6 Branches and Groups

Sandra Ward

The establishment of Special Interest Groups (SIGs) and their structure was approved by Council in March 1977 and the September AGM approved the necessary constitutional change. Membership of a SIG was a personal decision and SIGs charged an annual membership fee. Non–members of IIS could join a SIG – a means of attracting them towards the Institute. This principle was reinforced in 1981 when a request from 50 members to form a SIG to further their common interests was rejected as a restricted membership contradicted the openness principle.

The Institute’s Branches and Groups were core to its raison d’être – advancement of the science and practice of information science by the fostering and promotion of education, training, invention and research in the field. Regional branches gave the opportunity for information scientists to meet, learn, and discuss the breadth and depth of their work in powerful networks – communities of interest and convenience. Special Interest Groups (SIGs) were communities of practice aiming at ensuring that their members stayed on top of new developments in specific areas of information science and could exert influence on suppliers of content and information processing tools.   Both Branches and SIGs gave their members opportunities to contribute to IIS activities and thereby grow their skills and confidence.

Branches were represented on Council though not by delegates directly elected by Branch Committees. (Council assumed that Branch members who rendered good service to their Branches would sooner or later be elected to Council.) In 1978 as IIS ‘came of age’, Council agreed that this position should be regularised. However, proposals to the 1978 AGM that Branch members elect representatives to Council was lost. The risk that Council would be too large was a strong consideration.

In 1979 Council reviewed the membership of Branches and SIGs following a Constitutional Committee report. It was decided that membership of Branches and local groups be restricted to IIS members. Non-members should be allowed to join SIGs. And non-members could be admitted to Branch and SIG meetings.

Following a review of IIS Constitution and Council structure, each Branch Committee could elect a member to Council and by 1985 all Branches and Special Interest Groups could nominate a corporate member annually to serve on Council. Council in turn nominated a representative to each of the Branch and SIG committees. In practice, this two-way communication proved to be largely effective and Council ensured the views of Branches and SIGs were actively sought on all relevant issues. For instance, as the Marketing Co-ordination Group explored a possible name change with its committees, Branches and SIGs worked to identify the market sectors important for IIS to focus on for new members.

By 1981 with many Branches and SIGs in place, Council’s development plan included a comprehensive plan for an integrated calendar of meetings at Branch, Local and SIG level. Council also delegated much of the organisation of meetings to Branches.


IIS formalised Branch terms and conditions in 1979. By then several branches had been established. Branches could provide events that, whilst not viable on a national scale, would further the professional development of members.

Northern Branch was the first to be established in 1965 and established its meetings programme, including a one-day conference, early on. A Midlands Branch was formed later and its constitution submitted to Council in 1976. In 1969 the Scottish Branch was established when 28 IIS members living in Scotland were invited to a post-AGM meeting of Aslib. 16 accepted and that meeting on 28 March was effectively the first meeting of the Scottish Branch. (The only connection between these first Branch members was their membership of IIS and their organisation’s membership of Aslib.) The Irish Branch was active by the mid-1970s and planned to raise its profile by joint meetings and seminars with other Irish information organisations. In 1979 Council agreed that every member should belong to a Branch, so a Southern Branch was needed. Before 1979, Meetings Committee had ensured an active presence in the region.

Council approved the constitution of Southern Branch in 1981. It sustained a high level of activity in the region. Other regional branches were explored. Development Committee presented proposals for South East and South West branches in 1975 and members in these areas were contacted to explore possible support, although no action followed.

Unfortunately, the Midlands Branch struggled and did not survive the 1980s. Problems were first noted by Council in 1975 and questionnaires were sent to members to explore enthusiasm for its reactivation. In 1977 it was holding meetings and an AGM again. In 1981 the branch had a ‘difficult’ year and consulted members on splitting into East and West branches for easier access to meetings. By 1987 Council was really concerned at its malaise. The Branch’s reports noted that cross-country travel in the region had mitigated against its activity.  Its committee then took the brave decision to close down. By 1989 Midlands’ members had been re-allocated to either the Northern or Southern Branches based on their location.

Branch constituencies were now huge. Northern Branch now included the area down to Gwynedd, Clwyd, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, and South Yorkshire. Southern Branch already covered East Anglia, the South West and South Coast and now encompassed the rest of England. Together with Ireland (this Branch covered the entire country), and Scotland, four IIS Branches now operated.

Both the enlarged Northern and Southern Branches were immediately concerned at their ability to provide services to members across such wide constituencies. Southern had the advantage that most members worked in the south east, within the area now circled by the M25. Most of its meetings were held in London but its Committee was concerned to ensure that meetings could be held across the region. In 1985 it appointed an Area Liaison Officer to offer support, advice, funds, and information for local and possibly low attendance events in other accessible locations. Some meetings were held in Cambridge and Hatfield. However, Southern Branch continued to be criticised for its choices of meeting locations, particularly the London-based evening meetings. In 1987, a questionnaire to members received 121 replies indicating that 91% were happy with a London venue.

Scotland’s meetings tended to be held in Edinburgh or Glasgow but in May 1988 a first meeting was held in Aberdeen on ‘Information aspects of hypertext and optical disk technology’ with demonstrations and case material. The write-up in Inform [1] noted: “Aberdeen is a long way from where most meetings take place but we are just as keen to keep up to date as people who live within easy reach of Glasgow or Edinburgh”.  More meetings were planned for the Granite City.

Local groups

In 1978, the case for establishing small local groups was put forward by the Development and Management Committees as a means of engaging more members outside London.

Oxford was selected for a pilot and OASIS was launched that year. By 1979 the Group proposed to Council that its membership should be open to non-IIS members. Although the motion was carried by 40 to 17 this did not achieve the required 75% majority. Following intervention by the President, Council accepted the Group’s request. IIS development plans for 1981-85 included encouraging the creation of more local groups. In 1980 a questionnaire received only 56 responses and found Branch members unenthusiastic, thinking that a local group could not function in their area. The maximum distance that members were prepared to travel to meetings was ca. 25 miles. The most likely locations were Newcastle upon Tyne, Leeds, Bedford, Reading and Southampton, three of which started what turned out to be short-lived branches.

The formal constitution of the Bedford Group was approved by Council in 1981 but its existence was brief as attendance dwindled rapidly to ten, at which point the group decided not to carry on although the possibility of a Milton Keynes group was raised, with BSI offering meeting facilities.

A Newcastle Group was approved in 1991 and became the North East Local Group (NELG) which was ‘parented’ by the Northern Branch and represented on its Committee. Attendance at meetings was initially reasonable but diminished to the point when, in 1995, its committee felt they were no longer justified in continuing. They reasoned that the main factors were increased and varied competition with events on topics that would appeal to IIS members plus the prevailing economic climate.

For a while the IIS office was in Reading and we assume that the REGIS Group was a result. Aiming to attract everyone working in the Thames Valley, visits to local centres of excellence with talks were reported from 1981-84 and reports of these are impressive.

Branch viability

In 1981 Council approved a motion that Council and Branch Management Committees should co-ordinate meeting dates. Branch viability was a perennial challenge though the four regional branches thrived until the merger. All were heavily reliant on a few active members who made a tremendous contribution. The challenge issued by the then Chairman of Council, Peter Brophy, to members in 1989 reflects a recurring theme:

“Come forward and contribute to the viability of branches. Why not offer to organise one meeting at a local level?  Most branches would be happy to finance meetings in the less well served parts of their areas; is there scope for joint meetings with other information bodies e.g. LA Branches, Aslib and BCS (British Computer Society)? Any ideas for improving communications with branch members?”

Inform did contain Branch news and most branches had regular mailings, but in the 1990s these would have been printed. Use of email and the internet was a transformational opportunity and in 1993 Scottish Branch began e-communication with members via the Janet network.

There were certainly some successful collaborative ventures. IIS Northern Branch worked with Aslib Branches and the Library Association’s NW Branch to run a Seminar on ‘Information liabilities’.

Contribution of the Branches to IIS

Branch Committees were dedicated and persistent. Their contributions to members was impressive with meetings, seminars and conferences as well as newsletters – too many to mention here. They provided a nucleus for member networking, exchange of practical experience, training, learning and advancement – as did SIGs. Southern and Scottish Branches celebrated their anniversaries: Scottish Branch made much of its Silver Jubilee in 1995 on board the Pride of Union barge. Northern Branch celebrated its Silver Jubilee by hosting the IIS 1989 Text Retrieval Conference ‘Where the book stops – the legal dimensions of information’. Southern Branch held many Christmas and ‘almost’ new year parties, following an evening meeting. Its monthly evening meetings were extremely popular. It offered a transferrable season ticket for £23.50 to enable employer payment.

Branch meeting topics were varied and extensive, including:


  • Microcomputers for information retrieval
  • Optical discs
  • Multimedia applications
  • Designing web pages
  • Geographic information systems
  • e-publishing
  • Data conversion
  • Database networks
  • How to get started in online
  • Inhouse systems for information retrieval
  • Thesaurus construction

Regulations and liabilities

  • Data protection
  • Freedom of Information
  • Copyright and document delivery
  • Preparation for the European Single Market

Service provision techniques

  • e-current awareness
  • Market information and competitor intelligence
  • New sources
  • Teleworking

 Managing services

  • Career opportunities
  • Marketing and consultancy for information specialist news services
  • Optimising online budgets

 Information in action

  • Exchanging members’ working practices and services
  • Sector focused sources (BBC news collections, environment, safety)
  • The Knowledge Economy

 Northern Branch ran very successful business and commercial information courses for several years. It was also committed to encouraging students to join the profession at careers events. Southern Branch’s Text Retrieval Conferences beginning in 1983 (and the consequent publications) were an absolute highlight of IIS activities, attracting large attendances beyond IIS members with programmes featuring leading figures in the field. These conferences were the event of choice for those active in information retrieval to meet experts, suppliers and fellow users. Southern Branch’s Text Retrieval Directory of Software and its annual supplements were a superb resource both for information specialists and their suppliers.

Special Interest Groups

Special Interest Groups (SIGs) were communities of practice aiming to ensure their members stayed on top of new developments in specific areas of information science and enabling users to exert influence on suppliers of content and information processing tools.  Membership of a SIG was a personal decision and SIGs charged an annual membership fee. Any IIS member could apply to join a SIG as could non-members – a means of attracting them towards the Institute.  Initially, SIG subscriptions were fixed at £1 for IIS members and £2 for others.

A SIG was defined as a group approved by Council to further specialist interests within IIS and their structure was agreed in 1977. SIGs were required to report to Council but were not represented there. Gradually SIGs became unhappy with their relationship to the Institute and Council. With this in mind, the then three SIG Chairmen were invited to attend Council in January 1985 to consider their roles and the problem of communication between them and the Institute[2].

Council agreed to establish a limited life working party reporting to Executive Committee and under the chairmanship of John Myers to determine the future role and workings of SIGs and establish improved procedures for liaison and communication. The working party included a representative from each SIG, the IIS Honorary Treasurer, and representatives of Meetings, Publicity, Development and Membership Committees.  The 1985 AGM was asked to approve the addition of representatives of the then three SIGs (CIMSIG, PATMG and UKOLUG) to the IIS Council. From then on, each SIG could nominate a member to represent it on IIS Council and members often served on its committees, providing essential two-way communication between IIS members and its governing body.

Throughout the life of IIS, information science practice and the supporting technology advanced rapidly.  Responding to change was imperative to IIS health and survival. The establishment of SIGs was a sensible and practical route for the IIS to remain relevant.  SIGs became an invaluable component of the IIS brand and the prospect of gaining accreditation from a professional institute attracted both patent and local government specialists to apply for affiliation to IIS.

The IIS Council also sought out ideas for new SIGs. In 1984 Development Committee announced: “We want to make contact with any member with ideas on SIGs – e.g. new ones to help members to share interests in an area of information science”.  IIS could either encourage small specialist societies to affiliate or establish others in different and new disciplines. SIGs were encouraged to write about themselves and activities for Inform. And IIS wanted to take more account of SIG expertise in responding to external issues and national policy. The drawback to more SIGs, whether subject or technique based, was the risk that Council size would reach unmanageable numbers. This risk was one of those addressed in the 1996 review of IIS governance structure.

The Association of Local Government Information Specialists (ALGIS)

ALGIS applied to become an IIS Special Interest Group in 1991 as it recognised the benefits of being allied to an established professional organisation for professional representation. ALGIS started out as a group of individuals providing specialist information services within and for local government. Its IIS application succeeded, with the proviso that the group dropped the term Association to avoid any implication of separateness from the Institute. The Affiliation of Local Government Information Specialists – a Special Interest Group of the Institute of Information Scientists was inaugurated on 31 May. At its launch it was welcomed by the Secretary of the Association of County Councils and, whilst its focus was on providers of information services to local government and councillors, it welcomed those from related sectors and those interested in this area of work.

ALGIS represented members faced with constant organisational change as successive governments restructured local authorities many times over. Operating environments were varied. Many of its members were solo practitioners challenged by how to raise their profile and promote the value of information science. Whilst it originally planned to establish standards for its practitioners, this proved unrealistic. It did, however, stimulate professional growth via small group visits, activities and a dedicated newsletter sharing current practices and news.

City Information Group

The City Information Group (CiG) was established in 1990. It was formed to bring together both users and suppliers of business and financial information and related services as the IIS, in contrast to the LA, was seen to cater better for the needs of the scientific information user community.  Its launch at the World Trade Centre in London attracted 200 users of financial and commercial information. By the end of the year 2000/01 its membership exceeded 1000 making it the largest of the SIGs, with many members working in the City of London’s Square Mile.

CiG’s success resulted from a firm focus on the exchange of knowledge, experience and ideas between specialists in the financial and business information operating in a range of sectors from investment banks to chemicals. CiG also provided routes to network between all parties in the business information supply chain – supplier and consumer.  It therefore became essential to the UK business information profession. Monthly seminars held initially as working lunches changed to become early evening events followed by refreshments. These events were designed to attract all types of roles. Latterly seminars were alternated with debates on burning issues within the business information industry and informal social events in London.

Its newsletter CiGlet was designed to be a visible reminder of CiG’s activities; its web site a vehicle for communication with members as well as membership renewal, event bookings, with email for event alerts and seeking feedback. CiG was also a pressure group when needed. In 1992 it organised a protest against pricing changes by Textline and persuaded it to set up a user group. CiG also hosted a summer party, a Christmas ball and a post-AGM dinner. As its activities grew, paid administrative support was needed and a sponsorship co-ordinator was designated. Like other SIGs, CiG offered student prizes, e.g. in 1996 a £250 prize to the student who came up with a paper that most aptly expresses the factors likely to influence the development of information in the future.

In 1995 CiG followed the example of UKOLUG and launched a financial and business information help desk at the International Online Information Meeting conference and exhibition (IOLIM), an initiative that was much praised by visitors. It also refreshed its branding by introducing a new logo.

The Patent and Trade Mark Group (PATMG)

The Patent and Trade Mark Searchers Association was formed in the early 1970s. In 1978 its members voted for alliance with IIS and the new Group was inaugurated as the Patents Special Interest Group on 12 October when it approved its first constitution, elected a Management Committee and designed its events programme. Its first Annual Meeting took place on 18 October 1979. As the first IIS SIG, it had the opportunity to become a trailblazer and would continue to protect the interests of patents researchers in their dealings with official and quasi-official bodies. The name was formally changed to the Patent and Trade Mark Group in 1983 to recognise the growth in members from the database construction sector. Its first AGM determined its actions must include meetings, training, visits and a conference. By 1982 it had become an influential consultation point for the UK’s Patent Office and Trademark Registry on key matters such as computerisation and indexing.

PATMG initially acted as a lobby group to the UK’s Patent Office. One of its most effective campaigns resulted in substantial re-working of the British Patent Classification System. This work pre-dated computerised search systems and was a significant step in the development of patent information retrieval. As national and international representation in patents information grew, PATMG gained a seat on the BSI committee on bibliographic standards, observer status on the copyright committee of the FID, and made a corporate input on behalf of British patent information workers to the Patent Documentation and Information sub-Committee of the Standing Advisory Committee to the EPO (SACEPO/PDI).

It supported the IIS with comments on the UK White Paper on Patents and Copyright, and pioneered training courses for the patents information community. Latterly the effort of maintaining these substantive courses proved difficult for its volunteer trainers to justify, and smaller one day and evening meetings were developed. Its newsletter, simply entitled Searcher, gradually raised its frequency to five/six issues per annum and attracted correspondents from all sections of the industry. PATMG established committees to work in depth on matters relating to the UK’s Patents Office e.g. The Patent Documentation and Classification Committee and the Patent and Library Liaison Committee.

Feeling that the major exhibitions did not serve the patent information community well, PATMG held an exhibition in 1988 which subsequently expanded to include a series of product reviews.  In 2001 it held a major conference with speakers from the UK and US patent offices. Its Amanda Stembridge Award, a commemoration of an active and successful committee member, is featured in Chapter 11. Its final IIS AGM was held in September 2001. 

Small Business SIG

As a growing number of IIS members became self-employed or worked in small companies, the idea for a Self-employed and Small Business SIG emerged. A 1986 article and questionnaire in Inform sought member views, suggesting that IIS members could face particular difficulties in going it alone and that a SIG could be a helpful solution.  It argued for several benefits: greater awareness of achievements; success stories as models for emulation; contacts for contracts; greater personal motivation; improved perception of opportunities; and recognition of the need to develop new skills. For IIS, a SIG would contribute to a greater impact in the marketplace of information scientists and publicity via the Group’s activities. A SIG could also attract professionals and entrepreneurs to remain in the information industry. Council approved the establishment of SEASBSIG in June 1986 and the SIG held its first meeting in November. 43 IIS members and non-members from around the UK attended. Subscriptions were set at £5 for IIS members and £10 for non-members. As well as holding events, the Group regularly published a Directory of Members featuring over 100 qualified professionals offering relevant services. Subsequently it became the Small Business Group and was an early adopter of email to members, with its email newsletter, SBGFaxcomm.


A meeting of many parties involved in using online information systems was held in February 1978.  All extant information organisations were represented including IIS, and a Steering Committee was established to determine user needs for representation, training and influencing suppliers. This Steering Committee held meetings in seven UK cities to determine the need for a new, fully organised online users organisation. Local groups quickly emerged in Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield and a National Co-ordination Committee was established. Then in October a representative group of users and professional organisations agreed that a national co-ordination committee for online work was the best way forward.

In parallel, member interest in online stimulated IIS Council to conclude that the IIS should promote the formation of a Special Interest Group. Management Committee was actioned to draft a constitution confirming whether this should be IIS only membership or open to non-IIS users. UGOLIS – the UK User Group for Online Information Systems – held its first meeting on 9 November 1978 and expected the new local online groups would wish to affiliate. User priorities were current information and advice on online use, the opportunity to exchange experience, and a body to represent user views.

Inevitably the IIS and cross-national interest in online systems coalesced and the UK Online User Group (UKOLUG) was initiated as an independent group holding its first AGM in 1979. With so many information services taking on online searching and with impressive energy from successive Chairs and committee members including Christine Baker and others, the Group went from strength to strength. Whilst it was self–funding and stayed financially independent until the merger with the LA, it was helped substantially by administrative support from the IIS secretariat in its early years before becoming self-sufficient in 1986. IIS benefited tremendously from this association which confirmed its relevance to online users. UKOLUG spawned sub-groups: e.g. the East Anglia Online Users Group, EAOLUG, which offered free membership. Like other SIGs UKOLUG provided a Council member. Its contribution to IIS went beyond SIG activity – for example in 1987 five members of UKOLUG’s Management Committee were serving on Council. From time to time, UKOLUG’s success allowed it to make generous contributions to the IIS central funds. As UKOLUG formed the basis of UKeiG and thus is the only remaining artefact of the IIS within CILIP, more detail on its contribution to information science is given in Chapter 7. 

Word Processing and Computerised Information Systems Group

In 1981 the Word Processors and Information Handling SIG was established. This later evolved into the Word Processing and Computerised Information Systems SIG. It was established to cater for people who used or wished to use word processors and micro-computers in information handling. 145 people expressed interest of whom over forty attended the inaugural meeting. A 1983 Prestel and Telesoftware seminar is just one indication of its work in promoting the latest developments. A name change to the Computerised Information Management Special Interest Group, CIMSIG, was in place by 1985. CIMSIG was the first SIG to produce its newsletter with a user-driven phototype setting service from the Centre for Computing and Computer Science at Birmingham University. Its newsletter was praised for its informative articles, e.g.  an extremely useful article on integrated software for the IBM PC. Its meetings promoted new text management systems e.g. micro CAIRS. In 1987 it recommended its own closure in its report to Council. Council accepted that the SIG had done its job in stimulating interest in and spreading knowledge about computerised information management. Now that computers were an almost universal tool, its focus had become mainstream to information science. 

The contribution of SIGs

SIGs made an important contribution to members and to the IIS brand and its external impact. Potential IIS members saw a relevant place to hone their expertise. SIGs gave the IIS access to external experts to inform its responses to consultations, e.g. CIG and UKOLUG provided IIS with evidence for its response to the 1993 Monopolies and Mergers Commission’s Inquiry on the supply of historical business and financial information[3]. Becoming involved in a SIG gave members the opportunity to network, see other career patterns and be inspired about the future, as well as gaining valuable experience for their CVs.

Groups and SIGs today 

Following the LA merger, IIS Branches were aligned with those of the LA in the new CILIP structure, their coverage mirroring the areas covered by each Regional Development Agency. The 17 members in Eire were assigned to CILIP in Northern Ireland.

SIGs had a choice. UKOLUG and PATMG elected to join CILIP. UKOLUG’s move to CILIP followed considerable discussion on whether to remain independent, join CILIP or abolish the group. UKOLUG was represented on the LA IIS implementation working party and negotiations resulted in favourable entry terms and significant independence initially. UKOLUG thrives today as the UK eInformation Group (UKeiG) having changed its name in 2004.

PATMG continued until 2017 when it merged with CILIP’s Commercial, Legal and Scientific Information Group. By then its membership had dwindled to 86 making it difficult to organise viable events; this joining together promised a continued CILIP focus on patents information.

The City Information Group decided to go it alone; it survived only a while as an independent group but was partly re-invented by some CiG members in 2009, as LIKE, the London Information and Knowledge Exchange, which ran informal monthly networking sessions for a wide cross-section of London-based members.

ALGIS is no more. Having decided to affiliate with LARIA (the Local Government and Research Association) as an independent group from the first of April 2002, it eventually merged with LARIA in 2009; LARIA in turn merged with the Social Services Research Group (SSRG) in 2017.



  1. Inform 111, 1989, 7
  2. Inform, 1985, 77, 7
  3. Historical on-line database services, Monopolies and Mergers Commission CM2554, HMSO, 1994, ISBN0-10-541094-2

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