Professor wins award in Australia for unique research thesis

Kimberly Laferty

Winning an award for the first time based on research wasn’t something Leisa Gibbons, an assistant professor at Kent State’s School of Library and Information Systems, expected. That is, until she was nominated by Frada Burstein, a professor of information systems at Monash University, in Melbourne, Australia.

Gibbons, who received her doctorate from Monash University in May 2015, recently moved to the U.S. in August 2015 to work at Kent State.

Her doctoral thesis earned her a nomination, by Burstein, for the Australian Council of Professors and Heads of Information Systems (ACPHIS) award.

In order to be qualified for the award, a person must complete their Ph.D. within the year of the annual award and be in information systems, according to Gibbons.

Gibbons’ doctoral thesis is called “Culture in the Continuum: YouTube, Small Stories and Memory-Making.”

According to the SLIS website, Gibbons worked with six experts from different fields of academic field, and three prominent Australian Youtubers who use YouTube in different ways. Her thesis focuses around how the Youtubers identify themselves and what kind of messages they tried to promote, according to the site.

Gibbons discussed the value, identity, recording keeping and memory in her research.

“In a sense, it’s about decision-making (and) how to make people make decisions about value so that people who create records, people who create stuff in YouTube, people who use that kind of material in YouTube for research, people who archive it and how they make decisions about it, (know) why it’s important that we understand the different layers of decision making” Gibbons said.

She said that recording keeping isn’t just about keeping records, it’s about the activities we do to create and manage records overtime and in different spaces.

“Record keeping for evidence purposes link to how we might understand evidence and memory,” Gibbons said. “So we capture and create records so that we can remember things for the future.”

Burstein applauded said Gibbons took full interest in her research on this topic.

“(Gibbons) took on this challenge with enthusiasm, and applied her multidisciplinary research skills to adapt the information and records continuum theory as a lens to shed the light on YouTube as the modern history-making environment,” Burstein.

Gibbons took a unique approach to presenting her research, in a way that engages the reader.

“Her research results are deep, meaningful and fascinating in both the subject matter as well as the methodology used to come up with those,” Burstein said. “The format of the thesis is also quite unusual and innovative – it is written as ‘a play,’ and it leads the reader through the story it describes with an almost theatrical excitement.”

Burstein said when she recommended Gibbons to be nominated for her thesis, she was not sure what extent of the study would be understood by the information systems community, since Gibbons has a focus in archival science.  

“I was pretty confident that its contribution goes far beyond just archival science and is equally applicable to the field of informatics to which information systems belong as well.” Burstein said.

Gibbons said she didn’t expect to win the award and was shocked to receive the news late one night.

“I was up by myself and I received the notice saying that I had won,” Gibbons said. “I had to read it a few times and then I immediately – my husband was sleeping – but I immediately messaged my mom, who lives in Western Australia, to tell her.”

Alfio Contarino, Gibbons’ husband, said when she was nominated, he told her to start planning to go back to Australia to receive the award because he thought she would win.

“I was so happy and proud … we were both excited that she won the award,” Contarino said.

In December 2015, Gibbons headed back to Australia to receive her award. There were two parts to the award ceremony.

“I had to give a 45-minute talk about my experiences as a Ph.D. student and provide reflections on that and some advice,” Gibbons said.

Gibbons said the second part was attending a main conference and dinner at the Adelaide Zoo in Australia.

Since returning from Australia to accept her award, Gibbons has started to work on research that has to do with decision-making relating to web archives. She said she is has also proposed a research on how we might construct ways of understanding people’s experiences with online interactions.

Karen Gracy, an associate professor at Kent State’s School of Library and Information Sciences, said Gibbons brings fresh perspectives to the archives and cultural heritage areas at the university, in particular her background and interests in continuum theory.

“She and I share many common interests,”Gracy said. “So, I am eager to have this opportunity to collaborate with her on research projects and new curriculum in this area.”

Gibbons said that even though the process of getting her doctoral degree has been hectic, she is grateful for people like Burstein, Sue McKemmish, director of the Monash University Centre for Organisational and Social Informatics and Frank Upward, a principal researcher in the Centre for Organisational and Social Informatics at Monash University, for working with her and supporting her.

“In my field of study, McKemmish and Upward are the founders,” Gibbons said. “I got the special privilege to be supervised by the people who created the area of study that I work in.”

Contarino said they had up and downs during the process of Gibbons getting her Ph.D. and with moving to different areas a lot, but they always were there for each other.

“During all these events we supported each other, keeping our goals in mind and our hearts as one,” Contarino said.

Burstein said it was a pleasure to observe the development of Gibbons, from the beginning of her doctoral research to the final submission.

“(Gibbons) is an extremely generous and ethical person, who I strongly believe will make a great contribution to (Kent State’s) research and teaching programs, but I’d be delighted to see her coming back to Australia one day,” Burstein said.

For more information on Gibbons’ research, visit

Kimberly Laferty is the libraries reporter for The Kent Stater, contact her at [email protected].