13 A eulogy for IIS

Like other eulogies this chapter reflects on the contribution made by the Institute to the information world and to our professional lives. It is written by close friends of the Institute, who knew it well. As friends, we’ve concluded it with a few of its limitations but do so with courtesy and understanding.

Writing this History has been a privilege. Accounting for the development, activities, and impact of the Institute has reminded us of its courage and persistence in building the foundation for information science education and practice in the UK. Also of the numerous professionals that contributed to the Institute’s growth, development, and provision of services to members. It has also reminded us of the influence of the Institute on our own careers, how we were drawn first into membership, then Institute activities, and the consequent growth in our capabilities and skills that ensued.

Rather than reprising each chapter we begin with affirming the factors we consider were most germane to Institute success:

  • The vision, courage, and persistence of Jason Farradane and colleagues who recognised the emergence of a new profession of workers who were blending their scientific and technical expertise with skills in finding and organising information: the information scientists.
  • Establishing a professional identity: what constitutes information science; defining a relevant syllabus; establishing courses leading to professional qualifications; making these essential for obtaining membership – the core attractor to join. It also funded an effective central office.
  • Ambition, adaptability and opportunism. In its passion for excellence in information management, the Institute responded rapidly to changes in its operational environment – new technology, expansion in online databases, the re-shaping of copyright laws, influencing UK government on information matters, and the opportunities in European harmonisation. The Institute pushed for a voice at the most important tables.
  • Its support of regional branches and its openness to Special Interest Groups ensuring its relevance across the UK and across the expansion of professional interests.

Although our careers have been quite different, they began with degrees in Chemistry and chance encounters alerting us to the potential of utilising this subject experience to work with published information. Martin was enthralled by a Southampton subject librarian; Sandra by a Unilever R&D chemist turned information specialist. Martin’s awareness of the Institute preceded his first job; Sandra at Wellcome Research Laboratories, had bosses who actively supported City University courses.

Martin’s career is an excellent example of how volunteering for the Institute made his career sing:

“As I was working on the History, I was constantly being reminded of the crucial role the Institute played at all stages of my career. Indeed, I first became aware of the Institute in 1969 whilst reading Chemistry at Southampton University. Chris Parker had joined the University Library in a liaison role between the science faculty and the Library and gave a lecture on sources of information on chemistry to third year students. Meeting up with him later I found that he was a member of the Institute and realised that information work could be a way of combining my degree and my love of libraries.

I started my career at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association in London and was very fortunate to be working with two colleagues who had both been through the Diploma course at City University under the direction of Jason Farradane. Working in the Library at that time was Ben Fullman, who was arguably the first Information Officer in the UK and played an important role in the development of the Institute. My colleagues gave me a very rigorous training in ‘good practice’ in information work, suggested (strongly) that I should join the Institute and emphasised the importance of building networks both within the BNF and externally.

Over the next two decades participation in Institute conferences, attendance at evening meetings and workshops, and participation in Institute committees were of significant importance in my career development. The conferences were also an opportunity to gain skills in presentation techniques.

Although I played a role in improving Institute communications through the establishment of Inform, probably my most memorable experience was working with Helen Henderson on the creation of the 1979 21st Anniversary Conference. This was the first to be held outside of a university location and attracted a stellar array of speakers and sponsors, all of whom were delighted to be associated with the Institute. Subsequently I became Chairman of Council and then President, the first member of the Institute to hold both positions – something I am very proud of.

Although my career started to move away from information work in 1985, I tried hard to maintain the principles of the Institute in all my subsequent work, especially when I returned to information consultancy work with TFPL in 1995. By then I sensed that the Institute was in a decline, and I was not surprised when the much-discussed merger with the Library Association took place in 2002. I was fortunate to be able to play an active role in the development of the UK electronic information Group (UKeiG) within CILIP and to this day the Group has maintained much of the ethos of the Institute.

I’ve never regretted having information scientist on my passport; it’s allowed entry to forty countries.  My first book was written for the Institute in 1981 (‘Profit from Information’) and this has stimulated nine more. To this day I enjoy seeing the slightly quizzical look on the face of clients when I tell them, with great pride, that I am an information scientist, and my Fellowship certificate still hangs on my office wall”.

Now after 50 years in the information profession we still lament the Institute’s demise.  From the distance of today some factors in its decline stand out. Its governance could be seen as overcomplex, though regular review of its operating structures achieved efficiencies and improved communications between the centre, committees, groups, and members. Nevertheless, IIS bureaucracy limited and diverted energies needed for action.

As employers demanded more of their staff in the 1980s and 1990s, staff time for ‘extra-mural’ activities became increasingly pressured as employers began to discount the benefits to staff skills from contributing to a professional body. Whilst the Institute’s range of activities remained entirely relevant, many tasks reverted to its professional staff, later overburdening them, and restricting their focus on membership expansion.

Despite efforts to grow, membership remained stuck in the lower 2000s. Presidents and members recognised the need to attract members from the wide range of emerging roles with managing information as a strong component. IIS tried to do so through focused PR, its Text Retrieval Conferences, and collaboration with the British Computer Society. These advertised its relevance, but the professional standards required to join the Institute were a continuing barrier. Servicing costs meant expanding overseas members was out of the question.

The Saunders Report (1989) diverted some IIS attention to having to consider stronger partnerships with the LA and Aslib. IIS could see the intrinsic and idealistic value from a unified profession with members from all information disciplines and fostered cooperation but saw information scientist skills as unique. From the early 1990s, membership decreased and so did the finances needed for survival and continued member services. Unification talks began. Some IIS members warned that the distinct nature of IIS would be lost in unification. If the communication of merger progress had not gone underground for several months, many more might have expressed apprehension. (The Scottish Branch was vociferous and precise in expressing concerns.) Merger promised much; the new organisation had information professional in its name. But the challenges facing libraries are perennial. The merger with the LA rather than increasing the information horizons of the new professional body into information science saw the discipline disappear. In retrospect ex-IIS members should have argued for an IIS SIG to serve their interests. This would have been unthinkable at the time – we all hoped things would improve. Sadly, only now are information management and knowledge management being promoted by CILIP after much pressure by ex-Institute members.


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Evolution and impact: a history of the Institute of Information Scientists 1958-2002 Copyright © 2022 by Sandra Ward and Martin White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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