Posted February 20, 2019; updated August 23, 2019
By Abe Danaher, communications assistant
Through a three-year, almost $300,000 grant and a course she piloted last semester,
Vanessa Kitzie is ensuring that her students — and the rest of the information science community — don’t forget about humans in the growing world of big data and technology.
Kitzie, an assistant professor in the School of Library and Information Science, is
combining her two interests — sociology and information science — to take an interdisciplinary approach in answering one of her field’s key research
questions: What do people do with information in their everyday lives?
That question has brought her research down two different paths — one looking at social bots and the other examining public library service to LGBTQ+
In the years following the 2016 election, social bots have been a “hot topic,” Kitzie
said. Computer scientists and people in information science devoted a lot of attention
to determining the role that these bots played in the outcome of the election.
“That’s pretty much all you have seen in terms of bot research,” Kitzie says when
discussing the 2016 election. “One thing we have done is look at bot research in other
Alongside fellow SLIS faculty members Amir Karami and Ehsan Mohammadi, Kitzie has begun looking at bot activity after mass shooting events. To do so, she
focused her research on bot activity before and after the shooting in Parkland, Florida.
She not only looked at what information the bots were sharing, but sought to answer
if they were influencing the humans who encountered their posts.
“One of the things we were looking at was what bot accounts were being retweeted a
ton and what were they saying, because that’s obviously going to be what’s more influential,”
She hopes this research provides libraries with a more nuanced understanding of what
skill sets are required to be information literate in today’s world, particularly
when automated sources of information such as bots and algorithms play an increasingly
In addition to this work, Kitzie has also launched a three-year study to examine the health information practices of LGBTQ+ libraries and, based on the findings, locate potential places for advocacy and intervention
by public libraries.
In October 2018, she began phase one, which studies the health-related information
practices of LGBTQ+ people in South Carolina. It’s still a work in progress, but Kitzie
plans to use her findings to inform a community forum at Richland Library between
LGBTQ+ leaders and public librarians. Her hope is to spark dialogue and foster a stronger
relationship between libraries and the LGBTQ+ community — first in South Carolina, then on a national scale.
As Kitzie looks to inform libraries through her research about the people and technology
within their communities, she is also challenging her students to consider the relationship
between people and technology, too.
Last fall, she introduced the course “Social Informatics: Design, Uses, and Consequences
of Technologies in Everyday Life” in UofSC’s Honors College with the goal of challenging
her students’ preconceived ideas.
“A lot of times people say things like, ‘Twitter is making us shallow,’” she says.
“Or like, ‘Facebook is making us lonely.’ Or, ‘Google is making us stupid.’ You hear
those sorts of things.”
She taught her students to look past such deterministic narratives and instead look
at the social and cultural influences that created the technology. She also pushed
them to consider how technology has influenced humanity’s behaviors without entirely
In the process, Kitzie created a class that will be a mainstay in SLIS’s curriculum — it’s being offered as a special topics course this semester and will be listed as
SLIS 415, an elective, in fall 2019.
“It was really after taking Dr. Kitzie’s class that I knew I wanted to be a part of
SLIS,” says Jonah Rotholz, who changed his major from experimental psychology to information
science after taking the Honors College class.
Rotholz says Kitzie made the class extremely relatable for him and encouraged him
to apply what he was learning in the class to his interest in business sales. This
led him to take away exactly what Kitzie had hoped her students would through his
own lens of interest.
“When people think about computers and they think about technology, the first thing
that comes to mind is building the chips, writing the software, all of that,” Rotholz
says. “It’s really easy to overlook how important the human element is, but if you
don’t consider the human element, your code can be great and your hardware can be
great, but everyone will hate your product.”
The ever-evolving relationship between people and technology is complicated. But Kitzie’s
research is helping students, librarians and fellow researchers make sense of it so
that they can better connect with the communities they serve.