SIGIR Annual Report

July 1996 - June 1997
Submitted by: Nicholas J. Belkin, SIGIRChair

SIGIR had a busy and fruitful year in 1996-1997, following an intellectually and organizationally very successful 1995-1996. Since the report for 1995-1996 was not submitted for circulation, we begin with a brief overview of that period.

The highlight of the period 1995-1996 was the Annual SIGIR Conference, held this year in Seattle. This meeting was the largest yet in terms of attendance, with over 450 participants, and attracted a record number of industrial and business participants, as well as many new attendees from all of our constituencies. Many thanks are due the Conference Chair, Raya Fidel of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Washington, for an extremely successful meeting.

SIGIR was also co-sponsor, with SIGLINK, of the ACM Digital Libraries Conference (DL 96), which was the first to be held under this joint sponsorship arrangement. This conference was overbooked, attracting over 300 participants, and many more who attempted to register but couldn't, because the room was too small for any more. SIGIR and SIGLINK have entered into an agreement to collocate the DL conferences with the SIGIR and Hypertext conferences in alternate years. This first experience with this arrangement appears to have been quite successful, with a number of participants (especially from overseas) attending both meetings.

Other conferences in which SIGIR was a sponsor during this period included CIKM '95 and MultiMedia '95.

During 1995-1996, SIGIR continued to work on its electronic publication program, especially with the conversion to machine-readable form of past proceedings of the SIGIR Annual Conference on Research and Development in Information Retrieval. This effort was greatly helped by the Institute for Information Science of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who applied their research in OCR to the conversion of the proceedings.

A new set of officers was elected and installed at the 1995 SIGIR Conference. The outgoing officers: Ed Fox, Chair; Nick Belkin, Vice-Chair; Donna Harman, Treasurer; and Craig Stanfill, Secretary, received a resounding vote of thanks. The new officers are Nick Belkin, Chair; Howard Turtle, Vice-Chair; Susan Gauch, Treasurer; and David Lewis, Secretary. In our continuing effort to make SIGIR a truly international organization, Peter Schaeuble of the ETH Zurich was appointed European representative to the SIGIR Executive Committee.

In 1996-1997 the SIGIR Annual Conference was held in Zurich. Again, this was an extremely successful meeting, following the trend of increasing attendance, with a record number of attendees for Conferences held outside North America. An interesting aspect of SIGIR '96 was the sponsorship and organization of the meeting by the Union Bank of Switzerland, the first time that there has been such direct involvement by a corporate body in the Conference. Thanks are due to the Conference Chair, Hans-Peter Frei, Director of Ubilab of the UBS, for initiating this direction, and for organizing a most enjoyable (in all the conference senses) meeting.

At SIGIR 96, a major topic of discussion at the SIGIR Annual Business Meeting was how to increase representation of international consituencies and members in the governance of SIGIR. Although a substantial percentage of our membership is from outside North America, there have been, for instance, no officers of SIGIR from any other continent. This has led to some feeling that the concerns of members outside North America may not be receiving adequate attention. In an initial attempt to address this issue, the membership at the Business Meeting directed the Executive Committee to investigate this issue, and suggested, as a possible mechanism for addressing it, the establishment of regular representation on the Executive Committee from non-North American constituencies, in particular from Europe and from Asia and the Pacific.

In part because of this discussion, an election of officers was held in Spring 1997. The current Chair, Vice-Chair and Treasurer all stood for office and were re-elected, but the incumbent Secretary did not stand. The new Secretary of SIGIR is Elke Mittendorf from the ETH Zurich, the first non-North American officer of SIGIR. We welcome her, and we welcome this positive move toward a more explicitly international SIGIR.

SIGIRs electronic publication program suffered a small setback during 1996-1997, because the ISI at UNLV could no longer support the OCR work that they had been doing. Nevertheless, work continues on the production of a complete set of SIGIR proceedings in electronic form. The SIGIR conferences have since 1995 required contributors to provide electronic as well as paper versions of their papers, and this appears to be working fairly well. We hope soon to be using the ACM standard for electronic contributions to proceedings, which we hope will make the problem of conversion one of the past.

In other publication news, SIGIR has at long last published a membership directory, as an addendum to the Spring 1997 number of the SIGIR Forum. This same number of the Forum was a special issue dedicated to the memory and work of Gerard Salton, a founder of SIGIR and eminent computer scientist. Donna Harman and Chris Buckley were the editors of this special issue, which includes detailed personal histories of the various periods of Salton's research and research groups, a selection of some the papers he published in the SIGIR Forum, and a complete (we think) bibliography of his works. Many thanks to the editors and all of the contributors to this very special, and very important issue of the SIGIR Forum.

Thanks are due also to the joint editors of SIGIR Forum, Bill Hersh and Fazli Can, who have successfully developed this journal into both a news forum and an important scientific forum. Also contributing importantly to our publication and information services was Jim French, the SIGIR Information Officer, who has developed an outstanding home page for SIGIR. Bill Hersh, the chair of the Electronic Publications Committee, and all of the members of that committee deserve a strong vote of thanks for the work that they have done this year. And the Education Committee, especially through the efforts of Ed Fox and Kazem Taghva, has been especially active, sponsoring workshops on education and curriculum development for information retrieval, and actively disseminating information on this issue. We should also note that this year SIGIR initiated a program of funding travel to the SIGIR Annual Conference for student contributors.

Although interest in information retrieval is clearly growing, and although the SIGIR Annual Conferences, and those others which it co-sponsors or acts in collaboration with are seeing steadily increasing attendance, membership continues to slowly decline. The news has been better recently, but this is still a major problem which SIGIR will be addressing in the coming year. Several avenues are being considered, including a more active publicity campaign, both in North America and abroad; more active solicitation of institutional membership and sponsorship; increasing the number and quality of member services, especially in terms of electronic publication; and, developing stronger ties with related organizations, including especially more joint meetings. Since our problem is common to many ACM SIGs, we also look to them for collaboration in addressing this issue.

But there's no need to end this report on a low note. SIGIR had a productive and successful year, with important intellectual and social contributions. We continue to attract new members, our conferences have been remarkably successful in all senses, our financial situation is quite healthy. We look forward with great anticipation to the next year, and hope to see many new faces, as well as many familiar ones, at this year's meetings. Until Philadelphia, and DL '97 and SIGIR '97!