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Get to Know SIG USE: Information Seeking, Needs, and Use

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The next interview in our “Get to Know A SIG / Get to Know a Chapter” series is with SIG USE: Information Seeking, Needs, and Use. SIG USE’s interests are “people’s behavioral and cognitive activities as well as their affective states as they interact with information.” This includes promotion of “contextual studies of human information-related behavior”; the “provision of information services” relating to information seeking, needs, and behavior; and the encouragement of “application of study results to information systems design.” SIG USE is one of our biggest and most active ASIS&T Special Interest Groups, but as I found out during the interview that can present its own challenges.

To learn more about SIG USE I interviewed Lisa Given, current chair of SIG USE; Professor at the Charles Sturt University School of Information Studies in Wagga Wagga, Australia; and Associate Dean, Research in Charles Sturt University’s Faculty of Education. Also a part of the interview was Robin Naughton, a PhD graduate of Drexel University‘s College of Computing and Informatics, principal at Robin Naughton Digital Consulting in the New York metropolitan area, and SIG USE’s current webmaster. We talked about SIG USE’s areas of interest, the activities they engage in at ASIS&T Annual Meetings, and the benefits of becoming a member and volunteering to help out with the SIG. We also discussed how SIG USE engages online and in person with such a diverse membership given its size. We hope this interview allows you to get to know SIG USE better, and potentially interested in attending their Symposium at the next Annual Meeting and in helping out as an officer or volunteer!

About the SIG

Adam: So let’s start with how long each of you has been a member of ASIS&T and of SIG USE, and what your current role is within the SIG.

Lisa: I want to say forever! I don’t know when I first joined ASIS&T, I think I was a PhD student. So that would probably have been back in the late 90s, maybe? And I think I’ve been part of SIG USE since those pretty early days, I don’t remember the exact year. All the way along, basically. I think ASIS&T has changed a lot in terms of its focus, and I think that now we see a much broader range of topic areas and specializations, but I think back then SIG USE was one of the few places I felt a bit of a home at ASIS&T, because a lot of the other groups were just not working in areas that I was working in.

Robin: My story is also that I joined while I was a PhD student. That wasn’t as long ago — that was probably 2010 or so — and I’ve been with SIG USE since. My advisor was also a member of SIG USE, so I got introduced that way, and I’ve been in it ever since.

Adam: So what topics does the SIG focus on? Do you focus mostly on research, on practice, a combination of those? And what sorts of research or practice might someone expect to be aware of when they’re part of the SIG?

Lisa: I would say we’re very research-focused. We look at, very broadly, what might be classed as information behavior. So even though we’re called SIG USE, it’s this combination of information seeking, information needs, information use, anything that falls under that broad umbrella of information behavior. So it’s quite a diverse group of people in terms of what people might focus on. We do get some people who are coming at it more from an information retrieval perspective, more of that side of the world. But our main focus is on people, and how people engage with information. So it’s very much a user-centered approach or a user-centered focus in the work. So yes, we’re very research focused, we like to talk about theory, we like to talk about research methods. But we also are not exclusive to research, so people who are doing work in practice… I think we often have people coming who are very engaged practitioners who do research, partly because, of course, a lot of the issues we might be looking at are very much “on the ground,” especially for people working in public services, such as reference. Information literacy, for example, falls into this camp as well. So it’s a pretty diverse group of people that come to the table.

Robin: I think Lisa got this covered very well! I would say I’m coming at it from a human-computer interaction (HCI) perspective, so very user-centered. You also get that group in this SIG as well. It’s a very diverse SIG, and you can get a lot of perspectives on information use and information behavior.

Lisa: We are also, I think, very open to and supportive of students. That’s always been a really conscious goal for the SIG, is to try to provide, even leadership opportunities; whether it’s having someone work as a web designer or something for our SIG, or being involved in the Symposium planning committee each year. We try to build those leadership skills among the student body, which partly keeps people as members, because they do find a home. But it’s also just something that we really value.

We try to build those leadership skills among the student body, which partly keeps people as members, because they do find a home. But it’s also just something that we really value.

Adam: Definitely! You talked a little bit about how you’ve seen ASIS&T and the SIG change over time, Lisa. How would you say the SIG has changed over the years that you’ve been part of it?

Lisa: Well I think we’ve really grown in size, and I think part of that is probably how this area of specialization has grown in the field. So I have a feeling that, in the early days, we were a bit smaller; it was more of a core group. Now we have a lot of people who, when we look at the registration for the conference each year, say for the Symposium, there’s a lot of “Oh, who’s this person?” Which is absolutely fantastic, that we… each year, we welcome people, but we also tend to keep them. So I think, certainly numbers have grown. I think we’ve seen that diversity around, information retrieval, HCI… People who previously might have gone to a SIG that was more systems oriented, I think the folks who embrace a user perspective are starting to come our way. So that’s really valuable, and those are a couple of the ways that we’ve evolved.

Events and Activities

Adam: Good! So you’ve been hinting at people coming to the Annual Meeting and you mentioned the Symposium very briefly. Let’s actually get into the heart of that, the activities that SIG USE engages in at the Annual Meeting, and the kinds of presentations or discussions that somebody might expect to see, and hear, and engage in at one of those Symposium events.


Dr. Lisa Given, Professor and Associate Dean,
Research at Charles Sturt University, and
current SIG USE Chair (photo courtesy
Lisa Given)

Lisa: So each year we very consciously have picked a theme for the Symposium, and often with an eye to, could we actually publish a book based on the activities of the Symposium? It doesn’t happen every year, necessarily, because it takes a lot of work. But often we’ve had themes like, for example, the first book on Theories of Information Behavior grew out of that Symposium, edited by Karen Fisher and Lynne McKechnie and Sanda Erdelez. We also had one that looked at the concept of emotion in information behavior, and that went on to be the Information and Emotion book edited by Diane Nahl and Dania Bilal. And so we’ve tried to, then, always pick the theme with an eye to, is there a way for us to maybe get some publications out the other end? So I think we try to be quite pragmatic, knowing that our members need opportunities to publish. And also that it’s important for us as a specialization to claim some territory, or to explore some new ideas, in a very collective way. So our goal is, as often as we can, not just have the Symposium be a single day of the year, but that the activities carry into the next year, where we’re able to do that.

In terms of what we do at the Symposiums, that’s always a bit of an evolution. We always have at least one or two keynote speakers around the theme that we’ve picked. The last few years — last year, for example — we’ve been playing with things like lightning talks; sometimes we have roundtable discussions. We try to make sure that the Symposium is not just a mini conference day, but that it’s got a real active component, and that people have opportunities to meet other people with shared interests. So lots of time for coffee breaks, or starting with a lunch time, or staying after with a reception. Because sometimes that sets the tone for the whole ASIS&T conference; you’ve met these people at the preconference event, and you’re able to then connect with them over coffee on the days that follow. And I know there are people who make life-long connections at the Symposium, which is really exciting.

Adam: Right, definitely. Robin, how about your experiences? What have you seen that you’ve enjoyed a great deal out of the Symposium experience?

The SIG USE Symposiums are a casual environment, so you can sit around, you can talk. As a student, the environment was very nice; you get to meet a lot of people, you get an opportunity to really get to know people and spend some time. … I really started to form connections within the conference, and understand the different aspects of being part of SIG USE, and being part of ASIS&T. And it’s particularly helpful if you’re new to the whole system, and the whole conference. So I really appreciated that.

Robin: Well, I attended and I think I did a talk a couple of years ago, and I really liked the entire day, actually. Because you get a good sense of — particularly if you’re new and you’re a student, because I think the first one I went to I was a student — you get a chance to really meet people in your area who are studying information behavior. And it’s a casual environment, so you can sit around, you can talk. As a student, the environment was very nice; you get to meet a lot of people, and as Lisa mentioned you get an opportunity to really get to know people and spend some time. Also, Denise Agosto organized a dinner, so we went out to dinner that evening, and met even more people. I really started to form connections within the conference, and understand the different aspects of being part of SIG USE, and being part of ASIS&T. It’s particularly helpful if you’re new to the whole system, the whole conference, you’re a student and you’re still trying to get to know the environment and the different areas in ASIS&T. So I really appreciated that.

In terms of the web site, I volunteered and started to work on the web site, so that’s another opportunity to really get to understand the leadership and understand the committees, and how the Symposium comes together, and all the different parts of the process. So overall, I think that’s been a great experience.

Adam: How about outside the Annual Meeting? There are some SIGs and some Chapters that do a lot outside the meeting… what about outside of that environment?

Lisa: We’ve tried to dabble with some webinars, and I think a lot of what happens outside relates to things like reviewing for our awards and things. We have a number of different awards and related activities that happen throughout the year. But there’s not a lot of opportunities for people to get together as a group, necessarily. And I think, again, it’s just the nature of the SIG and how we’ve kind of run things so far.


Adam: Robin’s comments right before that kind of roll into the very next question I had down, which is in terms of the benefits that you would get from being a SIG USE member. I think Robin just pretty nicely summed up the benefits of attending the Symposium. What other benefits do you feel like — either of you — that you feel like you get from SIG USE that you don’t get just by being a member of ASIS&T?

Robin: I can jump in on that. I think for me, ASIS&T is a large organization, and I do think the SIGs make a huge difference in terms of really connecting you to a continuous activity of what’s going on and what’s happening. So for SIG USE, the thing for me that I get out of it, is that I work on the web site, so I do a lot of the web work. But also, you’re connected to a particular group of people who are very active, who do research, who are really working on making the SIG active and reaching out to folks and trying to get it continuously going. And I think that makes a huge difference versus the larger organization. Because as part of the larger organization, although you may be able to participate in a lot of other activities — there’s great webinars that ASIS&T provides, and events throughout, and you get to see what other SIGs are doing — but I do think being part of a SIG helps, and I’m also part of the local New Jersey Chapter as well. And those connections are much tighter connections, because you’re working with folks in your area. So you can really clue into the specialization. I do information science, user-centered research, and information behavior, so this group — SIG USE — really talks to that and speaks to that. You can really be part of a growing area in that way. So I think that’s awesome!

Adam: And each group within ASIS&T adds its own set of benefits, I think. I hope people are learning that from these “Get to Know” posts, and I think it’s fair to say the three of us have learned that from our experiences in the organization so far. Did you want to add anything to that, Lisa?

Lisa: I think I would just add, it goes back to what I was saying about some of those life-long relationships. I know for myself, but also for my colleagues, there are a lot of people who have made very concrete connections with research collaborators, or even things like, you need somebody to do an external examination for a PhD that you’ve been supervising. Having access, in your mind, to that broader community: people you’ve met, people whom you’ve had a chance to learn a bit about their perspective on the world of research and of information science generally. This really helps you in other components of your job. So, you might meet somebody who is teaching a similar class to what you’re teaching, or they’re working on a project and you think, “Oh, I’ve been wanting to work in that area, and maybe we can collaborate together!” And I think that’s really what any good conference should do, but the SIG allows you to really focus in on the people who are closest to your area. And you can build really productive relationships that way.

Adam: Definitely! I’d say, speaking for myself as a SIG USE member, that’s what I get out of it! I think you’ve hit the nail on the head for myself, at least.

Robin: I totally agree!

Online Presence

Adam: Let’s go to the online venues, and I know this is an area that you are more involved with yourself, Robin. You’re dealing with the web site, correct?

Robin: Yes, that’s correct.

Adam: So what can members find posted on the SIG USE web site?


Dr. Robin Naughton,
Digital Consultant and
User Experience
Researcher with Robin
Naughton Digital
Consulting, and current
SIG USE webmaster
(photo courtesy
Robin Naughton)

Robin: Well, you can find everything you need to know about SIG USE on our web site. So we have the Symposium information, which is a big piece of it. We have access to the conference, we have all the officers’ information, we have all the awards information, any events that occur. You can also find information regarding the listserv, if you wanted to join the listserv, you can do that. You have access to the officers, so you can get in touch with them. And we also have a couple of social properties as well. The Facebook group is the top one that we have set up now. So you can find a lot on the web site.

Lisa: Yes. I think that we’re also trying to really — it’s always a work in progress, but — use that as a place for the corporate memory. Because any time you’ve got a volunteer organization and people in leadership come and go, there will be people that, they create really great resources one year, they document different processes and things like that. And if you’re not careful those things can disappear really quickly. So we’re also just trying to make sure that some of our… Even things like the list of historic members, or the officers and leaders; that might not sound like a big thing, and yet, give it two or three years and you can easily forget some of those early leaders. And so, really trying to make sure that we’re using the web site as a clearinghouse for that kind of information.

Adam: You mentioned, obviously, the web site, and that’s one of the main focuses online. Then you also mentioned the Facebook group; are you still maintaining — you or somebody else — the Twitter account for SIG USE?

Robin: Right, I think that should also be maintained. I think Lisa and I will be talking a little bit more about our social properties and how best to consolidate them a little better. But I think that the Twitter account is still being used as well, in addition to the Facebook group. So I think one of the things we want to do particularly this year is update, as well as streamline, the social media aspect of the site.

Lisa: I think what happens is, often, these things will evolve based on a person’s personal interest. So if someone wants to create a Twitter account, they’ll do that. But now the challenge for us is making sure that things are linked together, without it being extra work. So for example — and Robin and I just haven’t had a chance to talk about this yet — one of the easiest things to do would be to make sure that our Twitter account and our Facebook are linked, so that we just post to one of those places and it appears in both of those venues. That’s an easy tweak that we can manage.

And we’ve also been mindful of new templates coming out of ASIS&T, with the new web design there. So one of the things that we still have to tackle for this year is trying to look at the templates and see how we might transition over to that more common look. I think we went with years ago, even before some other SIGs had a real web presence, because we wanted something that was going to be really stable, and wasn’t connected to one person’s personal account. So the more that ASIS&T offers in terms of that back end support for SIGs is fantastic. But it now means that we have to retrofit some of our work.

Adam: Yes. And my understanding as a Social Media Contributor is that SIGs are not being forced to the new web site, but the logo has of course changed a little bit, and you certainly have the option to move to the new web site and use all of the resources ASIS&T is going to provide for that, which includes things like templates, like you mentioned. And obviously that might be a good long-term strategy for all of the SIGs to pursue, but I don’t think they’re going to make every single SIG do that, immediately.

So one of the things that we still have to tackle for this year is trying to look at the new ASIS&T templates and see how we might transition over to that more common look. The more that ASIS&T offers in terms of that back end support for SIGs is fantastic … we really appreciate that.

Robin: Yes, I think some of the requests and the templates are pretty straightforward. The ASIS&T branding guidelines are good. So even if you don’t shift into the template that they’ve provided, you can brand your site, you can update your site, you can brand it accordingly. And I highly recommend that, because then it keeps the main organization and the SIGs in line with each other. So people can easily, when they move to a SIG, or a Chapter, whatever the case may be, they still have the branding throughout their experience. I think the other piece of it, in terms of the template, that’s much more of a long-term strategy, and figuring out, if you’re not already on an ASIS&T domain, then you need to transition to an ASIS&T domain to take advantage of all the customized work they’ve done on the templates. So in terms of SIG USE, that will be a migration. So that will require more time, and more, longer conversations with Lisa to figure out that piece of it. But in the short term, Lisa and I will talk more about streamlining the social media and website posting. There’s some things we can do to update the site and make it fresher and easier on the eyes, and really take advantage of some of the good activity we have going on.

Adam: Sure. Do you feel like the existing content has been engaging with members of the SIG and with ASIS&T as a whole pretty well, and it’s just a case of raising that? Or is there a problem with engagement at this point?

Robin: I think from my perspective it’s just a matter of raising it. I think, in terms of the SIG USE web site specifically, one of the things that will raise it — and this is just a design issue, it’s not a content issue — is that I think the font size is too small. So, something as simple as that, I think, will draw more attention to the site. But I also think people know about the site, and it’s active, and we can make it even more active than it is.

Lisa: And I would say I think a lot of people are using social media, and so what we try to do is use that as a place to then push people to the site, if there’s say a call for an award deadline or something that’s posted up there. And that’s like anything; I mean, most people don’t just troll around on web sites in their spare time, unless they’re really purposefully looking for something. But even things like, making sure that the ASIS&T site, when it transitioned recently, it didn’t have a link to our web site. So you could read about SIG USE, but there wasn’t then an easy click-through to get to our web site. So some of it is making sure the parent organization is also, that we’re all connected and that things are working together.

Adam: Yes, and I think some of the little details did get a bit lost along the way, but I know they’ve been working on fixing those.

Lisa: Those things are going to happen, yes.

Robin: We got on it and they’ve solved it now.

Adam: There we go!

Lisa: We’re pretty proactive! But as we get closer to the date of the Annual Meeting, that’s when things really start to heat up and when more people start to be a bit more proactive about wondering what’s up. We won’t hear about papers and panels quite yet, and we’ll hear about the Symposium — that submission’s already gone in, so — we should hear about that any day now, and then start to advertise and look ahead.


Adam: Would you encourage others to volunteer with SIG USE?

Lisa: Yes please!

Robin: Certainly!

Adam: How can they go about doing that? Are there particular areas you’re looking for volunteers in?

Lisa: Well, we are always looking for volunteers! Every year we need people to volunteer to help with the next year’s Symposium. So that’s always a good way, and some people will actually help out with this year’s Symposium, on the ground, checking people in or just organizing the room and that kind of thing. But certainly the Symposium is something, we’re always looking for people with keen topic ideas. And at each Annual Meeting, when we have our business meeting, we try to leave there with a topic that we’ve agreed on, and with a couple of people who are going to chair it. And then we put together a committee that also helps throughout the year. So anybody with bright ideas is always welcome to e-mail any one of us, but definitely connect up at the business meeting at the Annual Meeting as well.

And then we’re always looking for officers. Our terms of office are about two years; we try not to overload people with work, to keep it pretty minimal. But we need that kind of rotation of people coming in, especially fresh folks; students, people who are in assistant professor roles. We’re very welcoming, so we’re not always relying on the same half-dozen people; I think that’s always the goal. We have very committed people who’ve been around a long time, and they end up saying yes to tons of things, because they’re keen, but we try not to overload people, if we can.

Inclusion of Diverse Interests

Adam: You mentioned this a little bit earlier: SIG USE is undoubtedly one of the largest ASIS&T SIGs, so how do you manage the interests of such a diverse range of members?

Lisa: Hmmm. I think a lot of it is really about being very open and trying to give people opportunities that, if they want to pursue a specialized topic, that’s really great to us. One of the ways that we do it is that we try to carefully manage the Symposium, in particular, because that is a big draw; to make sure that the topics are not really highly specialized which might exclude people. We try to keep the topics around, like, visual methods, or emotion, or the use of theory; we try to keep that very broad, so that people can interpret their topic and fit it in, rather than… If we only looked at something really micro, like the use of a specialty piece of software that only 10 people were using, lots of people wouldn’t find a home. I think that’s really worked as a general principle, because it means people feel like they can be part of the SIG, they can volunteer to be on the executive committee — as an officer — they can do a variety of things, knowing that their voice is respected and we really value that inclusion.

[SIG USE is] very open and tries to give people opportunities … One of the ways that we do it is that we try to carefully manage the Symposium, in particular, because that is a big draw; to make sure that the topics are not really highly specialized which might exclude people. … I think that’s really worked as a general principle, because it means people feel like they can be part of the SIG, they can volunteer to be on the executive committee, they can do a variety of things, knowing that their voice is respected and we really value that inclusion.

Adam: Well, that can lead into this final, very important, probably the most important question we have here. Have you been on your best information behavior?

Lisa: [laughs] Always, always! You’ve got to practice what you preach, Adam!

Adam: Yes, definitely!

Robin: That’s right!

Lisa: And that’s the hard thing, right? Maybe that should be our motto, “practice what you preach.” But, I mean, I do actually really believe that. I think that we do have to make sure that, the things we’re telling our students to do, that we engage with our participants and our research about, are things that we do in our day jobs.

Adam: Thanks to both of you for the interview!

Robin: No problem!

Lisa: Thanks, it was great!

Thanks again to SIG USE and to Lisa and Robin for being willing to be interviewed! If this post has raised your interest in SIG USE, we encourage you to engage with us in the comment section below, to check out their web site, or to e-mail a SIG USE officer for further details on volunteering and getting involved. We also welcome your feedback and thoughts on our continuing “Get to Know” series via the comments.