February 16, 2018

Andrew Dillon | Movers & Shakers 2002

Putting LIS Education in the Center

“It’s the values in this field that separate it from other disciplines”

What brings an Irish-born human computer interaction expert from the UK to a library and information science (LIS) program in Texas? “This whole area is so very dynamic and super flexible intellectually,” says Andrew Dillon, the new dean at UT-Austin. “LIS is at the center of so many other disciplines, from psychology and education to architecture and design. It’s incredibly energizing.” In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find someone more energized about reinventing LIS education than Dillon.

For several years a research scientist in the UK’s Human Sciences and Advanced Technology Research Institute, Dillon is a self-described rational empiricist, “with a strong commitment to users, so wild claims about technology and its advantages never impress me.” He was most recently at Indiana University, where he held a number of appointments and began and directed the new master’s program in human computer interaction. His forthcoming book (tentatively titled Evaluating the User Experience of Information Architectures) will look at user experience on the web, and his lengthy bibliography includes books (Designing Usable Electronic Text, Taylor & Francis, 1994), articles, and presentations that are all centered on the human response to information technology.


Current position: Dean, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Texas at Austin

Degree: Ph.D., Psychology, Loughborough University of Technology, 1991

Favorite quotation: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

But what about libraries as physical entities? While Dillon hardly discounts libraries as place, he is quick to position physical libraries within the broader mission of the profession, “organizing knowledge and making it accessible, for people, by people,” whether that knowledge is contained in a collection of books or a collection of electronic texts. At the same time, Dillon says that the profession must come to terms with the speed of technological development, “not bury its head in the sand and wish it would go away.” But while the world is changing rapidly, Dillon believes there is an exciting continuum in our core values. In shaping information, in focusing on the user’s experience of technology, Dillon sees librarians exercising the long-held values of the profession. “And it’s the values of his field that separate it from other disciplines,” he says.

If LIS education is where Dillon wants to be, then Austin is his physical entity of choice. He clearly relishes being part of a large university, with “tremendous opportunities to work with specialists in other departments.” He is already impressed with the students at Austin–“our life blood, our change agents”–who are helping to push the curriculum. Will these students become librarians, information specialists, or something new altogether? “Let’s not get too tied up with the words,” Dillon says. “Let’s get obsessed with our knowledge, our mission, our values. After all, what we are doing in this field today is more central and more relevant than ever before.”