School of Information promotes digital information studies

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Students study in the lobby of the School of Information on Wednesday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Madison Richards | Daily Texan Staff

Located off campus on Guadalupe sits the School of Information. With its vague name and small enrollment, many students, particularly undergraduates, are left wondering what the program is, if they’re aware of the school at all.

“I have never heard of it,” computer science senior Daniel Cheng said.

Jeremy Selvidge, a graduate student in the school, said he often has to explain to his friends and people he meets what a “school of information” is.

“A lot of the time we refer to it as ‘iSchool,’ and they think I’m saying ‘high school,’” said Selvidge, who is also a co-director of the Student Association of the School of Information. “So we have to explain to them, ‘No, it’s a master’s program. We’re not kidding.’”

The school is an interdisciplinary graduate school that studies the role of information in society and makes information accessible.

“We try to understand the role and uses of information in modern society and how to help people manage, create and organize information,” said Matthew Lease, an assistant professor at the school.

Information school dean Andrew Dillon said in an email that the lack of knowledge about the iSchool, particularly by undergraduate students, is a result of the program’s small size and graduate focus.

Lease said there is also an undergraduate minor, but, unless students are in that program or request to take graduate courses, the access to undergraduates is limited. Currently, the school has 300 graduate students, 22 faculty members from various disciplines and 14 staff members, according to Dillon.  

“We don’t have a large undergraduate presence,” Dillon said. “We are also the smallest school on campus, but our work touches every discipline.”

But more computer science undergraduate students may be aware of the school beginning in fall 2015, with the start of the information school’s new five-year bachelor and master degrees program in conjunction with the Department of Computer Science.

“What the five-year program is going to do is create a new breed of very employable graduates, who will not only have very strong back-end skills but also people who have the skills and experience to do very effective front in design in terms of user experience and usability,” said Lease, who has been helping to develop the program.

Dillon said the program is funded completely by the information school and the computer science department.

Lease said the duality of the program will make students more appealing to potential employers.

“They don’t want people who can just measure user experience,” Lease said. “They want people who can also build and improve the systems to be more usable.”  

The program’s focus on digital information processing and presentation relates to the changing model information studies.

The University’s iSchool in its current form was created as an adaptation of the traditional school of library science model, Lease said. He said that in the digital age, it became necessary to look at information in a way other than the standard physical sense.

“What’s happened with the digital age is we have a lot more information that is located online or in other kinds of digital repositories,” Lease said. “So now, we need to not only help people find physical information in physical places, but also help people find digital information in digital places.”

The school also offers non-digital-based courses. Lease said it has facilities for all areas of information studies from digital work to document preservation. According to Lease, the school received its current building in 2005. 

“In our space, we have everything from new computer labs to organic chemistry labs for restoring and treating old books and manuscripts to restore them,” Lease said.

Selvidge said it can be difficult being so far away from other university facilities but that the isolated building also has its benefits.

“Being kind of removed from campus and self-contained in this building helps to foster a sense of community and helps people get to know each other more intimately and understand each other’s area of concentration,” Selvidge said.