Reflections on the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T) Conference 2023

Waseem Afzal

Recently I got an opportunity to attend the 86th ASIS&T Annual Conference in London. The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Making a Difference: Translating Information Research into Practice, Policy, and Action.’

I kick-started by attending a half day workshop on ‘Social media research: challenges and opportunities.’ This workshop was a combination of paper presentations and a keynote by Prof. Adam Joinson from the University of Bath. The keynote was highly thought provoking and raised many questions about theory, role of theory in social media research, and current online landscape as dominated by Big Data and AI.

I would like to note here couple of really important observations made by Adam.

  • Are we moving into post-theory era driven by Big Data?
  • We should be mindful of research contexts where theory use many not be very helpful. For instance, when we are exploring a very new and changing phenomenon; when we have a very specific finding. 
  • We are using behavioural analytics (e.g., clicks, website visits, no. of searches etc.) to predict behaviour. Is it problematic?

The keynote at the conference—the next day—was equally inspiring. Prof. Alison Phipps from University of Glasgow and Tawona Sitholé –a poet, playwright, and mbira musician jointly presented ‘Librarians as lifelines: in praise of critical information care.’  Their presentation was unique in style and substance. It was a combination of speech and poetry recital. The ideas they presented were very much in line of the spirit of the work that librarians and information professionals do.

Both Alison and Tawona talked about the need for informing library and information practice with the UNESCO’s imperative to bring all cosmologies (Western, African, Asian, Indigenous and others) together so that we can convene (call together) information to serve our communities in a holistic way.

They were also highly critical of ‘extractionist’ attitude to information and knowledge. In a way, their presentation was a good reminder to engage with our diverse communities and their cosmologies at a deeper level and to resist technocentrism in our professional practice.

This year, there was again a renewed interest in topics such as ‘theory use and development in information science’ and ‘future of LIS in ischools’. There were also sessions on emerging areas of interest including AI and ways to translate research into policy outcomes.

There were few papers presented about COVID including data mining techniques to examine Chinese COVID policies, information behaviour of African Americans during COVID, and lessons from COVID for information policy design. Within this paper session,  I presented, with some of my co-authors, a paper ‘Charting the Australian COVID-19 Information Flow: Implications for Information Policy.’

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