By: Diane Stirling
A hometown award citing distinctive achievements in the library and information fields brought a School of Information Studies alumnus back to the Syracuse University campus recently, where he also experienced a retrospective of the people and places that guided and shaped his career successes.
Joseph Janes, ’82, G ‘83, ’89, was present for the iSchool’s fall convocation last week. He was on his way to receive one of five awards presented to graduates of Oneida High School in the inaugural Oneida City School District Foundation’s new “Wall of Distinction” awards.
For Janes, now an associate professor and chair of the Master of Library and Information Science program at the University of Washington Information School, in Seattle, and a noted author, speaker, and library science professional, both events provided warm homecoming welcomes.
At the event for the high school honor, Janes reconnected with family, former teachers, parents of his classmates, and some friends. Being back on the SU campus for the iSchool convocation, Janes recaptured the many positive memories of his formative academic and professional experiences, he said.
After graduating from high school, Janes went on to college at age 16. He completed his bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University in 1982, dual majoring in mathematics and library information science. He earned his M. L.S. at the iSchool in 1983, when he was just 20 years old. An iSchool Ph.D. followed in 1989.
Janes found the Wall of Distinction award to be “quite remarkable, tremendously satisfying and a little bit humbling. There’s something about high school, and the fact that your high school picks you out of everyone else who went there,” he continued. “To have your high school come around and say, ‘Wow, you’ve done a great job since then’, and to be honored from the many thousands who graduated from there, it was quite humbling.”
Janes was particulary cited for development of the Internet Public Library, (ipl.org), the first fully-online internet library. That concept came from a seminar he taught at the University of Michigan in 1995, he reported. “As far as we could tell, it was the first attempt to build something that looked and felt like a library on the Internet. It was an extraordinary experience on lots of levels and the more time that passes, I see things those students implemented before others did. It is gratifying to see how many of the ideas we tossed around in the mid-1990s eventually made their way into contemporary library practice,” he recalled.
Janes also recounted that his years at SU “served me extremely well. Being back on campus brought back how special a place Syracuse was to me as an undergraduate and a graduate student, and what a very special place the iSchool was. It was really a home for me, and in a lot of ways I grew up there. The people who mentored me, educated me, and helped me along the way were very powerful influences on me,” Janes recounted. “They really put me on the path to the things I’ve done ever since. The openness, breadth of vision, the breadth of experience, was very powerful and very welcome to me. I think it really helped to give me the kind of foundation and platform that I’ve used throughout my life.”
Throughout his various teaching positions and career achievements, Janes added, “There has been a pretty direct line back to Syracuse and back to those people and those experiences.” Janes has held teaching positions at the Universities of Michigan, Toronto, and North Carolina at Chapel Hill; SUNY Albany, and for a time at SU. He has been at the University of Washington Information School since January 1999. He is an often-requested speaker at conferences on library and information issues, and has authored numerous papers and articles. Janes currently is creating a series of podcasts on iTunes called Documents that Changed the World and a book, Information Makes Us Human. His research interests focus on human and information interaction, search, and change in the library field.
As he has pursued his research interests, Janes said it has become clear to him that “Information as we think of it is an inextricable part of the human experience. We create it; we seem to not be able to not create it—from cave paintings, to graffiti on the pyramids, we’ve been creating ways of recording who we are and what we’re trying to figure out about ourselves and the universe around us. There are some of us that feel obligated to do something with those things–organize them, keep them safe, help others find them. And we use those things to try to do better.” He views information as “so central to human life that we can’t have…any sophisticated human endeavor without ways of recording and sharing information.” Information, he said, “is one of the things that makes us human. We make this stuff, and in some ways, the stuff makes us who we are.”
iSchool alumna Katie Cronn, G ’72, of Oneida, nominated Janes for the Oneida High School award. Alumnus Mike Eisenberg, Ph.D. ’86, who now is Dean Emeritus and Professor at UW’s Information School, provided a seconding recommendation for Janes’ Wall of Distinction recognition.