Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of Q-and-A’s with UT’s deans. Andrew Dillon has served as dean of the School of Information, formerly the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, since 2002. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
The Daily Texan: The majority of people probably are not familiar with what this School of Information actually does. In your own words, can you explain what the school does and what it is centered around?
Andrew Dillon: We are centered around understanding the role of information in all human endeavors, but we are particularly concerned with examining that from a human and social aspect…We are very concerned with what’s being created in terms of a world infrastructure built around practices, orientation, behaviors, habits, people in effect and what they’re doing to the world in creating this new infrastructure.
DT: What are the most exciting things going on at the iSchool right now?
Dillon: I would say generally it’s the faculty. We’ve assembled a very diverse intellectual group. There’s 22 faculty. You’ve got 13 different Ph.D.s. We’ve got people from anthropology, psychology, computer science, engineering, library information sciences, the humanities, philosophy. So you put all these people together and it’s a very unusual mix of talent…
DT: You were formerly dean of what was then called the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Since then, obviously, the school has undergone a number of transformations in terms of its focus. How have you managed that transition?
Dillon: Gently, I’d like to think. It’s part of a broader, now international sweep that you saw happen in the late ‘90s and early part of the century. Professional schools, particularly in the librarianship and information science area, traditionally understood and recognized that the world was changing rapidly… Schools started to recognize that there was a potential for thinking about information differently, so Michigan, ourselves and Washington all changed our names to School of Information and we have traditionally [been called] graduate schools of library information sciences… It’s grown now to more than 50 of us around the world under the Information School banner.
DT: What sort of careers do graduates go into?
Dillon: Historically, it would have been librarianship, archives, museum education. That percentage has dropped considerably. Looking at our current employment information, less than 50 percent is in the more traditional, what we call the collection agencies. That employment sector is still there but it’s a smaller space for our students now. Industry, the commercial sector, the research organizations, the other 50 percent… we have this incredibly long tail. Lots of people have these odd job titles that are unique to them… these sorts of titles were created by the organization that’s hired them in. In essence, what most of those people are doing is serving as some sort of information broker and organizer within a company.
DT: What benefits come from being the smallest school on campus? And then also, what challenges arise?
Dillon: There are some advantages to small, which are very tangible. We have faculty meetings once a month… I have tea with the students every semester. I know all of the students… In that sense, the camaraderie and the sense of community is great. There is an informality that comes with the size that is tremendously advantageous…When you ask for the other side of it… by being small, we feel that we are not as well known… student recognition of us as an entity on campus is a lot lower because there are fewer of us going around. Budgetarily, especially as a specialized graduate program, we don’t have a role to play in the predominantly undergraduate-driven agenda.
DT: How do you keep students from feeling isolated from the rest of the University?
Dillon: If you come to the iSchool, you are physically present with people regularly in a confined space. If we were distributed around campus, I’m not sure we would have the same sense of identity in that way…We bring a lot of professionals in, we have a lot of open forums. There’s a commitment generally to creating that sense of partnership and community.
DT: Can you explain the importance of the capstone project here?
Dillon: Aye! That’s part of our master’s program requirements. The goal of the capstone is to say to employers and to allow students to say to employers, “Look, I’ve got a workable, real-world example of what I can do.” The idea of the capstone is to culminate the coursework you’ve done to date in a project… It becomes a very tangible, demonstrable quality to their education.
DT: Is there anything else you would like students to know about the iSchool?
Dillon: Know that if you have a skill set in the humanities or liberal arts and you feel overwhelmed by technology but are interested in it at the same time, this is absolutely the program for you. We take people with almost zero computational skill and turn them into information professionals. If you are willing to work, we can do it.