B  U  L  L  E  T  I  N


of the American Society for Information Science and Technology       Vol. 31, No. 2    December/January 2005

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International Column

Recent Developments in International Relations
by Julian Warner

Julian Warner, ASIS&T International Liaison, is affiliated with the School of Management and Economics, The Queen’s University of Belfast, Northern Ireland BT7 1NN, United Kingdom . He can be reached by email at j.warner@qub.ac.uk

Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner,” a proverb of uncertain origin, may conflate understanding, emotion and action, but mutual understanding could still be the beginning of concord. How has ASIS&T fared in a period when globalization, including globalization of information sources and networks, has enhanced both communication and the potential for conflict between different perspectives? The focus of this article, reporting on recent developments in international activities, will be primarily upon ASIS&T, but the Society will be considered within its broader context.

The value to international members of engagement with ASIS&T lies in the intellectual diversity of the Society, its broad conception of information science and as a forum for members to identify colleagues in different regions with shared interests and concerned with similar information issues. A potential for collaboration and increased knowledge creation within the discipline as a whole exists. Publications, and even more, the intellectual and emotional dynamism of personal contacts can assist knowledge creation.

The value to ASIS&T of international members is, in turn, enhanced intellectual and cultural diversity. Understanding national sovereignty in information terms is increasingly complex, and Internet communication is enforcing recognition of different understandings in different jurisdictions, for instance with regard to libel. It is important for ASIS&T to maintain awareness of information developments on a global basis.

What specific developments are inhibiting or enhancing these objectives?

Freedom of Movement

Documents both assisting and restricting freedom of movement across jurisdictions could be traced backwards from passports through letters of credit to non-verbal graphic identifiers. Visas both enable and restrict travel. A number of scientific conferences, and not only the ASIS&T Annual Meeting, have complained of difficulties in obtaining visas for the United States for international delegates. In many cases, visa applications have been delayed or made onerous, rather than directly refused. The internationalism of science may be difficult to translate into the implicit nationalism of different territorial jurisdictions. Yet scientific and scholarly progress, and the release from drudgery enabled by technology, may depend upon international communication.

Cooperation Agreements

As part of its international initiative, ASIS&T has established a relatively informal cooperation agreement with the Section on Communication and Information Technologies of the American Sociological Association (CIT ASA). A refereed roundtable, Reconsidering Inequality within Communication Networks, at the ASA Annual Meeting in San Francisco in August was co-sponsored by ASIS&T. In reciprocation, ASA CIT co-sponsored a session at the ASIS&T Annual Meeting, Outside Theory on the Inside of LIS. Co-sponsorship between ASIS&T and CIT ASA does not carry financial responsibilities and is intended to advance communication and cooperation between cognate, but not fully connected, professional societies.

The European Chapter of ASIS&T was also the co-sponsor of two pre-conference workshops at the 5th conference of the Association of Internet Researchers at the University of Sussex, United Kingdom, in September 2004. The aim of the workshops was both to explore the topics of measuring the information society and of the Web as a mirror of scientific and technical achievement and to enable geographically dispersed members of the chapter to meet with one another. The themes of the meeting included the relation of information technology and Internet services markets to the understanding of developed and developing countries. Low Internet prices could be a mark of developed status. Developed countries may not be interested in developing countries because the technologies they use may be obsolescent from their perspective. On a slightly different, but still related issue, patents have been used to protect the intellectual property of developed nations and to restrict the diffusion of useful inventions. Cooperation may occur as the levels of development converge – recall the history of the 19th century United States. Socioeconomic contexts may play a crucial role in cooperation and communication.

Annual Meeting

Linda Schamber, chair of the 2004 Annual Meeting committee, ensured a strong representation of international members in the committee. A major development is the expansion of the posters sessions of the meeting, which should facilitate dialogue among researchers from all regions.

A Global Information Village Plaza, a feature of recent ASIS&T meetings, was again scheduled at this year’s Annual Meeting, moderated by Nadia Caidi and Michel Menou. The theme for this year’s Plaza was a consideration of “What If?” questions, for instance, What if broadening access to ICTs was not enough? Or, What if ICTs do not contribute to human happiness? “What If?” questions were sought from information professionals around the globe. A lively, full and interesting, discussion was anticipated and journal publication of a summary of the discussion should follow.

Special Interest Group/International Information Issues (SIG/III) of ASIS&T has announced the winners of its fifth International Paper Contest. Elsevier Publishers has continued to offer generous support to the winner of the contest to assist with travel, registration and accommodation for the Annual Meeting.

Membership

Formal and informal measures for increasing international membership have been considered. ASIS&T membership is costly for those from developing countries. However, autonomy of action is constrained by the need to maintain consistency across categories and ASIS&T’s limited size, when compared to other organizations, such as the ACM. Informal measures for increasing international membership and participation rest on the attractiveness of the society itself and include sociability at conferences and meetings. Leaders in information professions in other countries can assist by making their national colleagues aware of ASIS&T’s publications, conferences and conviviality.

Conclusion

Cooperative efforts, which may be painful and laborious to develop, can enhance our sociability and promote the development of knowledge. The present would seem to be a crucial and opportune time for international expansion. ASIS&T fully embodies an awareness of social and human information issues not tied to a particular set of institutions (such as libraries) or a particular technology (such as the computer). Social and human aspects of information and communications technologies are increasingly being recognized as constitutive of their significance.


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