B  U  L  L  E  T  I  N


of the American Society for Information Science and Technology           Vol. 30, No. 5               June/July 2004

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Student Perspective

Student Transformation
by Lisa Nathan

Lisa Nathan is a doctoral student in The Information School at the University of Washington. She is the newly appointed student member of the Advisory Board of the Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

It is stating the obvious, I hope, that ASIS&T views students as vital members of the society. We all assume that an individual's positive experience with the society as a student member leads to continuing involvement after graduation.

To encourage student involvement in ASIS&T, the Bulletin Advisory Board has officially added a student member the position is to be filled each year by a representative chosen by the chapter that won the previous year's Student-Chapter-of-the-Year Award. As a doctoral student at the University of Washington's Information School, I am privileged to be the first to fill this position. (Actually, the title leaves me breathless; try saying "student member of the Advisory Board of the Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science & Technology" without gasping.)

When I talked to fellow students about the position, they had questions about whom ASIS&T recognizes as information science students and what their role is in the society. The discussions centered on how the student body is transforming. Students entering information science programs are becoming more diverse for two main reasons: new opportunities in the programs being offered and a wider range of people entering (or returning) to higher education.

During the interview process for the position I realized there were no undergraduates on the list of students interested in serving on the board of the Bulletin. Where were UW's 70-plus informatics majors? Did the undergraduates from the relatively new program know anything about ASIS&T? Does the student chapter encourage their membership? Does the larger society? Is ASIS&T interested in the growing population of undergraduate information science students? I began to ask these questions, but wasn't sure where to direct them.

My curiosity concerning ASIS&T's awareness of the changing makeup of current students piqued again while I was reading the findings from two projects reported in the April/May 2004 issue of the Bulletin. In one article, Case and Allard presented outcomes from surveys and focus-group interviews conducted in an effort to "better understand the readership of the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (JASIST), as well as the membership of its sponsoring Society." In another article, Hahn and Vaughan presented findings from a 2003 ASIS&T membership survey designed to discover "preferences, opinions and needs" of ASIS&T members.

Both reports shed light on the attributes and opinions of ASIS&T's current members and non-members and use that information to offer insights on reinvigorating the society. However, I am a bit apprehensive over the small amount of discussion concerning students in the authors' concluding statements on how to expand membership and strengthen the society. Following up on the advice offered in the last Bulletin to broaden the society's audience, it is time to recognize that students in this field are growing more diverse in age, culture and race and in the programs they are participating in. Students in IS are no longer all graduate students. Based on this recognition, the roles of students within the society may need to be redefined because of the background, skills and aptitude many of the students already have.

Inaccurate stereotypes of students new information professionals need to be addressed. For example, newcomers were discussed in the Hahn and Vaughan article as though they are all young "to recruit or mentor young information professionals. . . "). There are plenty of new information professionals that are fine candidates for recruitment and mentoring, but by no means are they all young. In a period in human history when people are living productive lives to unprecedented ages, it is time to drop the typecast of young student. The demographic data academic institutions publish about students enrolled in MLIS programs alone reveals a broad range of ages. Diversity in cultures is also growing. In my cohort of nine students, we have students from Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, China and Paraguay. ASIS&T would be wise to welcome individuals of diverse ages and cultures entering the field and wiser still to avoid making incorrect assumptions and statements regarding who these students are.

The growing list of academic institutions offering undergraduate degrees with information science majors reveals another indication of the changing face of information science students. Not only is the list growing, but the number enrolled in the programs is expanding quickly. This fact is not breaking news many members of ASIS&T are the same individuals envisioning, developing and teaching these new undergraduate programs in informatics, information resources, library media services, information systems, bioinformatics, information systems management and many other specializations. Traditionally, student members in ASIS&T were graduate students pursuing masters' or Ph.D. degrees, planning on entering the field as practitioners or academicians. Many of the student opportunities at national conferences are geared to individuals at that level of study (job postings, dissertation awards).

However, the new (but not necessarily young) graduates from the burgeoning number of undergraduate programs will also enter the IS field as practitioners. A sampling of job titles of recent graduates of UW's informatics program includes information management specialist, interaction designer, senior computer specialist, network administrator, research coordinator. Aren't these the titles of individuals who would benefit from and contribute to an information science professional society? There are also undergraduates from information science programs who are continuing on in academia to pursue graduate degrees. Wouldn't undergraduates benefit from student membership in ASIS&T when it comes to choosing graduate programs, and wouldn't we benefit from their participation? If the answer to these questions is "yes," does the society have a place for these students?

Students may be fresh to this field, but they may have skills to offer that they developed in other areas. For example, in some ASIS&T regional chapters, the bylaws prohibit students from holding offices. Is it in the society's best interest to bar students from positions that they are qualified for just because they are enrolled in courses to improve their skills? Is it because they are receiving a discounted membership that they cannot hold certain positions? It seems illogical to bar people from serving roles in the society based on their commitment to learning or their economic situation. The title of student does not signify an individual with fewer capabilities or less commitment. Actually, it may well signify the opposite.

In the conclusion of Case and Allard's article they discuss the need for attracting a wider membership. Through encouraging participation and creating a place for the broad range of students enrolled in information science programs, the society doesn't have to reach far to find part of that wider audience.

I suggest that the society strive to demonstrate that the full spectrum of information science students are welcome by offering: 1) a publication (the Bulletin) that publishes engaging, readable and timely articles of interest to and written by students, practitioners and academicians, 2) job and networking opportunities at local and national conferences for the full range of members and 3) recognition opportunities for undergraduate students that display noteworthy talents. It would also help to have a society website that accurately portrays "The Information Society for the Information Age" the epitome of what information science professionals know about creatively sharing, storing and accessing information.

It is time for ASIS&T to reboot its conceptualization of information science students and what they can offer the society. The membership and involvement of all IS students is an important component of the society's survival. I share these thoughts in hopes that they will generate discussion and ideas and perhaps initiate some changes in how the ASIS&T community conceptualizes current student members and envisions the student members of the future.

References

  • Case, D. and Allard, S. (2004). Looking hard at JASIS&T: Results of a series of surveys, focus group interviews and other studies. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 30(4). Accessed March 25, 2004, from www.asis.org/Bulletin/Apr-04/jasist_survey.html.
  • Hahn, T. and Vaughan, L. (2004). Messages from the 2003 ASIST&T membership survey. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 30(4). Accessed March 25, 2004, from www.asis.org/Bulletin/Apr-04/membership_survey.html.

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