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Associate Professor Devendra Potnis to be Recognized by CCI for International Work

Associate Professor Devendra PotnisSIS Associate Professor Devendra Potnis receive the College of Communication and Information Bud Minkel International/Intercultural Award this October.

The award recognizes the work and research Potnis has conducted over the past two years in Kenya, Benin and India – much of this has been geared towards helping people who are disadvantaged in their communities due to financial, technological, cultural, or political barriers.

“I think it’s our responsibility, our duty, to help people who are disadvantaged and marginalized. It is our social responsibility, moral responsibility and ethical responsibility,” Potnis said. “I have these skills, I am an information scientist, so I can teach them information literacy and other relevant skills for using mobile technologies and social media to overcome the barriers to their development.”

The projects he’s headed up include:

  • Two diplomacy labs conducted with the US Department of State in Benin, which is in West Africa, and Kenya. “We developed guidelines for how the United States can actually play a role, for how diplomats can recruit and train people using social media to solve the local problem of corruption,” Potnis explained. He said that corruption is often the number one reason for poverty in developing countries, so helping residents of those countries fight corruption via social media results in lower corruption and better governance. One example of this is teaching citizens to use mobile phone applications such as SnapChat to record and upload videos of government officials who are extorting bribes, he said. Other applications included using social media platforms such as WhatsApp to spread the US message.
  • In India, Potnis conducted a study of women living in very low poverty to see what barriers they have to owning mobile phones. About 245 women living in rural and urban slums were surveyed as part of the study, with the results showing that eight types of pre-existing inequalities create barriers to owning mobile phones, which reinforce the gender digital divide for women. Women experience more barriers than men in the same context for owning and using mobile phones.
  • Potnis partnered with Dr. Bhakti Gala of Central University of Gujarat, India, to do a study funded by the ALISE/OCLC LIS Research Grant Program. They developed financial, information, and mobile technology literacy toolkits that they then made accessible to a segment of the population that earns less than $2 a day in India. India’s government is pushing for a cashless society that uses mobile phones to facilitate financial transactions, but about 35-40 million people in the country do not have the digital, information, or financial literacy to operate in that type of society. “These people are less likely to be part of this mainstream, so they are excluded. If they do not build these skills, they would be left behind in the cashless society envisioned by the Government of India. So to bring them into the mainstream, they need to have these skills, so this toolkit will essentially help them to use mobile phones for finance,” Potnis said.

Potnis said he first realized his capacity to help underprivileged populations as an information scientist while doing his internship with the United Nations in India in 2005, and ever since then that has been the goal of his work.

“These people need somebody like me who understands the technology, understands the context, understand the culture. So, I am like an interface,” he said.

SIS Director Diane Kelly Completes Term as Chair of Top Information Retrieval Organization

Ricardo Baeza-Yates, CTO of NTENT, and SIS Director Diane KellySIS Director Diane Kelly recently traveled to Paris and wrapped up a fruitful three years as chair of ACM SIGIR (Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Information Retrieval). She ushered in a new chair at the 2019 ACM SIGIR Conference, which Kelly said is the oldest, and most distinguished, information retrieval conference. Kelly will continue to serve for another three years on the leadership team as past-chair.

SIGIR, the organization, was founded in 1963, held its first co-sponsored meeting in 1971, and its first conference in 1978. It sponsors a number of conferences each year, including the flagship conference, ACM SIGIR, which this year, was attended by over 1,000 participants.

Kelly said she has greatly enjoyed her time as chair and has especially appreciated having the support of an outstanding and ambitious executive committee, “As a committee, we’ve been very focused on building community. We have a lot of talented members and it has been fun listening to them, creating opportunities for them to share their passions and expertise, and developing programs that help others build their careers and reach their goals.”

During her time of leadership, Kelly said the executive committee engaged in a variety of new initiatives and projects, including:

  • Creating the ACM SIGIR/SIGKDD Africa Summer School on Machine Learning for Data Mining and Search; the inaugural session of the school occurred in January in South Africa.
  • Starting an annual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion lunch at the ACM SIGIR conference. This year’s lunch, which Kelly organized, focused on conference accessibility and included a speaker who discussed challenges people face attending conferences. As a result, the ACM SIGIR executive committee will ask future conference organizers to include a conference accessibility chair.
  • Supporting a large student travel grant program that supports travel to five different conferences and creating a student liaison program to allow students to participate in governance and organize student-focused events.
  • Beginning a complete redesign and rebranding of the organization’s website, which is still in progress.

Overall, Kelly said she’s pleased with the executive committee’s work during her time as chair, and that she looks forward to continuing her service to the SIGIR community as past chair.

“The conference features the highest quality, cutting-edge research in the field, and the organization is a supportive, person-centered community that provides infrastructure and opportunities to people all around the world who are interested in improving information access for the greater good,” Kelly said.

Before attending the SIGIR Conference, Kelly taught and mentored students at the 12th European Summer School in Information Retrieval in Milan, Italy. This is a week-long intensive program for graduate students to learn about information retrieval. Kelly gave a lecture, “Foundations of User-Oriented Information Retrieval: User Interfaces and User-Centered Evaluation,” and participated on a panel about teaching and learning information retrieval. “Being around students who are interested in pursuing information retrieval research in their PhD studies is energizing and invigorating. It was a great pleasure sharing what I know with them and hearing about their research ideas and plans,” Kelly said. Kelly also participated in the doctoral consortium at the ACM SIGIR Conference, where she mentored and gave feedback to students about their dissertation research.

Pictured: From left, Ricardo Baeza-Yates, CTO of NTENT, and SIS Director Diane Kelly

School Librarian, SIS Alum Erika Long on Making the Library a Place for Every Student

Erika Long, school librarian at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School and SIS alumErika Long (’16) was working with children in an after-school program, and as an academic mentor and tutor, when she realized she could do more for them. She wanted to provide children with lifelong skills that would make them successful academically and professionally, and she settled on the best way to do that: become a school librarian.

So Long set off to accomplish her new goal. Not only was she required to get a master’s degree in information sciences, she also needed to become a certified teacher. She had earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in sports management and psychology, and was working part-time at the university when she decided to further her education.

“UT [SIS] was perfect because I was already a Vol, plus the online learning component really worked for me,” she said.

Long was hired as a library clerk in the Knox County School District when she started the master’s program in 2014,  which gave her some practical experience in a library. Shortly after graduating, she began working as a librarian at a high school in Knoxville, but then an opportunity “fell in her lap” that she couldn’t miss. That opportunity was her current job as school librarian at Thurgood Marshall Middle School in Antioch, Tennessee. 

“High school to middle school is a huge shift. It’s very different in how you communicate with students, and the scheduling is different as well. You’ll find in middle school that it’s a make or break time with students using libraries. They’re so used to going to the library on regular rotation in elementary school, but a lot of middle schools don’t have the flexibility to do that, so they lose that consistency,” Long explained. “In high school, they end up at the library regularly…So I had to get used to reaching out to teachers and encouraging them to bring students to the library, whether that was just for checkouts, or me doing instruction with them.”

Long said her main goal is to prepare students for high school, so she teaches them a lot about research and even about citing sources. She also teaches them how to write reviews on the Online Public Access Catalog so they can learn not only how to read and critique a book, but also to write about it.

Besides educating students on the technical aspects of using the library as a resource, Long wants the library to be an open space where they feel welcomed just as they are. One way she has done this is to post a sign that states: “We welcome all races and ethnicities, all religions, all countries of origin, all gender identities, all abilities and disabilities, all spoken languages.” In a video made by the American Library Association, Long shares that the sign is often cited by students as the first thing that made them feel welcome and comfortable in the school library.

'Our librarian has such great relationships with some students she may be the only adult in the building that some of these students have that they feel they can talk to her and it’s making a tremendous difference in our school.' - Roderick Webb, former executive principal for Thurgood Marshall Elementary School.

Another way she makes the library inviting to students is to carefully curate the school’s collection to fit the needs of its diverse student population.

“There are tons of different things that we think about in terms of what makes true diversity, because it’s not just race or ethnicity, it’s also abilities, it’s also orientation, it’s also religion or faith, or the lack of,” Long said in the video.

If she doesn’t have the right book for the right student, Long said she will seek it out for them. “Every child in this building deserves the opportunity to have the right book for them. And if it’s not here, I’m going to find it,” she said.

Long also strives to create and maintain good relationships with students, teachers and her administration. When a parent has had an issue with the library’s collection, or some of the education Long is providing about certain topics – such as when a parent complained that their child knew about The National Day of Silence, which allows LGBTQIA+ members and their allies to reclaim their voice by being intentionally silent rather than silenced by others – she has been supported by the administration.

The school’s former executive principal, Roderick Webb, said in the ALA video that all students in the school need to have a safe place, and it’s obvious Thurgood Marshall Elementary School’s library is that place – and much of that is due to the work Long has done.

“Our librarian has such great relationships with some students she may be the only adult in the building that some of these students have that they feel they can talk to her and it’s making a tremendous difference in our school,” he said.

It’s been a joy for Long to see students who were once reluctant to discuss topics such as sexual orientation or gender identity, now speaking freely about these things.

“It’s so open sometimes that I just sit back and watch and smile and marvel at how comfortable they have become with themselves, and feeling like no one is judging them,” she said.

As Long continues to build on the work she’s doing at the school, she is satisfied that her decision to become a school librarian was definitely the right one. She also plans to extend her service beyond her job as a school librarian by becoming president of the Tennessee Library Association in July 2020.

When asked if she’s making the impact she had envisioned when she initially took on this career shift, Long said: “I think I’m fulfilling what I wanted to do, and even more.”


A Long Journey: SIS Assistant Professor Awa Zhu on Earning Tenure, and More

SIS Associate Professor Awa ZhuAssistant Professor Xiaohua (Awa) Zhu recently earned tenure and will be promoted to associate professor Aug. 1. She’s been with the School of Information Sciences since 2012. She will also be awarded the 2019 College of Communications and Information Faculty Teaching award in the fall.

We are taking a look back at Zhu’s journey to where she is now as a way to celebrate her achievements. Zhu, a native of China, agreed to share a little bit about where she came from – literally, as well as academically and personally.

Zhu found her love of books and a dream of being a librarian when she was still in elementary school. Her mother worked at a technical college that had a small library, and Zhu spent many summers visiting that library. When she was in middle school, she and her friends had notebooks in which they’d fill out surveys about their likes, hopes and dreams.

“So, all my friends knew, because of these notebooks, that I wanted to be the head librarian of the largest library in the world,” she said.

She set out to achieve her dream and was an excellent student who earned high scores throughout her academic career. Zhu credits her open-minded parents, who didn’t pressure her but instead gently guided and supported her. When it was time to attend college, she left her hometown of Zhengzhou and went far to the south of China, to Guangzho. There, she studied the information sciences.

Finding Her Academic Path

It was by chance that Zhu went the information sciences route rather than library science; when it was time to declare her pathway in her junior year, the track to library science was not open. So, she chose information science and also earned a major in computer science. She went on to get her master’s in library science from that same school.

She soon discovered she had a knack for writing papers, and began publishing papers starting her senior year as an undergraduate. This is what led her from being a librarian, to doing research that supports librarians, she said.

“I never enjoyed writing until I started to write about the things I cared about, in the area of librarianship,” she said.

Despite publishing about a dozen papers during her master’s program, Zhu felt as though she needed better training in conducting research. Her papers were more thought driven than data driven. She began reading about research methods, and a lot of the texts she read were from the United States. She also helped her mentor, Cheng Huanwe, conduct a study about the status of library education in the United States. This led her to applying for doctoral programs in the US, and she applied to about 10 different universities here. She was accepted to several, and chose the University of Wisconsin, Madison, due to ties her mentor had there.

“I had a great time, but I did not have a focus. My interests were too distributed, and as a PhD student, that was not a good thing. We shouldn’t be exploring, we should have a focus to finish the program and write a good dissertation,” she said.

Eventually Zhu found her focus, which was right to information – specifically digital rights. Since then, she’s expanded that focus to include digital ownership rights, access to justice (specifically access to legal information), intellectual property issues, and access to government information. She also maintains her love of librarianship and researches topics related to that, the disconnect there can be between what patrons think of library services and what services libraries actually offer. 

Growing Through Her Loss

While Zhu is in what she called the best place ever in her life, it wasn’t a challenge-free path to get there. Her childhood, and her student career were all very smooth-sailing. Then she landed a job as an assistant professor at the place at the top of her list: the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. But that first big life bump came shortly after she came on as faculty at SIS.

“My first semester, I was still figuring things out and orienting myself and becoming a better teacher. When I was just trying to enjoy this new career and life in Knoxville, the biggest blow happened. My mom was diagnosed with fourth-stage lung cancer,” she said. “That was the worst thing that ever happened to me, and it changed my world.”

Zhu’s mother fought the cancer for four years, during which Zhu would travel back to China in the summer to be with her. Those four years, and the one year following her mother’s death, proved to be the lowest points in Zhu’s life. She struggled personally as her husband was also working in another state for a couple of years, and when he did come back, they had their second child. It was a lot all at once.

But after that year of mourning, Zhu said she decided to implement gradual, positive changes. She wanted to eat healthier, exercise more, get better sleep, and also to start working more on her research and earning tenure. Besides her own determination, Zhu also credits SIS Director Diane Kelly, and Professor Carol Tenopir with providing much-needed encouragement and support.

Though she suffered from depression during those years where her mother was sick, one bright point was her students. Zhu loves teaching, and it was something she knew she had to show up for and do well, even if she was having trouble concentrating on research.

“I appreciated the opportunity to interact with the students, and every time I had to work hard to get ready for teaching, and it was a very good distraction for me,” she said.

Coming Into Her Own

Zhu said she celebrated her 40th birthday in 2018, and after all she’d been through, and all she achieved, she felt as though she had grown up.

“I am a much better person than I was at any other time in my life. This is probably the best time in my life. I enjoy my job, I love my students. And I enjoy my research, even though I think I’ve started too many projects,” Zhu said with a laugh.

When Zhu goes back to China and sees school friends, some of them tease her for being “just a professor.” But it rolls off her back. She doesn’t feel as though she is “just a teacher,” and says she doesn’t share the same ideals as many of her old friends do.

“In China, if you’re really good academically, people expect you to do something big. But that’s not me. I feel like the things I do right now are pretty big and meaningful, though not according to their standards. Like trying to make more money or a higher social status – but what I do right now is better for me. More satisfying,” she said. “We’re in this profession where there are a lot of smart, intelligent and insightful people who can do anything they want. But they choose to do this because they want to make a better world and want to be happy by serving people with their wisdom.”


Alum Lauren Cole ('19) Speaks on Practicum with PBS 'Black in Appalachia' Project

MSIS Alum Lauren ColeRecent SIS graduate Lauren Cole (Spring ’19) spent part of her last semester conducting a practicum through East Tennessee PBS and its “Black in Appalachia” project.

The project is geared to record the histories of black communities and people living in Appalachia, and it is being done with a multi-pronged approach, said ETPBS Director of Community Outreach William Isom. He and his team are creating short and long documentaries for both online and televised showings, as well as archiving physical records provided by people in those communities. This last part is where Cole played a role. She attended an event in Kingsport where artifacts such as photographs, papers, records, and more were brought to her and the team, and they worked to scan, catalog and organize all of that information.

“It was really cool, like a treasure hunt. There were lots of delightful surprises,” Cole said.

There was at least one woman who attended and provided artifacts from the Civil War era, she said. Many of the attendees were excited to be a part of the project, which has been ongoing since 2014.

“There’s been a huge growth of interest in the community as people hear about it and see what’s being done. These communities have been overlooked and marginalized for so long. To hear the history from the people in the communities is the main focus,” she said.

Her responsibility with the project was to digitize all the still images. When she completed the job, Isom asked her to give a presentation in Kingsport to the communities involved.

As she made the presentation, Cole was concerned that this was not her story she was telling. So, she framed her presentation through the high points of stories she was told by people at the Kingsport event.

Then, she asked for feedback to see if the information she gathered painted a complete picture – and through that, she discovered even more of the area’s history.

Cole recounted the story of Louetta Hall, who is on the Douglass High School alumni committee – which was a black high school during segregation. Hall wrote an essay about playing in an area called “Clay Hill” in the Riverview neighborhood where the black community lived at the time.

“She talked all about how they’d go play and come home muddy and try to hide it from their parents. I loved it because it was a snapshot of what their life was really like,” she said.

After she shared that story during her presentation and asked for feedback, what she was told by community member Calvin Sneed really brought the point of the project full circle. Sneed said that, when the black community began growing, the city paved over a dump site for manufacturing waste to create Riverview. The ground at Clay Hill, where the children played, has been tested and shown to be contaminated.

“It was surprising and upsetting to think about, but it’s also the point of it. They’re experts in their own communities. We can handle the resources and make these things accessible and give their stories more visibility, but they are the ones who have the stories and can flesh them out and provide information that we have no idea about,” she said.

She noted that, while interesting, the project also helped build up her core skills in digitization, metadata and cataloging.

Cole is the second SIS student to have completed a practicum with the project – Juniper Starr was the first. Currently SIS student Rebecca Howard is working with Isom, and more are set to join the project.

“The relationship we’ve built with the SIS practicum program has been instrumental in us even being able to do the Black in Appalachia archive work,” Isom said.

When his crew started going into these communities to film people sharing their stories, it became apparent that there were lots of historic documents and artifacts that needed to be recorded and shared, as well.

“It’s been good to have somebody who has an understanding of archival and cataloging processes, and for us to provide support for community collections,” he said.

The recorded artifacts are also now accessible to the communities and the public through Documentaries and other media created from the project can be found at

“We hope to continue this relationship and provide space for professional development for students,” Isom said.

ALA 2019 Through the Eyes of Student Lisa Ladd

MSIS student Lisa Ladd at the Library of CongressLisa Ladd is a master of information sciences student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who was awarded the Marcellus Turner Student Travel Scholarship this year. She used it to go to the American Library Association 2019 Conference. Here is a recap from her of that experience.

I have just returned from ALA in Washington, D.C. Here are some of the highlights from this amazing conference.

In my mind, this year’s conference was all about accessibility, visibility and reaching out to those populations that are under-served or marginalized.

I learned how to read and teach wordless picture books from author/illustrator Christian Robinson. I listened to Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler discuss their collaborative project on a new novel, “Cursed,” which will also be a Netflix series, about Nimue of the Arthurian Legend. George Takei spoke movingly about being incarcerated in a Japanese American Internment Camp as a child, and about his upcoming book. I attended a session on teaching LGBTQIA issues and that community’s history. I learned about defining and embracing the instructional role for public youth librarians. And I listened to an enthusiastic instructor share how she reached her students through teaching the language of hip-hop lyrics and applying it to things such as Shakespeare or social justice.

Representing my own library, I joined colleagues from Dartmouth College at the movie “Change the Subject,” highlighting our students’ attempt to get the U.S. Library of Congress to cease using the descriptor “illegal alien” in its cataloging practices. I also met up with fellow students at the SIS Alumni Reception, and snapped a few pictures of the capital.

A personal highlight was joining a fellow SIS student on a bus to the Library of Congress. We were allowed onto the floor of the reading room, into the stacks to look at the card catalog, and also to the office of the Librarian of Congress. As we were turning, I discovered Carla Haydn standing next to me. She was graciously greeting all of us on the floor and promoting her hard-working staff, who were staying late to give us a tour.

I made new connections and also met up with others from my past. Finally, I must say that I will need more bookshelves after returning with many wonderful advanced reader copies from publishers eager to share their upcoming releases. If you have never been to ALA, put it on your bucket list; it is jam-packed with people who are just like you – librarians, and people who love books.

SIS, Director Diane Kelly Partner in PhD Training Grant

SIS Director Diane Kelly teaching in ChinaDirector Diane Kelly and the School of Information Sciences are participating as a partner organization in a Marie Curie Doctoral Training Network grant. The grant was recently awarded to a team of eight researchers working in institutions located in five different European countries including Austria, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands and United Kingdom.

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville SIS is one of 14 partner organizations located across the globe participating in the network. Marie Curie Training Networks bring together universities, research institutions, and other sectors from across the world to train researchers to the doctorate level. Director Kelly’s role includes instructing PhD student researchers about user-centered system evaluation and research ethics, and hosting two visiting scholars at UTK.

The project, Domain Specific Systems for Information Extraction and Retrieval, focuses on the creation of applications, models and methods to assist professional searchers who work in the domains of healthcare, science and technology innovation, and law.

“When many people think of ‘search,’ they think of Google, and perhaps of some leisurely information need, but there are many areas where highly trained searchers with sophisticated search skills are needed to find very complex and specialized information,” said Kelly. “These are often adversarial situations where the stakes are high and the information systems are built and refined on-demand; for example, in legal discovery and patent search. Training researchers who can develop these systems and assist professional searchers is a natural place where computer science and information science connect. It will be great to play a role in helping educate these researchers about designing and conducting user-centered evaluations.”

Alumni Q&A: Recent Grad Valerie Aucoin on the Advantages of ALA

SIS Alum Valerie AucoinFeatured alum: Valerie Aucoin (’19) just graduated from SIS and is currently interviewing for youth librarian positions across the country. She will be attending the American Library Association conference this week in Washington, D.C. as a volunteer, after she helped lead the student ALA chapter at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Why UTK?

I had a family friend who spoke highly of the program and we used to vacation in Gatlinburg when I was little, so I kind of knew the area. So I knew I could do Tennessee – it’s cold, gets some snow, not too much. It’s the biggest city I’ve ever lived in, and it has a nice, vibrant downtown.

Why librarianship?

I basically knew I wanted to be a librarian when I was in elementary school because I was living at the library when I was a kid. We had a librarian who was really, really helpful, Ms. Mims. I found out I could do librarianship as a career, and I wanted to do that. That’s why I settled in Mississippi, and I got my bachelor of science in library and information sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi.

I just like it all, I found such a love in reading as a young child that I remember it being something where you could escape and go wherever you want – even if you’re not physically going to those places in real life. I spent a lot of time reading with my dad when I was a kid; he was a stay-at-home dad, and he’d take me to the library a lot.

I want to go into young adult services because the library where I went when I was a kid didn’t have one. I want to create a space where teens feel welcome and can continue to feel like I did when I was a kid. It’s such a formative time – it’s not home, it’s not school, but you can go and exist in a space with other teens and have conversations with other teens.

What was your experience like at UTK?

It was really positive and I made some good friends in my intro classes. It’s been great meeting people who don’t have the same interests as me because I think I learn things from them; especially from academic librarians and data-driven people, because they have different viewpoints.

I was a graduate teaching assistant for Assistant Professor Awa Zhu and I helped her out with the research she was doing on a paper that she was co-writing. It was about how people perceive digital items and ownership of them, which I found really interesting. I helped refine her ideas and I was a sounding board for her. I did a lot of research on what had already been published on the topic and helped as a test subject for her survey before she sent it out.

I had never thought about the ownership of digital materials before that and how it relates to information science as a whole, so it introduced a new take on the topic to me.

What role did ALA play during your time at SIS?

Lauren Cole (another spring graduate) was co-president with me – she actually roped me in and got me involved. I could help because I had been in a sorority and I knew how to structure larger events and how to create things. When we started, we had 10 members, and we ended with 37.

People became really interested and engaged in it, it was so fun. I like being in an organization where we can meet and chat and be professionals – I also maintained a membership in the national organization.

[Former SIS Professor] Bharat Mehra asked if anyone who was an ALA officer was interested in going to the conference this year as a volunteer, so I took him up on that. I’ll be volunteering with the conference’s Communications and Marketing for four hours a day, and they cover my expenses to be there.

I would definitely encourage students to get involved with ALA. It helped me to meet people, even distance education students, who I probably wouldn’t have met if they hadn’t joined in on our events. It’s a great networking opportunity.

UT to Launch New Information Sciences Undergraduate Major in the Fall

UT TorchbearerThe University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will launch the state’s first bachelor’s degree program in information sciences in the fall. The program was approved by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission on Friday.

Faculty and administrators from the School of Information Sciences (SIS) in the College of Communication and Information (CCI) have worked for more than four years to make the new major a reality.

“We believe strongly that an undergraduate major in information sciences will allow us to increase the impact we make on the university, the state, and information professions,” SIS Director Diane Kelly said.

The major will have two areas of concentration: user experience design and data, information management, and analytics. Jobs requiring these concentrations are projected to grow by more than 36 percent in Tennessee by 2024, according to Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development estimates. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 27 percent job growth rate for data analysts and a 15 percent job growth rate for user experience designers.

Kelly said the undergraduate program will educate and train students to approach information problems from humanist, scientific, social, and computational perspectives. The curriculum will include courses on data management, analytics and visualization; human-computer interaction and usability; web development and programming; and information literacy and ethics. She said the undergraduate program should create a natural path for more students to enter the existing information sciences graduate program.

“One of the most exciting things about starting an undergraduate major in information sciences is that it allows our field to have a much greater reach. Library and information scientists have been on the cutting edge of information management and services for decades,” Kelly said. “Educating people about the information sciences at the undergraduate level not only honors decades of scholars and practitioners who have worked to establish and define the field, it also helps elevate and make visible the information professions.”

CCI Dean Mike Wirth said the new program will benefit the college and the university as a whole.

“It will attract new students to CCI and provide complementary courses to other college majors, allowing our students to develop skills and expertise that make them more competitive in their communication fields,” he said.

SIS and its master’s program was established in 1971. The school’s enrollment has quickly accelerated in recent years, which Kelly said is another indicator of growing interest in a field with expanding applications and possibilities.

To learn more about this new major, visit our new undergraduate webpage!

Alum Donna George on Traveling Varied Information Sciences Paths

SIS alum Donna GeorgeShelving assistant, library branch manager, business analyst and now, director of product development – these are some of the job titles SIS graduate Donna George (’01), has held throughout her career.

The first job she ever had was at her neighborhood public library, and she loved it. While her peers were working in typical teen jobs at restaurants and retailers, she was happy to be at the quiet library, and had stable hours. But it was more than that – working in a public library set the stage for the rest of her career.

She continued working at a library all throughout high school and while attending Tennessee State University, where she earned an undergraduate degree in elementary education – and she knew she wanted to continue working in or with libraries.

“I learned through that experience that, if I wanted to continue working at a public library and to succeed – and make more money – I needed to get my master’s in library science,” she said.

But the program many of her coworkers had graduated from was through Vanderbilt University, and had been discontinued. George felt a little stuck, not knowing where or how to get her master’s. Then, in 1997, she saw an ad pinned up at the Nashville Public Library stating that the University of Tennessee was starting a distance education program for a master’s in library sciences.

“I knew back in ’92 when I graduated with my undergrad that I needed to get this degree, and that it would be my ticket to success in the library world,” George said. “But it’s actually been my ticket to success everywhere.”

The UT distance education program in 1997 was much different than it is now. As only one or two classes could be offered through distance education each semester, the program was five years long and followed a pre-determined path. George would typically travel to a location in Nashville to view a telecast of her class. But sometimes, classes were conducted a bit differently.

“I think it was my second or third course in the program that I took, young adult literature, and I got sent a humongous box of VHS tapes in the mail,” she said. “They had recorded all of Dr. Jinx Watson’s classes and sent us all VHS tapes. We were using some sort of online platform, but the actual courses, we were watching on VHS tapes and talking about later.”

Distance education has come a long way since then, and so has George. After graduating with her master’s degree she started at Ingram Content Group as a business requirement analyst, working as a liaison between public library clients and Ingram’s developers. Ingram’s main business is selling books to independent retailers and public libraries. In recent years, it added a division called Ingram Publisher Services, which manages sales, marketing and distribution.

“When I interviewed for my first position at Ingram, I told them I didn’t know anything about business analysis. But they said they could teach me that, but that they wanted someone who spoke the language of public libraries,” she said.

George is currently product owner for Ingram’s business-to-business web platform called iPage, but there was a multi-year gap where she did work outside of Ingram. She was a business analyst for the California Testing Bureau, a division of McGraw Hill Education, at its Nashville location, and then she went on to work at a management consulting firm called C3.

“Then this job [at Ingram] opened up and it seemed like a dream come true. I wasn’t really looking, someone told me about it. The job listing really read like my entire career up until this point,” she said. Her current job positions her to work closely with public library clients, and George said it was a welcome return to her roots.

“They were looking for someone who gave credibility to our library users, and I had public library experience. And, thanks to UTK, I have my master’s degree in information sciences. Which isn’t super important to the job, but it is super important to the division that this position is in,” she said.

It was her experience working in public libraries, as well as her master’s degree, that clinched the job for her. George suspects it was the degree that pushed her into the lead over other qualified applicants. She’s been working there for 2.5 years and the job has continued to evolve, allowing her to learn new skills. But, for George, it always comes back to libraries.

“My favorite part of my job is, because I’m still looked at on the library team as the iPage expert, I get to travel to a fair amount of library locations to talk to them about the services that Ingram provides,” she said. “And I just love being in public libraries and hearing from them, about what they’re doing, and what their challenges are. I love being able to get paid to do that.”

Though public libraries are her love, George also enjoys seeing the expanding applications of information sciences. That’s one of many reasons she currently serves on the SIS Advisory Board.

“I’m thrilled when I look on the SIS website and attend the advisory board meetings, and I see that the school is thinking about this degree in a broad sense. From where I’m sitting, it’s so clear all the different things you can think about doing with this degree and the different pathways,” she said. “I think that really mirrors what we’re seeing with public libraries today. They’re constantly surveying the landscape of their communities, and they’re changing and adapting and finding ways to stay relevant.”

2019 SIS Hooding Ceremony Celebrated 61 Graduates

Assistant Professor Carolyn Hank with students Kelsey Collins, Elaine Posanka and Joseph Wineberry being given a Diversity & Inclusion BadgetFriends and family packed a recital hall at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville on May 10 – all excited to watch their loved ones cross the stage and graduate from the School of Information Sciences master’s program at the annual SIS Hooding Ceremony.

Sixty-one students graduated with their master's in information sciences from the fall 2018 to summer 2019 classes. That's one of the largest SIS graduating classes in recent years, with 36 students participating in the ceremony. Two CCI Information Sciences PhD students were also hooded May 9, LaVerne Gray and Jim Malone. A livestream video of the ceremony can be viewed on the SIS Facebook page.

Several awards were also given to alumni, faculty and graduates during the program.

Zoe Hoyle ('94) received the SIS Distinguished Alumni Award, which honors an alum who has, through the course of their career, made significant contributions to the information sciences through leadership, service, teaching and/or scholastic activities. Hoyle was a science writer and editor at the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) in Asheville, North Carolina, before retiring in 2017. She established a blog for SRS that is still used today. Prior to that, Hoyle worked as an information specialist for the UTK Office of Research, where she created the university's first on-campus e-newsletter that delivered information to faculty about research findings.

Amy Dye-Reeves ('13) received the SIS Innovator's Award, which is given to an alum who has demonstrated innovation in the field of information sciences. Dye-Reeves is a humanities and instruction librarian and assistant professor at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. Dye-Reeves has used her information sciences skillset to create online instructional videos about information literacy for graduate students, and also recently developed her library's social media policies. Before she was at Murray State University, she was a library media specialist for Jefferson County Schools in Jefferson City, Tennessee.

Associate Professor Devendra Potnis was the recipient of the Bonnie Carroll and Roy Cooper Faculty Enrichment Award, which recognizes a faculty member for distinguished research productivity.

Assistant Professor Xiaohua “Awa” Zhu was the recipient of the Gloria & Dave Sharrar Faculty Research Award, which is given to a faculty member to support ongoing or new research exploring information needs and services in non-traditional information environments, as well as innovative services for specialized audiences.

This was also the inagural year for graduates to earn the SIS Diversity and Inclusion Badge, which recognizes a student’s commitment to diversity and inclusion as exemplified by their scholarship, professional service, and reflective participation while enrolled in our program. Three graduates received this honor: Kelsey Collins, Elaine Posanka and Joseph Winberry. (Pictured above from left, with Assistant Professor Carolyn Hank, on the far left).

Graduates were also recognized with a number of other awards: 

  • Gary Purcell Award - Joseph Winberry
  • CCI Outstanding Information Sciences Master’s Graduate - Karen Held
  • Academic Achievement Award - Jennifer Held and Maggie Marchant
  • Outstanding Service Award - Heather Doncaster and Valerie Aucoin
  • Best ePortfolio Award - Sharra Rosichan and Zachary Wilson

During their time at SIS, students produce a variety of objects that demonstrate the knowledge and skills they’ve gained while completing coursework. These include research papers, websites, databases, and instructional materials. Often times, students work collaboratively in groups to complete projects, and other times they work alone. SIS recognizes the best papers and best technical projects graduates produce with these awards:

  • Best Technical Project Award (Group) - Natalie Cleghorn, Justin Griffin and Scott Shumate, for their joint work on a proposed redesign of the McClung Museum website.
  • Best Technical Project Award Honorable Mention (Group) - Deidre Ford, Sharra Rosichan, David Scott, Kelly Stroud and Zachary Wilson, for their work to construct a pesticides database for the UT Institute of Agriculture.
  • Best Technical Project Award (Individual) - Sharra Rosichan, for her project, "Application of GIS in Mapping of Adult Literacy Outreach Programs and Potential Areas of Impact and Need."
  • Best Paper Award (Group) - Aaron Burnell, Rebecca Everette and Megan Phouthavong, for their paper, "On Tapa the World: The Future of the Food Truck Boom."
  • Best Paper Award (Individual) - Joseph Winberry, for his paper, “Shades of Silver – Applying the Strategic Diversity Manifesto to Tennessee’s Knox County Office on Aging.”  

At the close of the ceremony, SIS Director Diane Kelly reminded graduates of the significance of their accomplishments and their abilities to make the world a better place.

"This is a major accomplishment. Don’t every minimize it. And don’t let anybody tell you it doesn’t matter, because it does. Information matters, you matter and what you can do with information matters. Use it to empower others and elevate your communities," she said.

Lisa Ladd Heads to ALA with Marcellus Turner Student Travel Scholarship

MSIS student Lisa LaddMSIS student Lisa Ladd is the 2019 Marcellus Turner Student Travel Scholarship Award winner, and she’s thrilled that it will fund her trip to the American Library Association Conference in Washington, D.C. this June.

Though she has attended the ALA conference in the past in her capacity as a library professional, she has never gone as a student. After completing one semester in the SIS program, Ladd knew she wanted to attend the conference and learn more about her pathway, youth informatics. But without a scholarship, she said it wasn’t going to happen. It’s been a long journey for her to get to where she is, and she said she’s thrilled to have received this award.

Ladd’s library career was serendipitous and fortuitous. After a cross-country move, she had initially landed in a temporary position at the Dartmouth College athletics department.

“I went from working in downtown San Francisco to photocopying football playbooks. I was not happy,” Ladd recounted.

Yet it was an errand for one of the coaches that took her to the library, where she met a librarian who shared Ladd’s California hometown. As they chatted, she opened up about her dissatisfaction with her job, and he suggested she apply for a position at the main library.

“I did, and I never looked back,” she said.

That was 30 years ago. She started in technical services, where she helped to convert the card catalogue system into the library information system hosted by Innovative Interfaces. She then became a library collections and resource-sharing specialist. She currently works at the Kresge Physical Sciences Library, conducting all the day-to-day access services and collections work there. “I wear so many hats, but it’s very rewarding work,” she said.

Ladd extends her library involvement beyond her routine job to include chairing the First Year Open House Committee, which runs a library orientation for incoming freshmen. The entire main library on campus is turned into a Seussical world – an homage to the children’s author who was a Dartmouth alum. It’s this type of fun event, as well as a widening gap between her own generation and younger ones, that pushed Ladd to pursue youth informatics as her pathway.

“The older I get, I’m feeling less connected to our undergraduate population. It’s hard to know what they’re interested in, what ignites them,” she said. “In addition to that, I’m just trying to diversify my skillset so, as I start to look for work post-graduation, I can go either way, public or academic.”

Ladd knew she needed a degree to move forward in her career, but life got in the way of her pursuit and stalled it for a few years. Her interest in the program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, was sparked while attending an ALA conference a few years ago, where she spoke with someone at the UT booth and found the program appealing. She finally took the plunge in 2018, and has been enjoying it ever since.

“For somebody who lives in Vermont and spent less than 24 hours in Knoxville for orientation, it’s really an amazingly tight and warm community. I’ve made connections with classmates already just because so much of it is team-based learning, even when you’re all dialing in, so to speak,” Ladd said. “I think it’s a far richer program than others that people in my community have attended.”

Ladd is looking forward to attending several Young Adult Library Services Association-sponsored sessions at ALA to continue to flesh out her knowledge in that area. She will also attend one session as a representative from the Dartmouth libraries, which is a screening of “Change the Subject,” a documentary about Dartmouth students and librarians who pushed to get the “illegal alien” tag changed in libraries.

As an added bonus, while on the trip in D.C., Ladd and her husband will get to celebrate 20 years of marriage. After all, she wouldn’t even be attending if it weren’t for him.

“When I was thinking about getting my master’s, my partner, who is really supportive, said, ‘You should do this!’” 

SIS Assistant Professor Zhu Awarded Summer GRA Grant

MSIS student Amy Moore and Assistant Professor Xiaohua Awa ZhuSIS Assistant Professor Xiaohua (Awa) Zhu was awarded a 2019 Summer Graduate Research Assistantship grant from the University of Tennessee Office of Research and Engagement to continue pursuing her work on digital ownership and possession. School of Information Sciences master’s student Amy Moore will be the graduate student supported by the grant for the three-month summer period.

“This is very helpful because I need someone to help me with data collection, literary review and data analysis. [Moore] can analyze the interviews to get a sense of how people feel, what people say about this and then we can design a survey based on the interview data,” Zhu said.

While Zhu has previously conducted surveys for this research, she wants to build a different survey based on additional interviews and qualitative data. She previously submitted her research to a journal and, while it was turned down, the reviews she was given were so constructive that she is using research from psychology, consumer behavior, law, and information science to inform her new take on the research.

As for Moore, she is thrilled to be participating in the research and supported by the grant. She has a bachelor’s degree from Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, with a double major in English literature and anthropology.

“How people perceive the digital objects they have is becoming more and more important. Just knowing how the landscape of all our media is changing, both from a legal standpoint and public perspective, is really important and interesting,” Moore said, noting that she has done independent research on digital ownership for work in her social informatics course through SIS.

She said she looks forward to using her technical writing skills to assist Zhu in her research.

“Amy is a good writer and a deep thinker and I found her papers really interested to read when she was in my class,” Zhu said.


24 MSIS Students Attend TLA Conference via the Annual SIS School Trip

SIS School Trip group 2019Twenty-four MSIS students attended the second annual SIS School Trip, which this year took place at the 2019 Tennessee Library Association Conference in Chattanooga. While students were given tours of information organizations in Nashville at the inaugural trip in 2018, the SIS Director’s Student Advisory Council suggested that this year’s trip be combined with the conference. The school covered the cost of transportation, conference registration and board for the students who participated in the trip.

“I would highly recommend students attend future SIS trips because they’re enriching in a multitude of ways. The knowledge gleaned from attending conference sessions, roundtables, site visits, behind-the-scenes tours, and even receptions, is invaluable,” said Heather Doncaster, an MSIS student who attended the trip.

SIS Director Diane Kelly said the purpose of providing these trip opportunities to students is to connect them with working professionals in various environments of the information sciences field. Many students said they came away from this trip with a broadened network of Tennessee professionals, including alumni.

“By spending time with various library professionals at these events, I was able to widen my grasp of the impact that libraries have on their communities,” said MSIS student Jacob Bilek. “It was also a great opportunity to form lasting connections with people all across Tennessee in varying positions of authority. This was perhaps even more important of an event than the individual sessions were.”

On a more basic level, students also stated they enjoyed the opportunity to get to know each other.

“It is important to network with your fellow grad students in the program. And this trip was the perfect opportunity. We compared notes on our experiences in the program, and it helped me decide on my final course schedule,” said MSIS student Sarah Gonzalez.

Because many SIS students are distance education, they don’t always get to meet their peers in person.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to meet classmates in real life. It was immensely rewarding to put a face with a name and to spend quality time with fellow students talking at length about what’s happening in our field, their own research, life plans, and library advocacy,” Doncaster said.

Besides attending conference sessions, students attended the SIS Alumni Reception, which this year had a turnout of 75 attendees.

“We knew students would have a tremendous opportunity at the conference to connect with many of our fabulous alumni, and learn about some of the creative solutions and programming they are developing to serve their communities and users,” Kelly said.

Alum Ole Villadsen Uses Information Science to Assist in Security Intelligence

SIS alum Ole VilladsenWhen data are valuable products stored behind closed gates, monitoring those gates are people such as SIS alum Ole Villadsen (’15).

Villadsen works at IBM as part of the cyber security team; his role is to support incident response investigations by providing intelligence support, and he is also building a database of threat information.

“I love it, it’s great to be able to do both the hunting and the farming. Hunting in terms of supporting the investigations, and the farming is building out the database and making sure it’s a usable tool to support investigations,” Villadsen said.

He discovered information sciences in a roundabout method, after working as an analyst both in the military and then as a civilian for a total of 20 years. After two decades of government work, he decided it was time for a change, and began researching the organization and retrieval side of intelligence. He already had a bachelor’s degree in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia and a master’s in national security studies from Georgetown University before he started pursuing a master’s in information science.

“I wanted to learn new skills and perhaps live somewhere else and do different things. I did a lot of research on what was out there and what I could learn about that would match my current interest and skills, and I discovered information science,” Villadsen said, and additional research led him to choose the SIS program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Villadsen was living and working in northern Virginia when he started the MSIS program in the spring of 2014, and he finished the program in fall of 2015. In July 2018, he started his job at IBM in Colorado.

While his current job has parallels to the security work he did for the government, Villadsen said it is in a much different context, and adding the database to his tasks has allowed him to employ his information science skills. The database is a repository of information that can either help mitigate an incident already occurring or sometimes predict incidents before they begin.

“As soon as we see another kind of indicator of compromise, we can check the database to see if we have seen that before and quickly start to build out the investigation,” Villadsen said. “It is fair to say that, with regard to the database, with all the activity we enter in there and the modeling, we are the librarians of that database.”

Villadsen said he envisions the word “librarian” evolving into a skill that is a part of many jobs, as the information explosion continues and more people find themselves in the position of curating it.

“It’s not just about librarians as a title, but as a job responsibility, and that’s becoming more and more common. That people will have a responsibility to organize information as part of a job – that’s one direction things are moving in,” he said.

Database librarianship was just one skill Villadsen learned through the MSIS program – but perhaps not even the most valuable one. As he was taking classes, he said he learned how to seek out and learn new programs, new technologies. Basically, he learned how to learn.

“Everything changes, there’s always a new application, a new type of database, you’re never going to learn it all. So learning how to learn it all is a big part of the program. I got really good project ideas, and I got exposure to a lot of different tools that helped me to learn about other tools,” he said. This has served Villadsen particularly well at his current job, and he said he looks forward to seeing what new program or skill he can learn, and how he can apply that to what he does.

“I’m not the same person before going to school that I am now, in terms of my ability. I’m always learning a new tool, always learning something different, and that wasn’t always the way it was before. My whole outlook on learning and what I like to do changed a lot,” he said. “There’s never been a dull moment in terms of learning stuff, and I’m in an environment now at IBM that is exciting. There’s always something new that we’re trying to build out, invent, or make better, and that’s very consistent with what I learned at UT.”

Student Spotlight: Kashif Graham Finds New Calling in Theological Librarianship

Kashif Graham, MSIS studentStudent Spotlight features one of our current School of Information Sciences Master's students. Our students come from a variety of backgrounds, careers, locations and academics, and we want to highlight who they are and why they chose the University of Tennessee, Knoxville Information Sciences master’s program.

Featured student: Kashif Graham

Location: Nashville

Education: Bachelor’s of Arts in English literature, and Spanish from Lehman College (City University of New York); Master of Arts in Church Ministry from the Pentecostal Theological Seminary in Cleveland, Tennessee; will graduate Spring 2019 with an MSIS degree.

Current job: I moved to Nashville to start working at Vanderbilt Divinity School Library as collections maintenance coordinator and then was promoted to outreach librarian for religion and theology.

Why SIS?

I can think of a time in the eighth grade where I didn’t feel so safe in my school any more, so I hid out in the library. The shelves and the stacks of books became like a fortress to me and I felt safe there, and that never left me.

When I was an undergrad at Lehman, I frequented the library and I would always start my research there. I had big ideas and needed to look for the obscurest of resources.

After Lehman, I moved to Tennessee to work at Lee University’s William G. Squires Library as Public Services Coordinator. I was in a library management role, but not as a professional librarian. I did that for three years and that kind of whetted my appetite for the information sciences world, and for helping students, researchers and seekers find the resources they need. That’s where my library journey started.

After seminary, my plan was to go into full-time ministry. But toward the end of my journey, I started coming out to some of my peers as gay. I went to a very conservative seminary and I realized I was not going to be ordained in that denomination, so I had to find out what the next right move was. I wanted to be able to use seminary education, because I still felt called to the ministry. I started investigating theological librarianship as a bridge to both of my passions—ministry and libraries.

One of the reasons I decided to become a librarian, too, is that there weren’t enough people who looked like me. I thought, how different would that be, for someone to sit down at a reference desk and see someone who looks like them? There definitely aren’t enough men of color who are librarians.

Why UTK?

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has the premiere Tennessee library program, hands-down. There were many nights when I was living in Cleveland that I would drive the back roads to Knoxville. Especially being both queer and a person of faith, Knoxville was a safe place where I could do a lot of thinking. I would drive through the UT campus. I always said, “I want to go here for something, I want to go here.”

And then I discovered the library program. A number of my Squires Library colleagues had gone to UT, and seeing how they worked as library professionals, I knew that this was the program for me.

How has your experience been at UT?

I am so appreciative of my professors. I was in a new city when I started the program. I didn’t know anybody. I was freshly out as a gay man, and I was trying to navigate this new life. It was such a comfort to me that Dr. Cindy Welch would say at the end of every class, “Well, with that, I release you into the night.” It was like someone was tucking you in. She ended up being an instrumental part of my journey and I’ve taken classes with her throughout my time at SIS.

I also took (lecturer) Julie Winkelstein’s class on homelessness and libraries. That class changed everything for me. I, myself, was in this new city living in a very expensive apartment at the time. I thought, what would happen if I suddenly couldn’t pay for this—where would I go? The resources and discussions in that class really opened my eyes that there are so many of us only two or three paychecks away from experiencing homelessness. After her class, I began to see people I hadn’t noticed before. People in between buildings and under awnings. Her class redirected my attention.

Dr. Rachel Fleming-May was so helpful to me in the job-seeking process. I had a sizable presentation and interview that were quite daunting to me. We spoke over the phone on a Sunday, and she coached me through and helped me piece my ideas together. I ultimately got the job!

I really appreciated that my professors were not just about teaching in our Zoom classes; it was about forming relationships. I didn’t think that we could do that through a digital medium. But we did and our relationships extended outside of the classroom. I’m really grateful to have gone through this program for that reason. I know that these relationships will carry on with me throughout my career.

What’s next?

I think no matter what happens in the future, I will always be a librarian. There are a number of writing projects that I will be working on, as well as launching a podcast that deals with the intersection of faith, sexuality and race. No matter what work I do, I will always look at the world through a librarian’s lens: equitable access for all.

Student Spotlight: Emily McCutcheon Switches from Practicing Law, to Law Librarianship

Student Spotlight features one our current School of Information Sciences Master's students. Our students come from a variety of backgrounds, careers, locations and academics, and we want to highlight who they are and why they chose the University of Tennessee, Knoxville Information Sciences master’s program.

MSIS student Emily McCutcheon

Featured student: Emily McCutcheon

Location: Knoxville

Education: BA in political science and history from Emory University; juris doctorate from University of Georgia Athens School of Law; currently in second semester of the first year in the MSIS program.

Current jobs: I work at the Law Library of Congress as a remote content management internship. It started as a practicum last semester. Essentially, they had a lot of old legal resources and they’re spread out all over the place so a lot of links were not accurate or were broken. I was taking all the old resources and putting them into LibGuides so they would be redirected and accessible. We started with states and I did 26 states. I also worked on finding updated sources and making sure those sources were free and accessible. Now we’ve moved onto countries, which is much harder. I’ve done one so far. It’s been a lot of fun and it’s given me the opportunity to work in DC without being in DC.

Also, when I first applied, Dr. Fleming-May offered me a position in the UXA cohort, and I would be her GTA. I work at the law library for 10 hours a week. I work at the reference desk, and that’s what I did in law school, too, which is what made me interested in this career path.

Why SIS?

When I was in law school, I had the most perfect job ever. I worked for a really wonderful hospitality legal firm in Atlanta. I got to work for nice hotels, I got to meet rappers, it was a wonderful opportunity, but I hated it. The actual practice of being a lawyer was awful for me. I was lucky that this was the most perfect job for me but realized I wasn’t loving it.

Since I worked in the law library, I talked with the law librarians who worked there. They told me what I was describing was what they do. It just really seemed to click.

Why UT?

I’m from Georgia and we don’t have any library or information science program, and we don’t participate in the academic common market for that program. So I was real out of luck in that department, and my partner is from Nashville and he wanted to come back to Tennessee. And my parents have a house in Asheville, so I figured we could go visit them if we lived in Knoxville. I love Knoxville now.

How has your experience been at UT?

It’s funny because when I was in law school, what I did at the reference desk is what I thought librarians did in general, that’s all they did. Once I started talking to the law librarians about what they actually did, there’s so much more. One thing I really noticed was the teaching aspect, which is what a lot of academic librarians do, even outside of law libraries. I did not have any teaching experience, but the faculty is helping me to get it. Everyone in the program is like, “Oh, is this what you want to do? This is how you do that and what you need to do.”

I’m a part of the UXA cohort and the whole usability and user experience is not a big thing in law libraries, they typically have someone else do it. I can suggest how to improve user experience and it’s impressive to the people I’m working with.

The stuff I’m learning in class can be directly applied to my work. I’m in the collection development class, and the class forces you to pick an agency and develop a collection for them, so of course I did it for the (UT) law library. I’m in class and getting a grade and I can take the stuff that I do and hand it off to the real world and they will use it.

What’s next?

Once I got here everything started to fall into place. It was the right path – I applied, I got the GTA offer, I was able to work in the law library, and then I got the law library internship, and someone at the law library recommended the Supreme Court to me and I never in a million years thought I would get past the first round and I have. So it affirms that this is the right path.

I’m waiting to hear back from the Supreme Court; right now I’m a candidate for their research services department at the Supreme Court Library for a summer position, and I hope I get it.

I’ve been very lucky and I don’t know if I would be quite as lucky and quite as taken care of if I was at a different school. I think UT really tries to help you find what you need to do and what you want to do, and connects you with people who can help you do it. I haven’t met any disillusioned librarian students.

Faculty and Students Participate at TLA 2019 Conference

Faculty, students and many alumni from the School of Information Science will be participating in presentations at the Tennessee Library Association’s 2019 Annual Conference, “Opening Hearts, Minds, Doors” April 24-26 in Chattanooga.

Student Presentations

  • Joseph Winberry: “Walking Together Through Open Doors: Successful Mentoring” panel, 8 a.m.-noon Wednesday; College and University Libraries Roundtable Meeting, 1:10-2 p.m. Thursday; and “Opening Our TLA 2019 Conference LogoMinds: Two Early Career Librarians. Two Roundtables. Where to from Here?” 8-8:50 a.m. Friday
  • Tina Reid: “Connecting Compassion with Service,” 2:40–3:30 p.m. Friday
  • Meredith Goins (PhD student): Wednesday, “Walking Together Through Open Doors: Successful Mentoring” panel, 8 a.m.-noon; “Resilience in Leadership: Balancing Your Heart and Mind” panel, 9-9:50 a.m. Friday; and the Library Leadership Roundtable, 1:40-2:30 p.m. Friday
  • Lydia Gwyn: “Lessons Learned” panel, 8-8:50 a.m. Thursday
  • Jonathan Wilson: “Lessons Learned” panel, 8-8:50 a.m. Thursday
  • Clancy Anderson: “Maximize Your Networking to Facilitate Your Programming" 2:10-3 p.m. Thursday
  • Kathleen Tyree: “What the TEC? Creating a Digital Presence in Your Community,” 3:10-4 p.m. Thursday

There are also two students presenting papers at the conference at the UT’s iSchool Student Forum 8-8:50 a.m. Thursday. They are:

  • Leah Cannon: “Preparing, Not Repairing: A Case Study and Best Practices in Proactive Link Management”
  • Scott Shumate: "The Impact of a Database Migration on the User Experience”

Faculty Presentations and Recognition

SIS and Chancellor’s Professor Suzie Allard said Cannon and Shumate were nominated and chosen by SIS faculty to be showcased at the conference.

“It is wonderful to have two representatives who can share a sample of the great work that is being done by students in the School,” Allard said.

SIS Director Diane Kelly will be the featured speaker for the “Walking Together Through Open Doors: Successful Mentoring” panel, which also features alum Martha Earl, current MSIS student Joseph Winberry, and current SIS PhD student Meredith Goins.

SIS Announces Newest Addition to Faculty, Brian Dobreski

Brian Dobreski, new SIS faculty memberThe School of Information Sciences is excited to announce its newest faculty member, Brian Dobreski, who will start teaching as an assistant professor this fall. 

Dobreski earned a bachelor’s of music from Nazareth College, and his master’s in library and information sciences from Syracuse University. He will receive his PhD in Information Sciences from Syracuse University in spring 2019. He worked as a catalog librarian for Eastman School of Music and Syracuse University before returning to Syracuse as a doctoral student. He has also been an adjunct professor for library and information science courses at Syracuse since 2013.

He is also a recipient of the Eugene Garfield Doctoral Fellowship for his dissertation, “Values in Knowledge Organization Standards: A Value Analysis of Resource Description and Access,” which he successfully defended in December 2018.

Dobreski said he is excited to be a part of SIS, which he described as goal-oriented and forward-thinking.

“The school has a vision, a direction, and everybody was on board with that. I’m looking forward to being a part of that team,” he said.

Dobreski’s research has centered around knowledge organization in various forms of systems, such as databases, classifications, catalogs, and archives. He specifically looks at knowledge organization in heritage settings, such as libraries, archives and museums.

He is looking forward to continuing that research at SIS, as well as collaborating with other faculty and students at the school.

“We are excited to welcome Brian to the faculty at SIS. Not only will he strengthen our existing expertise in information organization, but he will also extend it in new directions. His research takes a fresh look at classification systems and structures from the perspective of inclusion, and raises questions of representation equity,” said SIS Director Diane Kelly. “He has extensive teaching experience, including in the areas of metadata and organization. He also has rich practical experiences on which to draw having worked as a cataloger at Eastman School of Music and Syracuse University.”

As for the big move from the Northeast to Knoxville, Dobreski said it’ll be an adjustment, but one he will happily make for milder winters. And, as an avid hockey fan, he’s ready to trade in his old Buffalo Sabers jersey and represent with a Nashville Predators’ one.

SIS Alum, CICS Research Associate Jordan Kaufman Given Tenopir-King Research Excellence Award

Jordan Kaufman, alum, and SampsonSIS alum Jordan Kaufman (’18) has been awarded the Tenopir-King Research Excellence Award for 2019, which provides support to a recent SIS master’s graduate to work with SIS and Chancellor’s Professor Carol Tenopir on research projects related to scholarly communication. Kaufman is currently a research associate at the Center for Information and Communication Studies (CICS) and has worked on several projects within that capacity.

Kaufman is thrilled with the award and excited to continue her research work with CICS. When she first entered into the MSIS program, Kaufman said she wasn’t aware of the various pathways that were available in the information sciences field. She had always wanted to go to library school, and when her husband started getting his master’s degree at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in animal science, she started looking at the MSIS program at UT. She decided to start taking some classes to see if she liked it, and it wasn’t long before she was hooked.”

“I just wanted to get a feel for it, and then I had my first class with Dr. [Carolyn] Hank and she was super inspiring." Kaufman said. "And I thought, ‘This is for me, this is it.’” 

Shortly after she started taking classes, she discovered the varied information sciences pathways, including User Experience and Assessment.

“I learned about the UXA program and I got my foot in the door there and that set everything in motion, it was a great experience to get involved with that,” she said. “I didn’t really understand what UX and assessment was, but I knew that I liked helping people and figuring out how to improve their services and it seemed like a great fit.”

“I didn’t really understand what UX and assessment was, but I knew that I liked helping people and figuring out how to improve their services and it seemed like a great fit.” - Jordan Kaufman, CICS research associate, SIS alum

Kaufman said her interest in UX was also fueled by a practicum she did with Regina Mays, the assessment librarian at UT’s Hodges Library. It sparked her interest because she saw how little things could affect the experience students had at the library. She also enjoyed gathering and using data to tell a story about the library and its patrons’ needs.

She joined the Experience Assessment cohort that was funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and focused on academic library user experience and assessment. The UX pathway at SIS gives students the skills to “improve design and development of information systems and to measure usability of products and applications.”

Kaufman said her experience as an MSIS student was a great one – she was able to present at three different conferences, including one at Oxford.

“I had a lot of great mentors, and other students in the program became really good friends and colleagues,” she said.

Before she became an SIS student, Kaufman found herself in the library through a unique avenue. When she first moved to Knoxville, she was working at UT’s Arts and Sciences Advising Center, and everyone there came to know her as a dog enthusiast. They began telling her that there were dogs at the library sometimes, and so she went to check it out and discovered the H.A.B.I.T. (Human-Animal Bond in Tennessee) program.

H.A.B.I.T. trains animals to provide pet visitation to a variety of places, such as retirement homes, schools, and several locations on the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, campus, including Hodges Library. Once Kaufman learned more about the program, she signed up her Bernese mountain dog, Sampson, for training.

“I knew my dog would be good at it, he has the perfect temperament and personality,” she said. They’ve been volunteering with H.A.B.I.T. for two years now, starting at Hodges Library, and now at The Veterans Resource Center at UT. She said having Sampson at the library really helped to make the library more inviting for students, and her background as an SIS student helped her to speak to students about the library’s resources.

Kaufman is also grateful to the faculty she works with, including SIS and Chancellor’s Professor Suzie Allard, who lets Kaufman fit H.A.B.I.T. volunteering around her work schedule.

“I love that H.A.B.I.T. is a part of the UT community, and that everyone knows what it is and that it’s special. I’m glad I can do it and be a part of it, and that my bosses know and care. That support is amazing to have.”

Kaufman said her current work has been exciting, as she has been helping with the final experience assessment cohort, has done several projects on assessment of graduate student services in libraries, and is working on research projects for the NSF-funded DataONE project on research data management issues. But she knows she’ll need to move on from being a research assistant someday, and she has her eye on being an academic assessment librarian or a user experience librarian.