logo

College Faculty Interview

Interview with Dr. Sandra Hirsh, Professor and Director at the San José State University School of Information

Dr. Sandra Hirsh is director of the San José State University (SJSU) School of Information (iSchool) and oversees the information school’s exclusively online graduate programs, including the Master of Library and Information Science and Master of Archives and Records Administration degree programs. She is also coordinator of the San José Gateway Ph.D. program, a part-time, online doctoral program offered in partnership between the SJSU School of Information and Queensland University of Technology. Dr. Hirsh actively contributes to advances in the information profession through her leadership and research. She holds five U.S. patents, frequently publishes, and serves on numerous committees, including president-elect 2014, president 2015 of the American Society for Information Science & Technology.

sandra-hirsh1. For several years you taught summer courses at the university level while still working in technology and research. What prompted you to decide to move to full-time academia?

Before working at Silicon Valley technology and research companies (HP Labs, Microsoft, and LinkedIn) for 12 years, I previously held a full-time academic position as assistant professor at the University of Arizona. I loved working in academia and always planned on returning when the right opportunity came along. As a long-time member of the San José State University School Information International Advisory Board, I learned that the current director was leaving and the school was recruiting for a new director. This was the opportunity I was waiting for! I was excited about returning to full-time academia and having the opportunity to direct the largest and – what I think of as – the most innovative School of Library and Information Science in the world. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to mentor future information professionals, help shape and influence this rapidly changing dynamic field, broaden the impact of this field to extend beyond libraries, and explore ways to create strong community and meaningful learning experiences through online technology both for our students and the library and information science profession.

2. How does your previous experience working in information technology in the public sector inform your decisions as a Professor and as Director?

One of the most important things I learned while working at HP Labs, Microsoft, and LinkedIn is the versatility of a degree in library and information science. I saw how my skill sets – deep understanding of user needs, how to organize content for users, how to interface with users, how think about technology in terms of user needs, how to study user behavior – were different from graduates with other master’s degrees. I also saw how my skill sets were valuable for many professional positions outside of the library environment. I have brought this perspective with me to my position as director of the SJSU information school, and this shapes much of what I have done in this position – in terms of curriculum development and career pathways, support for career and professional development, expansion of internship opportunities, etc. Second, having worked in both research and development and in consumer product development, I cultivated a spirit of innovation and experimentation, which I have brought with me to my position at San José State University. I love to try new ideas and continue to explore ways that we can lead and innovate. One good example of this is our school’s co-founding of the online global Library 2.013 Worldwide Virtual Conference, which is now in its third year with 10,000 participants from 160 countries. Another example is the launch of our school’s first MOOC in fall 2013, The Hyperlinked Library. A third example is my strong commitment to and support of research. As director, I have created a virtual Center for Information Research & Innovation, and supported the launch of our school’s online peer reviewed open access Student Research Journal. I am also coordinator of our San José Gateway Ph.D. program in partnership with Queensland University of Technology. Fourth, having worked on international products and teams at Microsoft and HP Labs, I joined San José State University with a global vision for the School of Information, including preparing our students for the global, virtual work environment of the future. For example, we recently established our school’s virtually abroad program, a new course offered for the first time in 2013, designed to give graduate students an opportunity to engage in international work experience and develop professional contacts in information centers around the world. In addition, we expanded our school’s internship program to include virtual internships, too – broadening the opportunities our students have beyond place-based opportunities to include virtual opportunities where they can intern at institutions around the globe, gaining structured, professional work experience, without the restriction of geography.

3. Can you share with us a brief overview of your current research?

My research has primarily been about understanding the user and how they interact with technology. Throughout my career, I have focused on a wide range of users – children, scientists and engineers, consumers, art historians, fantasy sports players, etc. I have a deep curiosity about how different types of users look for information and how their needs can be met through better designed user interfaces that make it easier for them to get the information they need. I have also started doing research on online learning models and recently completed a grant-funded research project that examined factors affecting readiness to move academic programs (in LIS and Social Work) into online learning programs in Vietnam. Additionally, I am passionate about evolving career opportunities for information professionals, and I received grant funding to support some of this work; it is a topic I continue to explore, write about, and research.

4. What do you think are the core courses students should complete for a library science degree? Are there any courses outside of the library science core that are particularly useful for library science majors?

I think that it is critical for all students pursuing a master’s degree in library and information science to have a core understanding of the following:

  • Information Professions: the organizations and environments in which information professionals work. To include an understanding of networks and resources, ethical and legal frameworks, management and leadership theories and concepts, and the ability to apply them to different information environments.
  • Information Communities: information users and the social, cultural, economic, technological, and political forces that shape their information access and use.
  • Information Systems: the systems and knowledge structures that information professionals create and use to connect users with information.

At our school, all students are expected to graduate having mastered 15 core competencies. Outside of the core, much depends on what type of work the student wants to do and what type of information environment the student wants to work in. Regardless of position and place of employment, technology skills and the ability to adapt to constantly changing technology is very important.

5. What ways do you recommend for educators to use library science technology to connect with students?

Technology is rapidly changing the information profession and higher education. As a result, it is important that library and information science graduate students learn the latest technology trends (e.g., open access resources, e-books, mobile, big data, cybersecurity, web design, information architecture, and digital asset management) and that library and information science educators use the latest technology to enhance student learning and to build community. Our school has delivered 100% online degree programs since 2009. We make extensive use of interactive technologies to ensure that we build a strong sense of community among students who live in 48 states and 17 countries, and ensure that we foster strong connections between our students and our distributed global faculty. And, as new technologies become available, we are frequently adopting and integrating new technologies to strengthen relationships and connections. We currently use a variety of social media technologies (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube), blogs, web conferencing tools (Blackboard Collaborate, WebEx), instant messaging (Blackboard IM), discussion lists, lecture capture (Panopto), learning management system (D2L, Canvas), and more.

6.  Are there any useful information technologies that you think are underutilized by students and/or educators?

I think the use of a technology like Blackboard Collaborate IM embedded into each class really helps to create a sense of community within an online class. Additionally, I think there are more ways for educators to make use of social media platforms. For example, many of our instructors use blog platforms to host their course sites and get students to think about interacting with practitioners, rather than just interacting with people enrolled in the course.

7. How do you anticipate that the information needs of the typical college student population will change in the next five to ten years?

I think that the typical college student will expect more and more mobile delivery of content, more online courses that include video interactions, and more open education opportunities such as MOOCs.

8. Do you have any other advice for students considering a degree or a career in library science?

I hope that students who are considering a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science are excited about the evolving information landscape and the new ways that expertise in library and information science can be applied both within and beyond a career in librarianship. Graduates of the San José State University School of Library and Information Science work in a range of information environments, with diverse titles like Information Technology Manager, Records Manager, eCommerce Content Specialist, Web Technologist, Reference Librarian, Information Strategist, Digital Archivist, Metadata Librarian, Product Manager, Instructional Services Librarian, and Elementary Science Specialist. When researching library and information science programs, students should make sure the program is accredited by the American Library Association. In addition, in order to be prepared for emerging career titles in today’s information profession, students should look for a program that provides them with a variety of career pathways, a range of electives in current topics, strong technology course offerings, an interactive and supportive community, great faculty, and support for career development. Once students are enrolled in a library and information science program, I always recommend that students do an internship, get actively involved in school and professional opportunities, be open-minded and think broadly about the skills they are building, and broaden their peer and professional networks.

We thank Dr. Hirsh for being so generous with her time to share her experience and advice with our audience. To learn more about Dr. Hirsh visit the San José State University (SJSU) School of Information website.