of a sudden taken on a life of its own for American Libraries. So I am busy - but better that than being bored. God what would I do? If I'm not doing ten things at once, I'm not happy.

Silverfish: In the winter you're going to be the chair of the MLIS program again?

Joe: Yes. I stepped aside for the better part of a couple years because this year I'm up for tenure.

Silverfish: What exactly is involved in going for tenure?

Joe: It's a fascinating process. It's a huge undertaking on the part of the University. Assuming everything goes well, and I believe it will, the University kind of commits to me for life. The primary focus for it is that it's a guarantee of academic freedom. That means no matter how unpopular the kinds of things we want to look at are, we can't be fired just for looking at the wrong things. Which people kind of laugh at, but in the current climate I'm happy about it because you never really know.

What I've had to do is to assemble all the things that I've done: The research projects that I've done, and the articles I've written, teaching things, the committees I've served on, the kind of work that I've done for the school and professional associations and so on. [I] gather[ed] all of that, and then over the summer I wrote a narrative. Then the personnel committee solicits input from a variety of different places. The tenured faculty of the school makes a recommendation to the dean, who recommends to the provost, who recommends to the president, who recommends to the regents whether or not to grant me tenure. Which takes months. None of which involves me.

Silverfish: So your part's done?

Joe: I'm done. I'm the least important person in the process now. I have nothing more to say.

Silverfish: How about your personal life? What do you like to do? I hear you're a big Mariners fan.

Joe: Oh yeah, I'm a Mariners fan. I've always sort of liked baseball, but I hadn't really gotten into it until I moved here. I like sports in general which is odd, since I'm awful at them. But I do play tennis and racquetball - poorly. I've just taken up swimming, which is kind of cool. I like to play bridge - poorly. I've always been a big game player. Anything you can keep score at I love. My mother said I learned to read [by] watching Jeopardy - before I went to school - because they read the words to you. I love that kind of stuff. I'm [also] a pretty big movie fan.

Silverfish: Any good movies lately?

Joe: Well, I haven't seen many in the last few months. I usually do the film festival in the spring. I particularly like the appallingly bad science fiction and horror movies from the '50s and the '40s. I know them all. I've seen most of those [many] times and can cite plot details and lines and all the rest of it - it's really sad.

Silverfish: What do you like about Seattle?

Joe: Seattle is a very nice place. It's the only big city that I've ever lived in, and I think it's one of the few big cities that I could live in because it doesn't feel like a big city. It's just such a physically beautiful place and the quality of life is so high. I'm in the right place doing the right thing with the right people and I'm very happy about it.

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Edited by Michael Harkovitch

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