School of Information

Earlier this month, professors in the College of Liberal Arts and School of Information received $763,000 from the Mellon Foundation to help fund research about Virginia's first mental institution designated for African-Americans.

King Davis, School of Information research professor and professor emeritus in African and African Diaspora Studies, and School of Information professors Patricia Galloway and Unmil Karadkar started developing a system in 2008 to preserve and analyze the records from the Central Lunatic Asylum for Colored Insane in Petersburg, Virginia.

The Asylum opened in 1868 and was later renamed Central State Hospital. Before being integrated in 1970, it was the only mental institution for just for African-Americans in Virginia. Central State Hospital is still open today.

Davis said his background with mental health programs has informed his research over the course of the entire project. Between 1972 and 1999, Davis was the commissioner of health for the Commonwealth of Virginia, served as director of community mental health programs and was a Galt Visiting Scholar in Public Mental Health.

“[I had] lots of familiarity with the system because I operated 17 hospitals there,” Davis said.

Galloway’s role on the project is working to digitize the Asylum’s records and create methods to make the information public. She said the team relies on hospital workers’ original accounts to get a better picture of what conditions were like at the when the Asylum operated.

“As ways to gather more information, we are trying to look into accounts by hospital workers,” Galloway said. “We want to see what their job [was] and how they felt about it. This is important because this gives a group of people a voice they did not have.”

Karadkar’s role is analyzing the documents and finding patterns in the information’s content. According to Karadkar, the way historic documents were formatted, differently than they are today, can make research difficult.

“We have well-recognized font type faces, and we have well recognized conventions for printing on paper,” Karadkar said. “When we have hand-written documents, these conventions are not always followed especially when cursive was the normal. The handwriting is tilted, and tilted words are hard to make out because they blend together.”

Karadkar said he and his fellow researchers have received support from the University and inquiries from people who believe they might have personal connections to the Asylum.

“We have already received a tremendous outpouring of support,” Karadkar said. “Every so often, we get emails saying ‘We have ‘so and so, rumored to have been in this hospital.’ What can you tell us?’ So far, there has not been any backlash but a lot of encouragement and hope from people.”

Photo courtesy of the School of Information.

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.

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.

Increasing community health literacy, the basic ability to make informed decisions about medication and other health-related decisions, was the topic of a round table discussion presented by the School of Nursing on Wednesday . 

Speakers at the discussion said often patients do not effectively recover from illnesses because they cannot understand the instructions they have been given.

Nursing graduate student Grace Githinji said financial and psychological stresses of college can lead to an under-prioritization of health. The nursing community focused on finding possible solutions at the discussion.

“The hard part of college is stress management,” Githinji said. “Self-care often suffers.”

Bo Xie, an associate professor in the nursing school and the School of Information, said technology provides new outlets for research and education.

“My approach to health literacy is not just health literacy, but e-health literacy,” Xie said. “Using electronic sources greatly improves our ability to assess health literacy.”

UT students have multiple health resources available at their disposal, including University Health Services, the Nurse Advice Line and the Healthy Horns website. Nursing graduate student Sara Rechis said the Internet provides a wealth of information that allows students to investigate whatever health problems they may have.

“It helps to start with health websites,” Rechis said. “If you go to college there are a lot of resources available.”

Sharon Brown, a professor in the nursing school, said an inverse relationship exists between knowledge of one’s illness and the severity of symptoms.

“The worse [a person’s] health problem is, the more they interact with the health care system,” Brown said.

Brown said an expanded tool set cannot solve all the problems that medical professionals face.

“There is a big gap between what you know and what you do,” Brown said.

Jane Champion, a professor at the nursing school, said peer influence is often more persuasive than the advice of a medical professional. Thus, health literacy efforts need to change the mind-set of entire communities in order to be effective, Champion said. 

“We need to look at what kind of behaviors in a community culture do they perceive as a norm,” Champion said. “Patients listen to what their friends and family say prior to implementation of what the provider says.”

Nursing senior Anjelica Barrientos said the problem lies with students’ naive attitudes toward their own health. 

“We have this invincible mind-set like nothing can happen to us right now — bad things only happen to other people in other places,” Barrientos said.

Glynn Harmon, former dean and professor at the School of Information for more than 40 years, died Sunday, Feb. 17 at the age of 79.

Harmon earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of California, Berkeley and a doctorate at Case Western Reserve University. He was considered by many colleagues to be the founding father of the information discipline. Harmon earned the Texas Excellence in Teaching Award and the Excellence in Advising Award. For two years, Harmon served as a graduate adviser and received the Top Advisor Award at UT.

Sam Burns, web content strategist at the School of Information, said Harmon will be greatly missed.

“He was nearly a constant presence in our buildings in the evenings and at night and was always happy to chat about the field, his life or my life,” Burns said. “I will never forget going to the first iConference and witnessing the reception he got from his longtime colleagues and peers." 

Andrew Dillon, dean and professor at the School of Information, said Harmon dedicated his life to UT and the School of Information.

“I know he was proud of what we achieved and hope that he will be duly recognized in the years ahead for his vision,” Dillon said. “On a personal note, he was the warmest, most supportive colleague imaginable who helped generations of students succeed both in their times here at UT and later in their lives. He was a truly remarkable man.”

Printed on Thursday, February 21, 2013 as: Former Dean of Information dies 

Photo Credit: Lin Zagorski | Daily Texan Staff

In order to prevent UT’s slogan from becoming associated with a pornographic site, UT has purchased the, and internet domain names.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers made the domain .xxx a top generic domain, along with domains such as .com, .net and .org. The organization gave a seven week gap, from September to October 2011, for non-pornographic organizations and institutions to purchase an .xxx domain, according to an article published in the Inside HigherEd blog.

Some universities used this time period to purchase and remove web addresses from the market that are strongly associated with them to avoid copyright confusions, according to the blog post. UT purchased the domain in November.

Advertising professor Neal Burns said slogans would have been trademarked in the past, but now as the world moves forward into the digital era, the next logical step is to purchase the internet domains.

“Taking the domain away from the market means protecting the integrity of a major brand,” Burns said.

Thomas Cole Moore, the co-director of the Student Association of the School of Information, said the administration preemptively purchasing domain names that could be used as pornographic websites associated with UT is in the best interest of the students, alumni, faculty and school as a whole.

He said the University should purchase more domain names related to well-known campus and football slogans in order to prevent them from being used wrongly.

Brandon Wiley, president of the ACTLab Student Media Services, said purchasing domain names will not always prevent the school’s name from being abused.

“There is no way that all of the domains related to the University can be protected,” Wiley said. “There is an endless number of domain possibilities out there, but this is not something that can harm the University seriously.”

Former UT government major Jonathan Horak disagrees that the school’s online reputation is free from abuse. Horak said owning a domain is a matter of branding, and domains should belong to their rightful owners.

“It was a smart marketing call to purchase the .xxx domain,” Horak said. “The University should do all they can to reduce the possibility of someone using the domain wrongly.”

The School of Information and the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies have introduced a new dual master’s degree program between the two schools. This program would provide students with a master of arts in Latin American studies and a master of science in information studies.

“The need for this program came from two sources,” said Philip Doty, associate dean for the School of Information. “One master’s student expressed her interest in bridging the two schools and both schools have had an informal relationship with each other for at least 30 to 40 years.”

The program allows students to obtain both degrees in three years as opposed to being in school for four years if the student wished to obtain the degrees separately, according to the website. The conclusion of the program requires a Master’s thesis in a subject which applies to both disciplines.

“With the rich cultural resources of the Latin America and the explosion in adoption of digital technologies across the region, the program will provide students with an opportunity to combine cultural history and policy with behavioral and technology studies,” said Andrew Dillon, dean of the School of Information.

Information Studies examines how information is collected, displayed and conveyed and its effects in society, while Latin American Studies examines the past and present of Latin America and allows students to further understand the culture of the region.

“Information Studies deals with how to engage information in different areas, such as social science and math and understanding the relationship between humans and information,” said Luis Francisco-Revilla, associate professor at the School of Information. “[The dual degree program] is an interesting combination and it’s helpful for people to see the context in which people engage in cultural issues.”

Doty said students interested in applying to the program must apply to each school separately and indicate their desire to be in the program. Like many other dual degree programs at UT, there will be about two or three students pursuing the degree at a given time, he said. Students are chosen based on previous experience with the two fields, academic performance and a clear statement describing their desire to be in the program, he said.

“While the most immediate source of Hispanic culture in Texas is from Mexico, there are a lot of UT students and people in Texas from Central America and other South American countries,” Doty said. “As the Hispanic demographic in America changes, the iSchool is interested in attracting people from the Spanish-speaking world in order to help us better understand the culture of the region.”

Printed on Tuesday, November 29, 2011 as: Dual master's combines information, cultural ties

Graduate student Rebecca Halpern reads passages from Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” on the South Mall in honor of ALA’s Banned Books Week.

Photo Credit: Victoria Montalvo | Daily Texan Staff

[Corrected Sept. 27: Changed spelling of Jessica McClean]

When Information sciences graduate student Jessica McClean was in high school, she read J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” — a coming of age story that was once the most censored book in U.S. high schools.

One of her friends had to leave the room while the class read parts of the novel.

“She had to read a different book because her mom thought it was so inappropriate,” McClean said.

McClean and other literature lovers from the School of Information celebrated “The Catcher in the Rye” and similar banned books in the South Mall Monday night during the American Library Association and Texas Library Association’s Banned Books Week Read-Out.

They discussed formerly taboo subjects such as homosexuality and racism.

The UT ALA/TLA chapter brings students interested in libraries together through other events such as trivia, bake sales and the library crawl. The organization also offers networking opportunities for those interested in becoming librarians.

Members brought books ranging from Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” to Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” all of which had been banned at one time, and some of which remain banned in various schools.

UT ALA/TLA co-director Anna Fidgeon said some of the books were challenged, meaning someone requested that the book be taken out of public and school libraries, while others were banned outright.

“I think it’s important to read banned books to sort of bring attention to different ideas that maybe someone doesn’t agree with,” Fidgeon said. “It’s always good to have both sides.”

Fidgeon said she encouraged members to bring their favorite banned books to the read-out, but she also brought a stack of her own books with highlighted passages that contributed to their banning.

Members debated the ideas of censorship and shared personal experiences about reading banned books in schools.

Those who brought their own books read their favorite passages and discussed the ethics of banning books, especially in the case of children getting hold of them.

The books discussed were banned for containing sexual content, religious viewpoints, language or for being inappropriate for a particular age group.

The Insider, the School of Information’s electronic mailing list, received a protest email before the read-out. The email, addressed to “fellow iSchoolers” said, “The ALA’s Banned-Book Week is a charade intended to grossly exalt the unlimited circulation of any book; no matter how outrageous, shameless or vile.”

The 2011 banned books list contains classic titles as well as some more recent titles, including Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” and Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series.

Many in the group concurred that banning books is not an effective or appropriate way to censor the information we take in as a society.

“[By banning books] you’re not just deciding what’s right for you and your family,” said information sciences graduate student Kathryn Kramer. “Who are they to decide what someone else’s children see?”

Printed September 27, 2011 as: Students commemorate previously banned books

Although computer and information technology careers have not always been considered popular for women, School of Information associate professor Lecia Barker is working to change that preconception.

Barker received a $442,000 grant in order to identify new teaching methods for recruiting and retaining women in technological fields.

To discover new methods, she plans to interview computer and technology related faculty and then create a large, national survey to find better ways to recruit and retain female students in these fields. She will also observe teaching methods currently being used in classes.

Barker plans to visit 30 departments around the country at many different types of public and private colleges and universities, including research schools such as UT, minority-serving institutions and women-only colleges.

“The most important outcome would be to find out how to make it more likely that college professors can teach in ways that keep students, especially women students, in computing majors like computer science, computer engineering and information technology,” Barker said.

Barker said encouraging women to pursue careers in technology is becoming increasingly difficult in America.

“Women are much less likely to pursue careers in technology than men. This has serious negative effects not just for women but also for our nation’s ability to compete globally in a world increasingly dependent on technology,” Barker said.

America’s current economic standing may be a good motivator for female students to consider working in a technology field, Barker said.

"Although we are constantly hearing that there are not enough jobs, there are plenty of jobs in technology,” Barker said. “The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of professional computing and information sciences jobs will grow faster than all other engineering, life sciences, natural sciences and physical sciences jobs combined through 2018.”

Barker also serves as a senior research scientist for the National Center for Women and Information Technology, a nonprofit organization that values the importance of encouraging women to pursue careers in technological fields.

“One of the things she’s studying is why certain techniques work and why people adopt them,” said center spokeswoman Jenny Slade. “Hopefully, her findings will better produce resources to influence young women.”

Barker’s study will also focus on the effectiveness of some major technological companies’ programs.

“Not all companies evaluate whether their workshops and outreach programs are working. Barker will be studying the impact and gaining the ability to identify what works,” Slade said.

School of Information Dean Andrew Dillon said Barker’s work is especially important in today’s society.

“Information permeates all of our lives, both personal and professional, yet the tools we create tend to be designed by and often for a very narrow view of the human user, one which embodies stereotypical views of operation and application,” Dillon said. “The best counterbalance to this would be greater participation of women in the design and application of such technology.”

Printed on September 22, 2011 as: Professor studies women in technology

After officials announced Thursday that Bastrop residents in the Circle D and KC Estates area could return home to view damages, Austin resident Karen Fergurson accompanies friend to his home. The worst in Texas history, the wildfires in Bastrop have burned more than 34,000 acres and have caused two deaths.

Photo Credit: Danielle Villasana | Daily Texan Staff

A soaked book rested on a table with plain paper towels between every few pages to dry it. Nearby, students and community members removed soot from burned documents with a soft brush and dry rubber sponge.

These demonstrations were part of a workshop the School of Information hosted Sunday to teach volunteers how to salvage documents and potentially help people affected by the wildfires in Central Texas.

School of Information lecturer Karen Pavelka organized the workshop and said the school felt compelled to assist wildfire victims by holding its first public workshop.

“We have faculty who have a lot of experience with disaster preparedness, disaster planning and disaster salvage,” Pavelka said. “If people have wet documents or wet heirlooms or things that are very fragile, we know how to handle them as safely as possible, and we want to help however we can.”

Pavelka led the workshop with Rebecca Elder, adjunct assistant professor in the School of Information, and Virginia Luehrsen, information studies graduate student.

Luehrsen advised volunteers to work in teams to prevent becoming overwhelmed or overworked.

“If you’re with a team, the nice thing is that you can say, ‘Okay, I need a little time out,’ and somebody else can step in and work with that family,” she said. “The family doesn’t feel abandoned, and you don’t feel that all the pressure is on you.”

Jane Bost, associate director of the Counseling and Mental Health Center, said losing a home or important personal possessions to a fire is one of the most traumatic and stress-inducing experiences a person can have.

“It totally goes against what you could expect or would be reasonable because it’s such a rare kind of loss,” Bost said. “They have a loss of sense of control of their lives, and it’s almost hard to imagine.”

Bost said the ability to salvage important personal items from the wildfires could comfort people by giving them a connection to the time before the fire.

“That could help people just to have something, some kind of object that was valued in their lives that’s associated with positive memories,” she said.

Bost advised those affected by the wildfires to reach out for help. She also suggested positive distraction activities and focusing on daily goals to manage stress.

“It’s hard to do, but I think it’s really important to set the goals for ‘What do I get through for today? What can I accomplish for today?’ not trying to figure it all out, because it can be very, very overwhelming,” she said.

Information studies graduate student Carlos Duarte said he looks forward to using the knowledge he gained in the workshop to help people affected by the recent wildfires.

“I think a lot of people assume once something’s wet or smoke damaged, they have to just throw it away,” Duarte said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to convince them otherwise.”