SIGIR Annual Report

July 1997 - June 1998
Submitted by: Nicholas J. Belkin, SIGIR Chair

SIGIR again had a busy and fruitful year in 1997-1998, sponsoring or co-sponsoring several quite successful conferences, and offering a number of extended member services. Although we continued to suffer a small decline in membership, the rate of decline was slightly above the ACM SIG mean, as was our retention rate of both first year and post-first year members.

Our main event during this period was, as usual the Annual Conference of SIGIR, formally known as the Annual ACM SIGIR International Conference on Research and Development in Information Retrieval. The meeting was held this year in Philadelphia, with Ellen Voorhees of the National Institute of Standards and Technology the Conference Chair. As in the past, this was a quite successful meeting, both intellectually and financially. Attendance at SIGIR '97 continued the trend to increase, with about 430 participants. The strong international presence was especially gratifying.

This year was the first in which the other major conference which SIGIR sponsors, the ACM Digital Libraries Conference (DL '97) was held in collocation with the SIGIR Annual Conference. SIGIR had earlier entered into a co-sponsorship agreement with SIGLINK, according to which SIGIR and SIGLINK would be joint sponsors of the DL conference, which would be held in collocation with the SIGIR and Hypertext conferences in alternate years (both SIGIR and SIGLINK having their conferences in North America and outside North America in alternate years). In 1996, DL '96 was held in collocation with Hypertext '96 in Washington, D.C./Bethesda, Maryland. DL '97 was held in the week before SIGIR '97 in Philadephia. Again, DL continued the trend of increasing attendance, with over 300 attendees. The Conference Chair was Edy Rasmussen of the University of Pittsburgh, who worked in close collaboration with Ellen Voorhees to connect the two meetings. The idea of collocation seems to have been strongly justified by these two events. There was a fairly substantial joint attendance (about 15%), particularly by international attendees, and there was strong overlap in participation in joint workshops and tutorials from attendees of the two conferences. The intellectual content of the two meetings was also nicely complementary, with a somewhat more system and practice oriented flavor to DL '97, and a more theoretical and research bent to SIGIR '97. It is clear that the interests of the two communities are strongly complementary, and that there is good reason to maintain the current arrangement.

There was a strong effort during this year to try to merge, or otherwise rationalize the two major US conferences having to do with digital libraries: the ACM Conference on Digital Libraries, and the Advances in Digital Libraries (ADL) Conference (in 1998 sponsored by IEEE Computer Society Digital Libraries Technical Committee). There was some hope that this could be accomplished in time for DL '98, which was held in Pittsburgh in May, in collocation with Hypertext '98. Unfortunately, the timing of the meetings prevented this from happening, and so the two conferences were held separately in 1998. DL '98 was a resounding success, and thanks are due Rob Acksyn of KSI, who was conferenc chair for both it and Hypertext '98. Although attendance was down slightly from DL '97, the quality of the papers was quite high, and the conference was intellectually, socially and financially successful. An important event was a keynote speech by Doug Englebart, which was held as a joint event of both meetings, as the close of Hypertext '98 and the beginning of DL '98. This managed to bring both communities together very nicely, and to demonstrate quite tangibly their relationships to one another.

During 1997-1998, representative of SIGIR and SIGLINK continued their discussions on merger of ACM DL and ADL with representative of ADL. The idea of the merger was based on two factors: the desirability of increasing the scope of each of the meetings (that of ACM DL to include more practical, system and policy contribuitons; that of ADL to include more research contributions); and, the seeming undesirability of having two competing conferences in a relatively small domain. These discussions were unable to result in a formal merger. However, as a result of these discussions, a new governance structure, and a broader contribution policy were established for ACM DL. A new Steering Committee was established for ACM DL, consisting of two representatives each from SIGIR and SIGLINK, and the conference chairs of the immediate past two ACM DL and ADL conferences. The Steering Committee appoints an Advisory Committee, consisting of representatives from organizations with strong interests in digital libraries (e.g. The Library of Congress, the American Society for Information Science, the American Library Association, the National Science Foundation). Together, these two bodies maintain continuity from year to year, select ACM DL Conference Chairs, and advise on the content and structure of the conferences. Future ACM DL conferences will continue to maintain a strong research focus, but will also invite contributions in areas such as operating system descriptions and social, economic and policy issues of digital libraries. SIGIR and SIGLINK will continue to be equal co-sponsors of the series.

CIKM '97, the Conference on Information and Knowledge Management, was co-sponsored by SIGIR and SIGART. The meeting this year was held in Las Vegas, and although attendance was somewhat down from the previous year's conference, it was still a financial success (i.e., we didn't lose any money), as well as becoming more broadly based in its intellectual focus. In the past, this meeting has been rather strongly biased toward database research, but this year saw an evolution to more inclusiveness in content, especially with respect to information retrieval, and to new concepts of knowledge management. This was the last year in which SIGART was a co-sponsor; CIKM '98 will be co-sponsored by SIGIR and SIGMIS, in cooperation with SIGGROUP.

In 1998, the second Workshop on Information Retrieval in Oriental Languages was held, this time in Japan, in cooperation with SIGIR. This, in addition to the establishment of a local SIGIR chapter in Southeast Asia, are good examples of SIGIR's continuing efforts to become a truly international society. SIGIR '98 will be the first SIGIR conference to be held outside of North America or Europe, in Melbourne Australia in August 1998. The expansion of SIGIR-related activities in the Asia-Pacific region is a strongly encouraging trend.

SIGIR's Information Officer, Jim French of the University of Virginia, did a fine job in establishing, maintaining and expanding the SIGIR home page. This has become an important resource for IR researchers and practitioners, and we anticipate that its influence will continue to grow. We are now establishing a survey to determine what other information and services our members, and potential members, would like to have added to this resource.

Thanks again are due 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.

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 Melbourne!