Knowledge Creation, Organization and Use: Creative Is Practical at ASIS

Library Hi Tech News

ISSN: 0741-9058

Article publication date: 1 March 2000



O'Connor, P. (2000), "Knowledge Creation, Organization and Use: Creative Is Practical at ASIS", Library Hi Tech News, Vol. 17 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Knowledge Creation, Organization and Use: Creative Is Practical at ASIS

Penny O'Connor


From Sunday, October 31 to Thursday, November 4, 1999, more than 1,000 people attended the annual meeting of the American Society for Information Science (ASIS), an excellent turnout for a society with around 3,000 members. The theme of the conference was Knowledge Creation, Organization and Use. The conference got off to a running start Sunday afternoon with an opening plenary address on knowledge management by Tom Sudman of Digital AV. Experts, including Jose-Marie Griffiths, Janice Keeler, Donald W. King, Matthew Koll, Jessica Milstead, and Linda Smith, gave opening-day overviews of the five technical program tracks. Wrapping up the five tracks on the final day were Craig Booher, Charles Goldstein, Donald W. King, Matthew Koll, David Penniman, and Jay Van Eman. The Society's highest honor, the Award of Merit, went to Jose-Marie Griffiths, while Jessica Milstead received the ASIS Watson Davis Award for outstanding continuous contributions and dedicated service to the Society. The 50-year anniversary of JASIS, the Journal of the American Society for Information Science, provided an opportunity to review the history of information science publishing.

Hot Topics

It was standing room only at sessions on extensible markup language (XML) and on metadata. Presentations on distance education and on digital libraries drew crowds. In the visualization arena, a session on "The Sound of Information" offered ways of searching sound files, representing data through sound, and offered a means of navigating a newspaper through sound. A panel on electronic books demonstrated innovative economic models as well as technical wizardry.

Knowledge Management

Many of the technical sessions dealt with knowledge management. Plenary speaker Tom Sudman, founder and president of Digital AV, set the tone, describing the philosophy behind his knowledge-based company that enjoys almost no staff turnover. At the Digital AV Web site ( are Sudman's slides from the ASIS plenary. To see them, click the button labeled "Knowledge Management."

Preceding the opening conference program, a leadership development session, "Using Technology to LeverageMentoring," offered practical approaches to sharing experience via technology. Karen Howell, Director of the Center for Scholarly Technology at University of Southern California, outlined realities of today's workplace: a workforce which is no longer local, the "career ladder" not there, fewer middle managers, working on "Internet time," and the requirement of multidisciplinary knowledge. Younger workers need the career-building attention of old hands, yet traditional one-to-one and face-to face coaching is difficult to maintain in today's distributed environment. Technologies to bridge time and space include Web-based communications, shared knowledge bases, and others such as e-mail, chat, threaded discussions, conference calls, fax, and videoconferencing. In the next part of the session, Diane Sonnenwald and Barbara Wildemuth, from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, presented their study, "Exploring Electronic Mentoring: A Report from the Field." They set up and followed mentoring relationships between corporate scientists and biology undergraduates at a historically minority university. Internet-based communication tools linked participants. Hurdles included finding common ground to foster interaction between mentors and mentees, making time, and maintaining the personal link. Finally, Kris Liberman of Ernst & Young described knowledge management in the context of online "community of interest networks," a way for senior experts and newer workers to build and share knowledge bases. Participants in the session left with a mission to reach out by all technical means possible.

Intellectual Property and Intellectual Freedom

Intellectual property and intellectual freedom not only were substance for technical sessions; they reverberated through presentations on database protection, electronic publishing, and information retrieval. Ingenious economic models are emerging in this electronic era. How are producers compensated for their work while disseminating it? How can open access be achieved? The capstone plenary on Thursday, "Intellectual Property Rights and the Emerging Information Infrastructure," pulled many of the issues into place while reporting the difficult work of the National Research Council's Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) (see the report at The committee report addressed the divide between diverse interests of content producers and consumers in the electronic environment. That it produced recommendations is a tribute to the tenacity and dedication of the diverse committee and staff. All at odds were committee members from academe, commercial publishing, electronic media, entertainment, writers, industry, libraries, lawyers, and intellectual freedom advocates. The presentation at ASIS was exciting as it gave a feel for the many interests and issues, and it preceded release of the full report. Discussion was intense between panelists Alan Inouye on staff at CSTB, Joan Feigenbaum of AT&T, Clifford Lynch of the Coalition for Networked Information, and Karen Hunter of Elsevier Science Publishing. Hunter observed, "If you think there are simple answers, you haven't been listening."

An earlier session where the push and pull were evident was Tuesday's panel discussion, "Database Protection: The Reality after the European Directive." Responding to a challenge issued two years ago at an ASIS plenary, moderator Bonnie Carroll and five panelists explored the impact of the 1997 European Union (EU) Directive providing protection for previously uncopyrightable databases of compilations and collections. The EU directive granted reciprocity only to countries with compliant legislation. It was the basis for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaty and the US Database Antipiracy Legislation. Shelly Warwick of Queen's College, New York, delivered the session overview. Warwick outlined the reasons why database protection is being considered. First, computer technology makes copying easy and inexpensive. Second, the 1991 Feist Supreme Court Decision ruled that facts arranged in an unoriginal way are not covered by copyright. Third, the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights 1994 (TRIPS), a part of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), recognizes compilations as intellectual property. Fourth, the 1998 European Database Directive limited fair use; protection could extend 15 years with reinvestment of time and effort.

There was a 1996 attempt to produce database protection under WIPO, defeated by the Digital Future Coalition. Why the struggle? Knowledge belongs to society as a whole, yet individuals are entitled to the fruits of their labor. Warwick highlighted two opposite-minded bills in the US Congress: HR354 supported by database producers, and HR1858 backed by library and educational interests. A Web site explaining the two bills is at The first bill, HR354, the Collections of Information Antipiracy Act, for the first time, would protect facts and allow producers or publishers unprecedented control over downstream, derivative use. It seeks to protect databases retrospectively, as far back as 15 years. The American Association of Publishers (AAP) supports HR354 but only with modifications. The AAP position is at The second bill, HR1858, Consumer and Investors Access to Information Act, would better preserve fair use of information and keep facts in the public domain. It would protect value-added publishers. The American Library Association (ALA) supports HR1858. ALA's issue brief on database protection is at

Ferris Webster, an oceanographer from the University of Delaware, represented the research community. Global change researchers typically collect global data sets. This requires working with sources from many countries, or collecting data by remote sensing. In 18 countries of the European Community, there are varying exceptions to fair use. There is a lack of awareness of a June 7, 1990 Council of the European Union (EEC) directive on access to environmental data, and similarly of World Meteorological Organization (WMO) resolution 40. Both call for free and unrestricted access to the data, and yet in a general climate of database protection people withhold data. This is devastating to global change research.

Johns Hopkins Dean of University Libraries, James Neal, took the library position. He pointed out that commercial databases are a thriving industry, not an industry in need of protection. US libraries spend huge sums licensing and purchasing databases. From 1991 to 1997, the number of databases increased 40 percent. Online searches increased 100 percent. In 1977, 22 percent of databases were commercial. By 1997, 80 percent were commercial as opposed to nonprofit or governmental. In other words, the ratio of commercial to noncommercial database products has reversed. Neal stated that proposed database legislation threatens the balance of rights, and puts at risk the free flow of information. Noting that individual researchers build upon the work of others, he held that restriction on downstream use undermines research. To foster research, it is essential to preserve the concept of public domain.

Cautioning against taking unrestricted access for granted, Peter Weiss, of the US Office of Management and Budget (OMB), challenged all present at the session to get involved in preserving open access. US scientists and information professionals were urged to work with colleagues in Japan and in the third world, in order to change the minds of European colleagues. This was at the finish of his summary of US Administration policy. US government information is to be free and open except for distribution costs. US government information is viewed by the Administration as a source of commerce and taxes. At the same time, our European partners are increasing restriction, i.e. ECOMET. ECOMET is an economic interest grouping under Belgian law located in Brussels, created at the end of 1995. Its members are the national meteorological services of 17 European nations. In an aside, ECOMET was described as a "one-stop monopoly to preclude private-sector European databases." US information policy by contrast has a mission to encourage the commercial database industry.

John Rumble, president elect of US CODATA (Committee on Data for Science and Technology), from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, weighed in and observed that commercial database access is not enough. The way science works is changing. New realities must be considered explicitly: databases themselves are now a source of new scientific data. Scientists need to share the data. Over the past 20 years, the USA has made renewed dedication to using science to jumpstart the economy. Database protection is a step in the wrong direction. Rumble pointed to the upcoming conference of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) and CODATA. This will be a critical time to articulate the interests of the scientific and information community prior to the European Community's database protection review in 2001.

Following the panel was spirited response from the audience. Julian Warner, of Queen's University of Belfast, observed that European policies are diverse. Peter Weiss responded that a paper is forthcoming to describe the differences from one European state to the next. The UK has policies most dissimilar from those in the USA, while Austrian policy provides open access, similar to the US concept. Ferris Webster observed that as soon as the USA passes database legislation, WIPO nations will follow suit. This can only make international collection of data more and more difficult.

An audience member identifying himself as "a former employee of Thompson" observed that database vendors should focus on adding value to their products, rather than on "protection." Another audience member asked how a small scientific society, such as the American Geophysical Union (AGU), might get involved. Ferris Webster suggested that AGU make a position statement, as AGU is not only a scientific society, but a publisher as well. John Rumble suggested that AGU encourage international members to speak out on the issue. A Finnish librarian in the audience observed that European library groups have actively raised these issues.

Michel Menou, City University, London, noted that in Europe mobilization around these issues could be complicated. EU directives may be known only after the fact. He suggested that there is a growing sentiment in Europe against the "commercialization of everything." For rallying public support, the issue of overall privatization is more compelling than separate issues. He observed that it is not always a public policy issue. Public monopoly can be overturned later by public action. James Neal observed that copyright is a "MEGO" issue (my eyes glaze over). It is difficult even to mobilize the library and research community. Shelly Warwick echoed the sentiment.

Interfaces for People with Special Needs

Another well-received session, "Designing Interfaces for People with Special Needs: Current Options, Design, and Future Developments in a Walk-Up-and-Use World," part of a sixth, or "bonus track," presented issues and solutions to information parity. Moderator Barbara Flood, from the Philadelphia Developmental Disabilities Corporation, noted a range of special needs. Some are visible, such as being blind or wheelchair-bound. Others are less obvious, such as mental disabilities. Overall, 20 percent of popular systems assume ability to use verbal skills.

Arthur Karshmer of New Mexico State University ( discussed economic, social, and cultural barriers to access. He noted that for the visually impaired, access has become worse. His projects with the visually impaired include teaching college-level mathematics and navigating the World Wide Web. Computers are now embedded in practically everything. Interfaces, he notes, have been driven by existing technology, rather than by designers who listen to users and draw on all disciplines. Social and economic equality is at stake. People who are disabled risk being socially as well as economically disabled through lack of access to information.

A problem is that most developers of assistive technology are "Mom and Pop shops." The devices are designer-created, by small firms short on design and production resources and lacking in support facilities. Their business fortunes wax and wane, making referrals difficult. A few big firms are the exception: IBM, Sun, Apple, and a Microsoft-NASA project. Advocates should sell developers on the "trickle down" effect to other interfaces. Market size should logically be an incentive, rather than an impediment. Disabled users are a larger population than telecommuters.

A creatively practical nuts-and-bolts approach to accessibility came from Michael G. Fiore, CFO and rehabilitation specialist, Sierra Group. His motto is "Fix it now." Fiore arrived with a magician's hat of off-the-shelf devices that can inexpensively make computer systems more accessible. One example is the $300 Polytel keyport, which is commonly used in restaurants. It is basically a touch pad with 300 easy-to-program buttons. Touch screen monitors are readily available and useful for making systems work for more users. The Carroll Touch Window, an indestructible computer input device used in warehouses, solves still other access problems. Fiore showed speech-producing devices, and a more futuristic but inexpensive interface, an alpha wave detector worn around the head to control a computer by thought alone.

This particular bonus session could have fit into the conference track entitled "Ethical, Cultural, Social and Behavioral Aspects." All too often cultural and social factors, rather than technical hurdles, block widespread use of systems to let knowledge flow for people with special needs. Likewise, the session on database protection showed how legal maneuverings threaten to hobble both international information sharing, and the development of new information uses. How can the field resolve these issues? Clearly the negotiation is ongoing. Positive models are in creative but practical balancing of interests, as seen in the developing electronic book industry, and in the recommendations hammered out by the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board.

Penny O'Connor is Assistant Head, Science and Technology Department, Cleveland Public Library, Cleveland, Ohio.

Related articles