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Get to Know SIG AH: Arts and Humanities

SIG AH logo

SIG AH logo (courtesy SIG AH)

Our next interview in the “Get to Know A SIG / Get to Know a Chapter” series—after an unplanned delay—is with SIG AH (Arts and Humanities), which “explores the applications of information science to the full range of activities in the arts and humanities.” SIG AH is on the smaller side of our ASIS&T Special Interest Groups, but is no less active and vibrant than many of our bigger SIGs! To learn more about SIG AH I interviewed Jeremy L. McLaughlin, SIG AH chair, an ASIS&T New Leaders awardee, and a graduate student at the San Jose State School of Information. We talked about SIG AH’s areas of interest, the activities they engage in at ASIS&T Annual Meetings and elsewhere, and the benefits of becoming a member and volunteering to help out with the SIG. There was also a particular emphasis in this interview on SIG AH’s engagement with their members. We hope this interview allows you to get to know SIG AH better, and perhaps become interested in volunteering to help them out with their events, activities, and other initiatives!

About SIG AH

Adam: So how long have you been a member of ASIS&T, and then how long have you been a member of SIG AH?

Jeremy: I’ve actually only been an ASIS&T member for about a year now. And I originally got involved through the Student Chapter at San Jose State. Then I applied for a New Leader Award, and I had known that I wanted to be part of SIG AH, so as part of that New Leader Award I mentioned specifically that I wanted to be involved with SIG AH, in that capacity, as a New Leader as well. That’s how I became involved more formally with SIG AH, and attended the 2014 ASIS&T Annual Meeting, and spoke with the previous chair, and became the new chair for the next two years.

Adam: So basically in both cases your membership has been pretty short, right?

Jeremy: Yes, exactly, in both… I’ve only been an ASIS&T member for, geez, it’ll be a year this month so it’s not even a full year yet! [chuckles]

Adam: Right. But then when you apply for a New Leader Award, when you want to get involved, that’s usually what ends up happening, right? So congratulations, definitely!

…that’s the great thing about ASIS&T, in general, is you can jump in on your own, or there are various opportunities like awards that you can be involved in that help push you in.

Jeremy: Yeah, thank you! You’re exactly right, that’s sort of the point; you can either jump right in on your own—and that’s the great thing about ASIS&T, in general, is you can jump in on your own, or there are various opportunities like awards and things that you can be involved in that sort of help push you in, in some cases. And in this case, obviously, it’s been a very good fit and I’m very happy working on this SIG. And what I do with the Student Chapter, finding new ways to collaborate and working with other groups, or collaborating with different SIGs and Student Chapters, and growing our visibility overall, it’s very exciting.

Adam: Right, and San Jose State is one of the Student Chapters that we’ll be getting to pretty soon in this series. So what topics does SIG AH focus on?

Jeremy: Well, the mission statement of our SIG — which is on our home page — says we’re interested in the applications of information sciences to the arts and humanities. So it’s kind of a broad swath of potential interest areas or topics covered by our SIG. I like to think of it as including both technology and information science practices, and that’s technologies both to study arts and humanities, and by humanists and artists themselves. So it’s sort of the study of those disciplines, but it’s also the use of information and technology in those disciplines.

One interesting conversation we had, during our Annual Meeting meeting, we were discussing our poster competition that we’re holding this spring, and just generally trying to talk about that, the concept, or the idea of a panel that we might do, and the question of what does information and technology, or technology resources, mean to arts and humanities? We elicited, just from the couple of us at that meeting, several different interpretations, including information storage and retrieval, visualization, images, audio recordings, videos, research data management and assessment, institutional repositories and data repositories for humanists. So these are topics, all of those, are covered by our SIG. Being AH, it’s the study of the application in the humanities, but it’s also the direct application by humanists. And by nature we’re just a very collaborative SIG, because we do intersect with all these other specific things.

So it’s kind of a loaded question. Like you said, it’s hard to define; most people think arts and humanities and automatically they’ll form some sort of opinion, whether it’s data visualization, or digital humanities—that’s where most people initially go, the use of technology by humanists, especially history and linguistics. You know, using data in those disciplines, that’s where most people go initially. But SIG AH is about a lot more than just digital humanities, and I’m trying to make that a bit more specific; that’s part of my outreach and building our membership.

Adam: Right, right. And it sounds like you are saying it’s a combination of research and practice; it’s not just one or the other, it is a melding of both of those.

Jeremy: Exactly, and I think that’s an important distinction, I think. Especially as I said because most people do go, more to the practice, I guess, side? In terms of looking at the digital humanities, and there’s a whole lot more involved with it! And that’s great because that means we can be collaborative, and by nature we like to work with other SIGs who can help us narrow that. For example, we worked with SIG DL [Digital Libraries] on the Digital Liaisons session at Annual last year [2014], and that helped us narrow down that. And we’re working with SIG VIS [Visualization, Images, and Sound] on our paper competition this spring, which helps us narrow down the topic. So we are a very big broad topic, but we like to work with other SIGs and Chapters on specific events that help us narrow that topic down.

Adam: Exactly, and we will get to those collaborations a little bit more later on.

SIG Activities

Adam: You just named the Digital Liaisons collaboration with SIG DL. Besides that, what other activities does SIG AH engage in, in your experience, at ASIS&T Annual Meetings?

Jeremy: So in the years past we’ve always tried to at least collaborate or have one panel, you know, usually we try to collaborate with another SIG to do a panel or some sort of poster session; last year we did the smaller student poster session for Digital Liaisons. So we always try to do a panel, we always try to have one formal SIG AH-sponsored session. And then we will support our members; we want to know who in our membership is presenting a paper or a poster, and we like to put those on our web site, and just make sure that the community knows what the other members are up to, and help them promote that. So, standard sort of… we do our meeting, and we just try to be as involved as possible with at least one session, if not more. And then really supporting the membership as they’re presenting their various papers and posters and things like this.

Then we will support our members; we want to know who in our membership is presenting a paper or a poster, and we like to put those on our web site, and just make sure that the community knows what the other members are up to and help them promote that.

We are also bringing back our SIG Newsletter in May, as a value for the members, a way to engage and get feedback, and a way to summarize all the work we’ve done so far in 2015.

I don’t know if you want me to talk about it now, but we also have several new initiatives that we’re just kicking off this spring. Starting with our paper competition, and also some new social media things.

Adam: Is the paper competition associated with the Annual Meeting, or is that something outside the Annual Meeting?

Jeremy: We’re planning on using what comes of the paper competition—it’s a student research paper competition—so the winners of that competition, we’re going to write them into a panel. So it does parlay into what we’re planning to do at Annual, but it is a separate event altogether.

Adam: So to finish up about the Annual Meeting, it’s mostly in terms of panels and poster presentations, most of those in collaboration with other units of ASIS&T, other SIGs in particular, that focus around the issues that SIG AH deals with, right?

Jeremy: Exactly. And it’s really a collaborative type of thing, because it does help us narrow things down. We would be interested in doing our own, we could do our own, but we’d have to have a specific topic. For example, another topic that’s come out of discussions we’ve had with another SIG, that wouldn’t necessarily be the first thing you would think of, was with SIG ED [Education for Information Science]. And I was talking with Karen Miller, Co-Chair of SIG ED, who I’ve been collaborating with—we’re working on a grant writing for librarians session—and as part of that I’m working on something SIG AH-related, which is technology grants for artists and humanists, changing the scope of that. So now it looks like SIG ED and SIG AH may collaborate on doing a grant writing panel at Annual. So we’re probably going to submit for that; it’s still very much in early idea phase, but those are the types of collaborations that come out of talking with other SIGs, and just our normal day-to-day activities, and working collaboratively with as many folks as we can.

Those are the ideas that just come out of it, and that’s the exciting part; we like to think we could do a panel, we can do all of this on our own if we really want to! But we don’t have to, because we have all these great ideas coming out of all these other things; we can easily—or sometimes not so easily, but—we can almost apply to the arts and humanities in some way.

Adam: So we talked about the Annual Meeting, you did get into some of the stuff that happens outside the Annual Meeting. So go through that in terms of what SIG AH engages in outside the Annual Meetings as well.

Jeremy: So our attendance and what we do at the Annual Meetings is pretty standard, but I think what we’re doing outside of that, and what we’re doing throughout the rest of the year, is really fun, and it’s a bit more exciting, I think. To me, we’re a SIG that does the normal SIG stuff at the Annual Meeting, and then outside of that is where we can be more creative.

Well, the first thing we did, one of our previous Chairs, Sarah Buchanan, started a repository of great information resources. So one of the first things we’re doing, in updating our web site — with Sarah still our Webmaster — we’re first updating that. So we provide some great resources on our site; we’re going to refining and updating that list, so we can help our members and anyone interested in those areas get some new information. So not really exciting or anything, it’s just a great information resource.

Adam: It’s pretty cool, it’s pretty cool!

Jeremy: Yeah, it’s a pretty exhaustive and extensive list, so we’re cleaning that up and making it larger in scope. So that’s something we’ll be doing.

A really really cool project that we’re working on right now: Sarah Buchanan, as I mentioned, one of our previous Chairs, when she came on as Chair in 2011, she wanted to update some things on the web site, but also in conjunction with the 2012 75th anniversary, she came up with a really interesting idea to start gathering information on the history of our SIG. So she started getting in touch with past chairs, including Ralph Dumain, who was the chair back in the 80s, and he’s still very active. He had a ton of the content and materials in paper form from back in the 80s. So in the last two years he’s been digitizing that information and reformatting it for us, and he’s giving that to the SIG, and we’re going to be uploading that on our SIG AH web site. We’re going to get all of this really great archival information about the history of our SIG up there. So that’s a really big project we’ve been working on for two years, and it’s finally coming to culmination with the announcement and release of that on the web site.

We’re going to do a 2-day symposium where the student finalists will come and present their papers. We’re also going to have some guest professional speakers coming to talk about different issues in information science and technology, library science, and computer science, as it relates to arts and humanities. And then we’ll be giving away a nice award for that…

One more quick thing I wanted to mention about our activities—and this is sort of the big one—is the student paper competition. We’re collaborating with SIG VIS, and right now [at the time of the interview] we’re still accepting papers; the deadline is not until the end of this month. We’re going to do a 2-day symposium where the student finalists will come and present their papers. We’re also going to have some guest professional speakers coming to talk about different issues in information science and technology, and library science, computer science, as it relates to arts and humanities. And then we’ll be giving away a nice award for that, and inviting the winners to potentially present, as I said earlier, as part of a panel on the topic at the Annual Meeting in St. Louis. So that’s the really big thing that we’re doing right now; everything’s focused on that, and we’re hopeful that we get a lot of good response from that collaborative paper competition.

Adam: Definitely, definitely. It sounds like a great initiative and a great opportunity, not just for students but also for the SIG, to promote itself that much more visibly among the ASIS&T and the information science community.

Social Media and Engagement

Jeremy: That’s been, since I came on as Chair, essentially in November, the first thing I did. I was lucky enough that another new member, Sveta Stoytcheva, from the University of Illinois, a student member, was also there and wanted to become our communications manager. So she and I have been working together so—and I know I’m jumping ahead a couple of questions, but—we were focused on, if we’re going to do this paper competition, how can we really start engaging our members in different ways, how can we be a bit more visible in terms of our current membership, and maintaining those members, but also gaining new members, how can we put ourselves out there a bit more and find new, fresh faces to bring into the SIG and ASIS&T in General. And so Sveta created for us a Twitter handle, so we’re @ASIST_AH. And we also have a new Facebook community, which is ASIS&T SIG AH.

We’re really just getting started there, we’re just building up our base and connecting with folks and reaching out. But one of the interesting things we’re doing is a hashtag, #sigahreads, and Sveta’s just regularly, when she sees something, or retweeting things, or if there’s something she’s reading, or I’m reading, or we think other people should be reading, anything interesting, we’re promoting that: digital humanities, e-research in the humanities, any kind of topic. So that’s something we’re also starting to… it’s only been live for a little over a month or two, so we’re just really getting started with it. But we’re seeing a lot of good feedback from these new ways of engaging with our members. We are trying to move away from the SIG AH listserv, but at least for this spring, we’re going to try and engage a little more there, so people can see us engaging, and then start to transition away from that. Get people’s attention a little bit more and engage with them, and then transition to these newer forms. Because I know some of the other SIGs are looking at moving away from their listservs, and we’re thinking about the same thing.

Adam: Sure, sure. And my role as an ASIS&T Social Media Contributor is definitely all about engagement. ASIS&T is trying to get SIGs to engage with each other, and with Chapters, and with other membership elements. My focus has been on the SIGs and Chapters, and that’s why these interviews are happening and these blog posts are coming out. We’re working with the SIG Cabinet and Chapter Assembly in terms of getting more promotion for our SIGs and Chapters, and get engagement going with the membership in that way. It sounds like you guys at SIG AH are right on board with that!

Jeremy: Yeah, both SIG AH and SJSU. With both, that’s been my big thing, is collaboration and engagement. And it can be a bit frustrating, especially for the Student Chapter, to run into these… not roadblocks, but you think it should be a little bit more collaborative, or some easier ways to engage with other SIGs and things. So I’ve got opinions on things, so if you ever want to talk about that I’m happy to as well!

Adam: Yes, and like I said we’ll probably get to talk to the San Jose Student Chapter, by the summer at the latest I’d expect.


Adam: We talked about online engagement, so let me jump back to benefits, in terms of what do you feel is the most important benefit members of SIG AH receive by becoming involved in the SIG’s activities and engaging with the SIG?

Jeremy: That’s kind of what we’re working on right now, building that value. Because we do, because we are such a—I don’t like to say general, because it is specific, but within the area of arts and humanities it can be very general; you know, it’s hard to meet everyone’s interests and, you know, provide value with one event or one paper kind of thing. So we really do try, we really are engaging, and we bring in and like to hear from people across the board. So that is, with any of the SIGs, one of the values is like-minded individuals. Because we have a core group—we’re not a huge SIG—the people who are involved and the members we’ve had for years are really open to sharing information, collaborating on research projects—if that’s something that a member, a new student for example, wanted to join our SIG and the “senior” SIG membership, and especially the folks who have been leaders in the past, are very open to sharing information. It’s just a very warm, fuzzy feeling when you join because… [laughter] Everyone’s like that at ASIS&T anyway, but in our SIG because, you know, we are artists and humanists, so to speak, we’re touchy-feely! [laugh]

It’s just a very warm, fuzzy feeling when you join because… Everyone’s like that at ASIS&T anyway, but in our SIG because, you know, we are artists and humanists, so to speak, we’re touchy-feely!

So as far as those things, we also try to provide some tangible benefits, like creating some interesting swag that we gave away at the conference last year, our puzzle pen holders, they were foam cutouts that you had to put together like a pencil holder. It got a lot of attention; people were interested in that. So I don’t know if that’s a benefit, but it’s a pencil holder, so! [laughs] And then like I said, we’re trying to do a bit more engagement with folks, and the student paper competition is one way to drive home the value of our SIG, and for students who are doing research in the various areas that apply to information science and technology in the arts and humanities—this is a growing area, and it’s an area that has a lot of opportunity. And so our paper competition is another tangible benefit, and a way that we’re trying to really drive visibility of that, and the importance of that research by professionals, but also by students who are going to be building all these great new technologies; they’re fording the path. So another way is by doing the events that we do, even though they are limited because we are a small to medium sized SIG, we really do try to focus on bringing the value and showing all the different areas that we touch and why they’re important to information science.

Adam: Definitely, that all sounds very good, very awesome!

Getting Involved

Adam: What’s it like being an officer of SIG AH?

Jeremy: It’s been quite… because I believe, I had been Chair of a Student Chapter, and currently am the Chair for SJSU, and had been doing that a couple of months before taking on the Chair of the SIG, I think… I was ready for it, maybe? But it’s also been working with Heather and the SIG Cabinet, and getting information; you know, I fumbled my way through a couple of things, but everyone has been very patient in terms of my basic questions. It’s been a learning experience, but I feel like I have great—as I said before, Sarah Buchanan and Mary Ann Harlan, who were the two previous Chairs, are still very very active. We also didn’t have much of an infrastructure in terms of passwords and logins, so Sveta and I are actually making it more complicated by creating social media accounts and having a central Google account. So you know, now there actually has to be some sort of transition, but when I came on there, you know, we had some very basic, things like that. So it’s been great, I’ve really benefited from having the last two Chairs who are still very active there to help me out.

Adam: Sure, sure. And you are planning for the future, it sounds like, for that transition, already, even though you only started in November. So that’s great to hear as well.

Jeremy: Yeah, well I think everyone seems to keep the Chair position for about two years, so I’m not looking to not be there anymore! But I know in general, as an ASIS&T thing, whether it’s a SIG or a Student Chapter, the transitions are something that was talked about a lot at the Annual Meeting last year. How people do that transition, and whether it’s a big Student Chapter, a little Student Chapter, a SIG, whatever, having those transition plans and knowing how to make that happen is been something we’ve focused on in my Student Chapter. So as soon as I came on to SIG AH I was like, wait, where’s our document for all the logins, and where are all the passwords, and how am I going to get into this? And they were like, oh we don’t have any of that, we don’t need that, so…

Adam: Yeah… I’m Communications Officer for another SIG, and we have the knowledge in three people so, heaven forbid something did happen to one of us the others should be able to fill in, but I’ll confess we don’t have a document right now either. It’s definitely big to have a good transition plan, and I don’t know if every SIG or Chapter necessarily does that.

Would you encourage others to volunteer with SIG AH?

Jeremy: Most definitely!

Adam: How can they go about doing that?

Jeremy: Well, they can join the SIG! [laugh] We’d like paying members, of course… no, I’m kidding. But we’re very, as I said, I’m lucky that we’ve got Mary Ann, who’s our previous Chair, who’s working as part of our leadership team; Sarah Buchanan, who’s our Webmaster; and then we have Sveta, who’s Communications and working on our social media things. So we can certainly have, we’re always looking for new ideas. We’ve got this symposium coming up; if someone wants to be involved with that, or help with judging or, you know, getting papers prepared for that. We’ve got certainly specific projects someone can come work on, or someone can just join us and help us manage the SIG overall, and bring in some new ideas.


But we’re also looking for any other opportunities, either for at the Annual Meeting or for something in the fall, if someone wants to collaborate on another webinar or another type of event. So we’re open to new membership, new ideas, as well as any ideas from existing members or other SIGs for collaborations.

Jeremy: We’re also very much looking, I mentioned a couple of the collaborations, like the SIG VIS collaboration which will hopefully be a full panel of our topics, the SIG ED collaboration which may be on grant writing, and we’ll be bringing a SIG AH perspective to that. But we’re also looking for any other opportunities, either for at the Annual Meeting or for something in the fall, if someone wants to collaborate on another webinar or another type of event. So we’re open to new membership, new ideas, as well as any ideas from existing members or other SIGs for collaborations.

Adam: And that would be with SIGs or Chapters, be they Student Chapters or Regional Chapters, any collaboration would be welcome, I get the feeling?

Jeremy: Yes, most definitely! We don’t have a central… we don’t have a Regional Chapter or anything that we necessarily work with on a regular basis. We’re open to anyone and everyone who has ideas or wants to get involved. We gladly will look into that and, in most cases, say yes.

Adam: Sure, sure, so it’s been with SIG DL, now you’re working with SIG VIS; you mentioned SIG ED. Is that pretty much the recent list, or are there other SIGs and Chapters that you’ve recently worked with as well?

Jeremy: That’s, going back to Annual, so the planning of last year was working with SIG DL; SIG VIS; I know that there was some talk about—and this isn’t my interest area and expertise, but—maybe a collaboration with SIG MET on metrics in the arts and humanities, and especially altmetrics and webometrics. So there’s been a lot of ideas, but that list is pretty much the most current collaborations. We’re also looking to get out with the Student Chapters a little bit; for example Sveta’s at Illinois, and we’ve also been in touch with someone at Simmons. So we’re slowly but surely getting out there and putting the pieces of this together to create some more formal, long-standing collaborations where we can work with Student Chapters and other SIGs on a more ongoing basis, instead of by project and project. Try to get some more long-term things going.

Adam: Definitely.

Working With ASIS&T

Adam: How has been the interface so far, from your experience, with the broader ASIS&T organization? So with the SIG Cabinet and the other people that you’ve worked with?

Jeremy: Yeah, it’s been great! Heather Pfeiffer, in SIG Cabinet, has been fantastic and patient in answering my questions; for example, the special SIG funding that we’ve applied for. So she’s been fantastic about getting us information. I reach out to Diane Pennington and Kate Dillon, who I believe is working with Diane on some social media…

Adam: Yes, Kate’s in the same Social Media Contributor role that I am.

Jeremy: …ok, great! Kate’s a member of the San Jose Student Chapter, so we’ve been working. I’ve been reaching out to Diane for a while, but also as far as announcing our paper competition and things, Diane’s always been very responsive and I always see the things on the social media. So whoever’s running the Twitter feed and all that stuff has always been fantastically responsive. There are little bumps here and there and communication snafus every now and again, but in terms of getting the information I need to make decisions and run the SIG, and get our paper competition up and running, everyone’s been greatly responsive.

…in terms of promoting events and helping us engage with members and new members, and promoting the things that we’re doing, that’s ten times more important, and that’s been spot on.

Given how many of the SIGs have social media accounts of some sort, especially on Twitter and LinkedIn, I would love to see a little bit more of that retweeting, just automatic, like, we all retweet each other’s stuff regardless. But that’s sort of a larger ideal around the engagement and social media overall. But yes, I’m always, whenever I’ve reached out and said “hey, do you think you could help us promote something,” whoever on the ASIS&T end who is pulling that trigger is doing a fantastic job. For us, that’s the most important thing; I need to know how to run the SIG, but if I don’t get an answer on something like that… If I don’t get a form in or something, because I didn’t get an answer, that’s one thing. But in terms of promoting events and helping us engage with members and new members, and promoting the things that we’re doing, that’s ten times more important, and that’s been spot on; everyone’s been very reactive and responsive to everything, so thank you!

Adam: Definitely. Yeah, that’s mostly Diane, I’m sure, but I think that the new web site initiative, I think that will promote the SIGs and the Chapters and their activities a lot more than the existing site does.

So I think we’ve had very much a strong theme of engagement, and that’s a great theme to get from one of these interviews, because obviously that’s what this is all about, right? It’s in terms of trying to encourage engagement. So I wanted to thank you for talking with me!

Jeremy: Sure! So yes, I hope you can focus on the engagement and really highlight how we are reaching out to new and existing members with our symposium and other events and activities.