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?
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
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
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
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
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.