7 Questions with Caroline Haythornthwaite

7 Questions with an LIS Professor: Caroline Haythornthwaite

New iSchool professor, Caroline Haythornthwaite’s, lengthy last name is almost as impressive as her experience in the information field. Caroline just finished teaching her first semester at Syracuse University, and the iSchool community recently received exciting news: Caroline will serve as director of the MLIS program beginning in August 2017.

Caroline came to us from the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia, where she served as program director for five years. Over the course of her career, she has conducted plentiful research in an effort to discover how people interact and build communities online. Excitingly, she has spoken at different conferences and universities all over the world, and did I mention how much she loves dogs?!

One LIS student who took IST 618: Information Policy this fall with Caroline claims, “Haythornthwaite is an outstanding lecturer and course designer.” Caroline will teach IST 618: Information Policy in the spring, along with IST 800: Seminar in Social Network Theory & Analysis in Information Studies.

What’s your favorite app or website?

Oh boy, now there’s a question. I think that the best thing ever is the GPS. In my old car I had one and now I’m so used to her talking to me all the time. Now that I’m in a car that doesn’t have one, I keep thinking, “Where is my companion? How am I supposed to know where to turn?” I’ve switched to the Map app on my phone, but it’s not as quick. I like Garmin better.

What is your favorite hangout spot on or off campus?

I really like the new walkway area they put in front of Bird library; that’s probably my favorite spot. I live just north of campus so I walk across that every day, then along the side of Bird Library, and down Walnut Street past the fraternities. I saw the walkway area last February before the construction, and now that it’s done, it looks great!

What made you decide to dedicate your professional life to the information field?

I sort of fell into it rather than deciding to dedicate my life to it. I worked in the software industry for a long time, and I was working with programming in a company that had very significant databases … databases that dealt with the stock market. Right before I left there, I was looking for a degree that could prove that I could do what I was already doing, and University of Toronto had its first Information Studies Program right around that time.

In one of my courses, we talked about sociotechnical systems. We had been designing programs with several layers between us and the users, and at the same time using the programs ourselves. We knew that we had a very social way of using our computing. So I think it was really that aspect— this combination of the social and the technical— that really hooked me in this field.

Why aren’t people using something? Why do they just turn off something? How do you design programming so that it fits with what people are doing but also lets something new happen? How do you get people there? These are the types of questions that excite me. I tend to describe what I do as the social science of computing.

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What excites you about human-computer interaction?

Early on, I was interested in the online community. How are people building communities through computer media when they can’t even see each other? What is different in these types of relationships when compared to in-person interactions and relationships? What is good about it? What is missing that we might be able to bring in?

What we tend to call social media now, we used to call computer media interaction before. So what is interesting to me now is finding out, as we move towards crowdsourcing, what is actually going online? And what is the process of putting information online in crowdsourcing initiatives?

I look at both voluntary and funded crowdsourcing and think about, What motivates these people to contribute to these anonymous places? Why do they spend time giving away their intellectual ideas, their time, their effort? Who is talking to who? My focus is the motivational aspects that contribute to open, online collective endeavors.

What did you do prior to teaching at SU?

Right before I came here, I had been director of the school of Library, Archival and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia (UBC). So that was five years of administration plus a year of leave on sabbatical. I would be asked, Where is the field going? But with the changes going on in libraries, and the buzz around big data, the analytics side of data, as well as the visualization side— the field is just exploding. Before I was director at UBC I was a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and conducted research around online learning communities.

I saw on your website that you have traveled all over to present at different conferences— which was one of your favorite experiences and why?

I loved Hong Kong. Hong Kong University was so exotic and so different, but at the same time, I never felt uncomfortable there. I never felt different; I felt so good. And of course my host there was great and everything was just beautiful. It’s such a different kind of environment. I was there for a couple of weeks, met with some of the faculty, and I gave a couple of lectures.

But the other places have been wonderful, too. I gave a talk in New Zealand in July of 2015. We were in the south in the most remarkable mountain range called “The Remarkables,” and they were remarkable.

Since you are a new faculty member, what is a fun fact about yourself that you’d like to share with students and other faculty?

I’m very partial to dogs. I will stop always for dogs if I see one.

Kayla Del Biondo

Kayla Del Biondo

Kayla is a first year MLIS student, and the current student liaison for the Library and Information Science Master's program at SU. She is interested in children's literature and academic libraries, and aspires to be both a librarian and a small farmer.

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