January 2022 ASIS&T Member Spotlight
In each issue of Inside ASIS&T, we ask a different member questions about their perspectives, advice, and experiences in the field of information science and technology. If you'd like to be a featured member, send an email to Pamela Yonker at email@example.com.
Devendra Potnis, PhD (He/Him/His)
School of Information Sciences
The University of Tennessee at Knoxville, USA
What skills does one need to be successful in the field of Information Science?
One needs to be a lifelong learner to succeed in the ever-changing field of information science. One should be willing to update their technical skills and the domain knowledge where they plan to apply those skills.
What skills and knowledge are over-emphasized or under-emphasized in preparation for the study and/or practice of Information Science?
The answer would depend on what aspect of information science is studied or practised. In general, theories and practical issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) need to be integrated more sophisticatedly into the course syllabi. For instance, technical courses related to data science, user experience design, and web design, and non-technical courses such as management of information organizations, social informatics, and information sources and services, should integrate the DEI component in course assignments and projects for better equipping information science professionals to bridge various divides (e.g., digital divide, information divide, gender divide, racial divide) in our society.
In your opinion, what are the major hurdles that inhibit people from pursuing the study of Information Science?
The ambiguity associated with the term information science, the perceived image of the field, and the lack of awareness about the career possibilities after finishing a master’s degree in information science are some of the major hurdles to attracting people to our master’s degrees. Plus, several potential unconventional employers (e.g., businesses, government agencies, IT firms) do not know what a typical information science degree covers or stands for. Most of the times information science is narrowly and unfairly equated with libraries alone, which can hurt the job prospects of information science graduates. We all need to do a better job of marketing and branding information science field since its utility is no less than business or information technology for the world economy.
What parts of Information Science give you the most joy and enable you to continue this work?
My information science research on information behavior, information practices, information literacy, information value chain, etc. enables me to propose solutions and services for helping vulnerable individuals, organizations, and communities better access, use, and benefit from different types of information. Being able to create value for farmers in remote, rural parts of India, students with disabilities in the US, slum dwellers in urban India, pregnant women in rural Appalachia, small businesses in the US, microfinance borrowers in developing countries, users interested in COVID-19 topics on Twitter, and library patrons around the world excites me to conduct information science research. My cutting-edge information science courses and expertise help undergraduate and graduate students realize their dreams, which motivates me to teach information science courses.
How has the COVID pandemic impacted how you interpret and see your work?
Absolutely! Information-centric analysis of the grand challenges of our society might not always be in the best interest of the people, organizations, and communities for whom we are trying to create value. This pandemic has underlined that the politics, policies, and other external factors that are beyond our control greatly influence the outcome and utility of information solutions and services.
Have you recently witnessed any noticeable shifts within the greater Information Science community?
Yes! The increasing dominance of data-related research and courses in the information science field fascinates and concerns me at the same time. The growing interest in, acceptance of, and respect for social justice-related research by senior scholars and gatekeepers in our field is a pleasant surprise. Reputed and highly visible journals are open to publishing DEI research conducted through information science lenses, which is a good sign for our field since it will (a) emphasize the utility of our field for addressing the grand challenges of the society, (b) attract more talent from other fields, and (c) help us better market and brand our field.