1 In the beginning

Martin White


The establishment of the Institute of Information Scientists in 1958 can be traced back to the creation of a Department of Scientific and Industrial Research by the UK Government in 1915. In this chapter the chronology of the period from 1915 to 1958 is set out, but it is important to recognise that the catalyst for the IIS was an emerging requirement for specialised training for information professionals who would need to have a different balance of skills to a librarian or library manager. This topic is covered in more detail in Chapter 8 which shows the evolution of the educational Criteria that were developed by the Institute almost from its foundation.

A perspective on 1958

To give some context to the foundation of the IIS, in 1958 the Prime Minister was Harold Macmillan. The year started badly with the crash at Munich Airport of an aircraft carrying the Manchester United football team. 23 people died. The spirits of the country were raised by the successful crossing of the Antarctic by teams led by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir Vivian Fuchs. Also of note was the initial work on the M1 motorway, the first in the UK, and the opening of the reconstructed Gatwick Airport by HM The Queen[1].

From a technology perspective 1958 marked the launch of Subscriber Trunk Dialling in Bristol, replacing the need for calls to be connected by an operator. On 5 May 1958 Queen Elizabeth II made the first subscriber trunk dialled telephone call from the Bristol Telephone Exchange. She called the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, more than 300 miles (482km) away. Her call lasted two minutes five seconds and cost 10d (or the equivalent of four pence in decimal currency).

British Overseas Airways Corporation inaugurated the first jet airliner flights to the USA, using the Comet aircraft. 1958 could also be described as the year in which computers had their first public showing. This was at an exhibition at Olympia opening on 24 November. The occasion was marked by a special issue of the New Scientist on 27 November 1958. Concurrently the first ever conference on artificial intelligence was being held at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, UK with the title of Mechanisation of Thought Processes[2].

Moving into the information and documentation world, the British Computer Society had been formed in 1957. In 1958 it launched Computer Journal, which contained an article on ‘Automatic retrieval of recorded information’ by Robert Fairthorne.

He wrote:

“Automatic retrieval entails not so much the mechanisation of the library as of its staff and users, in that it must both manipulate and talk about the documents for them. There need be no despondency: of recent years there has been real progress and the mechanisation is much nearer and will probably be more efficient, than the alternative biological method – selective breeding of clerical staff”.

The first major information-focused conference since the Royal Society conference in 1948 had been held in Dorking in 1957[3]. This was followed by the International Conference on Scientific Information, sponsored by the US National Academy of Science, which took place in Washington DC on 16-21 November[4].

In the beginning

The story of the founding of the Institute has its origins in the establishment of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) in 1915. The remit of the DSIR was to co-ordinate and promote civil and industrial science and technology. Between 1916 and 1920 UK Government research boards and research institutes were established, including ‘research associations’ which were largely funded by member subscriptions and research projects. Another role for the research associations was to provide information services to members. At the Fifth Conference of Research Associations in 1922 J.G. Pearce, then at Metropolitan Vickers in Manchester, made a case for the creation of intelligence bureaux that would collect, collate and circulate technical information to experts. Later that year Pearce was appointed as Director of the British Cast Iron Research Association.

Meanwhile in 1920 the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association (BNFMRA) was established in Birmingham. The first Director was Robert S. Hutton, a distinguished metallurgist who was also very aware of the importance of industrial libraries. He knew Pearce well from working with him at Manchester University. When the BNFMRA was relocated to Euston Street, London, the opportunity was taken to establish a library and information bureau along the lines espoused by Pearce, who was a member of the Council of BNFMRA and with Hutton was also on the Council of Aslib. Aslib had been founded in 1924 as the Association of Special Libraries and Information Bureaux, with the aim of co-ordinating the activities of specialist information services in the UK.  A.F. Ridley was appointed Librarian with the responsibility of setting up an Information Department for the BNFMRA.

Ridley moved on to be Secretary and, in his place, Ben Fullman was appointed as Librarian and Information Officer, a position he retained until his retirement in 1965.

Training for information specialists

After WW2 and arising out of the 1948 Royal Society Conference on Scientific Information, the requirement to train people in the use of the research literature rather than on book collections emerged very strongly. In the period prior to WW2 there had been discussions between Aslib and the Library Association on closer co-operation but without any real progress being made. The Library Association’s training and certification structure was not suitable for information specialists, so in 1948 a motion was put to the Aslib annual conference that Aslib should take the lead in developing both training and certification. The motion was proposed by Ben Fullman, at that time Chairman of the Education Committee of Aslib. Although the motion was carried by 68 votes to 65, Aslib Council took the view that there was not an adequate level of support to make what would have been substantial changes to its activities.

It is important to note that Farradane worked alongside G. Malcolm Dyson (Founding President 1958-60) in the organising committees of the Royal Society Conference and clearly built a relationship based on common interests in educating chemists to make full use of the chemical literature.

In 1952 Alexander Gordon Foster wrote an article in Laboratory Practice stressing the need for separate education in information work, leading to a qualification.

In April 1953 a group of scientific and industrial information officers became increasingly dissatisfied by the lack of progress by either Aslib or the Library Association and proposed to Aslib Council that a separate ‘Information Scientists’ Institute’ should be established within Aslib. This group included Chris Hanson, Jason Farradane, S.R. McKenzie, E.R. Francis, J.B. Reed, A.H. Holloway, Dr Donald J. Urquhart, and A. Gordon Foster.

At that time the Director of Aslib was Leslie Wilson and he persuaded the group to hold back and let him try to develop a group within Aslib itself. At the 1957 annual conference a motion proposed by Aslib Council under which Aslib would develop an educational syllabus and register of qualified students was heavily defeated by members of Aslib who were librarians as they sensed that this could be a competitor to the Library Association.

The crucial letters

In June 1957 Farradane wrote a letter to Engineering which set out why he felt that information work required a different set of skills to that of librarians. The letter ended:

“The first aim is to form a small nucleus of experienced information scientists (in any subject field) who feel that they can devote some time and energy to the task of establishing an Institute [of Information Scientists]”.

It is important to note that in the letter Farradane writes that he had previously suggested the designation of Information Scientist for this new profession.

At the end of 1957 Farradane was able to write a further letter to Engineering to say that a meeting would be held on 23 January 1958 at 5.30pm at the Institution of Electrical Engineers to discuss the terms of inauguration for an Institute of Information Scientists. The meeting was to be chaired by Dr George Malcolm Dyson. The association of Dyson with the event was of considerable significance as he was a highly regarded chemist, leading research at Fisons, the agrochemicals company. More important he was heavily involved in the development of chemical nomenclature and served on a number of IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) committees. In 1952 he authored a letter in Journal of Chemical Education entitled ‘Preservation and availability of chemical knowledge’[5]. In 1958 any chemist would have recognised that a meeting chaired by Dyson was going to be a significant and popular professional event.

In the event 125 people turned up at Savoy Place, which for 1958 must have been a substantial majority of the putative information profession. The opening speeches were given by Farradane and Hanson. The motion was:

“That a professional body be, and is hereby, set up to promote and maintain high standards in scientific and technical information work, and to establish qualifications for those engaged in the profession.”

It was approved by 75 votes to 4, which does not add up to 125. Farradane noted later that a further 25 letters of support had been received from people who had not been able to attend the meeting, of which seven came from outside the UK.

A committee that included, inter alia, Malcolm Dyson, Jason Farradane, Gordon Foster, Chris Hanson, Arthur Holloway, Felix Liebesney and William Paton, was set up to take matters forward.

The Constitution was approved at a meeting held at the Royal Society of Arts on 23 May 1958. Dr Dyson was elected President, Hanson as Vice-President, Foster as Treasurer and Farradane as Secretary. A Council of eight members was also elected and Chris Hanson was elected Chairman. The grades of membership were Fellow, Member, Associate and Student Member. These Council members were all appointed as Fellows to give initial prestige to the Institute. Within a short time 85 members had been enrolled.

By March 1959 the membership had reached 150. In May the Inland Revenue approved the Institute for relief on income tax on subscriptions. Although of small direct benefit to members it was a quasi-official recognition of the status and stability of the Institute. IIS was registered under the Companies Act on 10 June. The Memorandum and Articles of Association were approved by the Board of Trade in October 1959 which enabled the Institute to be incorporated as a company limited by guarantee and not having share capital. (In 1996 the Board of Trade agreed in principle that the Institute could remove the word ‘Limited’ from its name.)

The Articles established a membership limit of 500. By 1966 the increasing volume of applicants led Council to resolve to increase this limit to 2000 and arrange for the relevant Article to be amended. This limit was reached in 1986.  In 1988 IIS membership stood at 2327 and expanded to 2800 in 1991/92. From then it began to fall and dipped below 2000 as the journey to unification with the Library Association gathered pace.


Ben Fullman continued to work in the BNFMRA Library several days a week until the early 1970s. He was a Fellow of both the Royal Institute of Chemistry (now the Royal Society of Chemistry) and of the Institute of Metals and was awarded an MBE for his services to information work. His own expertise was complemented by a team of three Information Officers, two of whom had undertaken an MSc at City University under Jason Farradane. The important role played by Ben Fullman in the genesis of the Institute was recognised by Farradane himself. Fullman died in 1983 at the age of 85. In a report on the first 50 years of Aslib[6]. Chris Hanson noted that on visits to Aslib (where he became Head of the Research Department):

“There was Miss Ditmass, first director, alias Miss Aslib with two others, in Bloomsbury Street; and Fullman of the BNF often nipping in – surely one of the first and best information scientists, long before the term was invented.”

Additional resources

https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/lords/1956/apr/10/department-of-scientific-and-industrial (1956) provides background information about the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR).

https://www.nature.com/articles/154114a0.pdf (1944) is a letter by G. Malcolm Dyson which sets out for the first time the value of a definitive description of the structure of organic compounds.

The Institute: the first twelve years, Information Scientist, 1970, 4, 4.

Letters to Engineering, reproduced in Inform, 1983, 56, July/August, 4.

Alistair Black, Dave Muddiman, and Helen Plant (2007) The Early Information Society. Ashgate Publishing.

R.S. Hutton (1964) Recollections of a Technologist. Pitman.

https://www.isko.org/cyclo/vickery.htm features a profile of Brian Vickery.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/01639374.2011.531235 provides a more detailed biography of Brian Vickery.


  1. Alan Gilchrist, 1958 Scrapbook – A lighthearted look back to the year in which the Institute of Information Scientists was founded, Journal of Information Science, 1983, 6, 81-85.
  2. https://www.historyofinformation.com/detail.php?id=771.
  3. http://garfield.library.upenn.edu/papers/memoriesofdorkingconference1957.html Eugene Garfield reflects on the Dorking event and mentions the IIS.
  4. https://www.nap.edu/catalog/10866/proceedings-of-the-international-conference-on-scientific-information-two-volumes Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information (Washington DC).
  5. Journal of Chemical Education, 1952, 29 (5), p 239.
  6. Information Scientist, 1974, December.