Three SILS Faculty Receive Awards to Support Research

December 19, 2014

Robert Capra, Mary Grace Flaherty, and Mohammad Hossein Jarrahi, three assistant professors at the University of North Carolina’s School of Information and Library Science (SILS), have received UNC Junior Faculty Development Awards for 2015.

“Three awards in one year is unprecedented,” said Gary Marchionini, SILS Dean and Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor. “This demonstrates the exceptional talent that SILS has attracted in recent years.  Congratulations to each of these fine scholars.”

Capra will use the award to investigate new approaches for helping search system users when they encounter difficulty finding information. Specifically, his work focuses on providing users with “search trails” that reveal the paths, queries, clicks, and annotations of other users who have completed similar searches. A key motivation behind this approach is that the initial set of search results is often just a starting point for exploration; search trails can reveal the useful resources found by others while they were searching.

This research will make practical contributions to the design of search assistance tools for a wide variety of online resources including library catalog services, digital libraries, document repositories, digital humanities collections, and open Web searches.  It will also make contributions to the research fields of information science and human-computer interaction by increasing our understanding of how and when users seek help and engage with online assistance systems.

Flaherty’s research project will make the Carolina Health Assessment Research Tool (CHART), an online health behavior assessment created by UNC researchers (, available to adult patrons at the Farmville Public Library (FPL), located in mid-eastern North Carolina. 

A recent assessment by the North Carolina Institute of Medicine Task Force (August 2014) calls for better investment strategies and collaboration among public agencies to address health disparities in rural communities. As widespread community resource providers, public libraries are well positioned to contribute to these efforts. Preliminary research on health promotion efforts in select NC public libraries has demonstrated that activities such as lending pedometers are popular with library patrons. In the FPL, feedback from patrons included positive encouragement for the library to offer more health and wellness opportunities.

In conjunction with Farmville community partners, individuals will be identified to voluntarily use CHART, which will be administered by Flaherty in partnership with the FPL staff.  The goal is to development a better understanding of the online assessment tool’s influence on health behavior and the public library’s potential as a community health promotion partner.

Jarrahi’s research project seeks to gain a broad understanding of mobile knowledge workers’ information practices and the role of the emergent digital infrastructures that they enact in the course of carrying out these practices. The concept of ‘mobile knowledge work’ encompasses a growing subset of the contemporary workforce, and epitomizes distinct challenges and opportunities associated with information practices that span spatial, temporal, organizational, and technological boundaries. This work is motivated by the simple but profound insight that the workforce of today, which has largely been organized into functional departments in large corporations, is fast evolving into a new reality of creative workers, often working as freelancers or in small organizations. These skilled and technically-proficient individuals expect fluid social exchange across all levels of hierarchy, non-traditional and open work settings, and universal access to fast, ubiquitous digital networks.

Jarrahi will conduct a three-pronged, mixed-method (interviews, diary studies, and observation), exploratory research study aimed at understanding the information practices of mobile knowledge workers and specifically emphasizing the digital technologies that these workers use and the ways in which they use them.

Junior Faculty Development Awards are given by the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost to support new faculty members in furthering their research. Faculty members selected for the awards are given up to $7,500 over the course of one year to support their projects.