Martin White; Sandra Ward; Christine Baker; and Chris Armstrong

The genesis of UKOLUG

By April 1977 the Institute’s Management Committee agreed that the Institute should set up a Working Group to consider the whole area of on-line working, stimulated by the charging barriers set up by the British Post Office to accessing UK database systems. By July the Institute had set up a Commercial Databases Group to lobby suppliers on the changes needed. In December the Chairman of the Institute’s External Liaison Committee, Stella Keenan, brought together several people interested in setting up a United Kingdom Group of Users of Online Systems (UGOLIS). A Policy Committee was formed to draw up an initial programme of work and terms of reference.

In January 1978 a form was sent out to all IIS members asking if they would be interested in joining the proposed Group. The response was positive (206 for with just two opposed).

An open meeting of the many parties involved in using online information systems was held in February 1978. This was attended by representatives from existing information organisations (IIS, Aslib, LA, EUSIDIC, AIOPI and SCONUL) as well as BCS, the Department of Industry, and the National Computing Centre. It was agreed that the existing committee should continue as a Steering Committee, chaired by Alison Simkins (Smith, Kline and French) to determine how the needs of UK online users for representation and training could be served by these existing bodies working as a federation. The Steering Committee agreed to hold a series of regional consultations to determine the need for a new online users organisation. Meetings took place in seven UK cities. The idea of online user groups took hold and local groups quickly emerged in Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield and the UK User Group for Online Systems (UGOLIS) was proposed.

The first meeting of the UGOLIS Committee was held in April 1978. By July a representative group of users and professional organisations agreed that a National Online Co-ordination Committee with representatives from all relevant information organisations was the best way forward. The Steering Committee announced that a UK online information centre, supported by the Department of Industry, would be housed in Aslib to provide advice to users.

In parallel, the IIS Council agreed that the IIS should form a Special Interest Group. Management Committee was actioned to draft a constitution confirming whether this should be open to non-IIS members. In September an IIS study group confirmed that an IIS SIG (the Online Information User Group) would be established. However, this does not seem to have happened.

The first International Online Information Meeting (IOLIM) was held in December 1977, organised by entrepreneur Roger Bilboul (formerly marketing manager at Inspec), who set up Learned Information Ltd[1]. It was held at the Novotel Hotel (at that time the Cunard Hotel) Hammersmith. In the same year, IIS members had expressed their concerns about the charging structure for online access that was being proposed by what was then the British Post Office (later British Telecommunications PLC). These concerns were discussed at a Council Meeting in February 1977 and it was decided that an ad hoc committee should be set up to liaise with the Post Office on behalf of online users, many of whom were members of the Institute. This ad hoc committee acquired the title of Commercial Databases Working Group. This reported to the External Liaison Committee under the chairmanship of Stella Keenan, who had previously been Secretary General for the International Federation for Information and Documentation and Chair of the IIS External Affairs Committee.

The dominant online information service vendors at that time were Lockheed Dialog and SDC Orbit, both based in California. SDC suggested in mid-1977 that each European country should have its own user group. This prompted the IIS Management Committee to consider whether the Commercial Databases Working Group should have a formal existence within the IIS structure. These discussons led to the agreement at the 1977 AGM that the IIS should establish a Special Interest Group.

At the International Online Information Meeting (IOLIM) conference in December 1997 an informal meeting was held chaired by Stella Keenan at which it was agreed that a SIG might usefully be established to represent online service users. A policy working group was set up, with Dr. Alison Simkins, Philip Williams, Christine Baker and Stella Keenan. A meeting was held on 8 February 1978. It was chaired by Cyril Cleverdon (Librarian at Cranfield College of Technology) and the 42 attendees represented a wide range of organisations. It was agreed that a UK User Group for Online Information Systems should be set up. Jane Gaworska represented the IIS on the Planning Group.

A series of meetings was held throughout the UK over the following months. An important initiative was the establishment of a UK Online Information Centre at Aslib, subsidised by the Department of Industry and the Research and Development Department of the British Library.  On 12 October the Patent and Trade Mark Searchers SIG became the first IIS SIG to be established and on the same day a group of representatives from the online user community agreed to set up a co-ordinating committee for online user support initiatives.

Launch and afterwards

The inaugural meeting was held on 9 November 1978. UKOLUG was independent of the Institute and focused on providing training courses and ‘how to’ guides for people who were often not trained as librarians or information scientists.

In 1979 the membership grew from 21 in January to 577 by the end of August. By that time IIS membership was 1486 which makes the UKOLUG membership growth a formidable achievement. The first AGM was held on 22 May at the City University with 77 members in attendance. Philip Williams was confirmed as the Chair, Christine Baker as Secretary, and Bob Wiggins as Treasurer. At the end of that year, UKOLUG raised its profile by running a help desk for delegates and visitors to the 1979 International Online Information Meeting (IOLIM).

UKOLUG members paid a subscription (in 1987, the fee was £2 a year, or £1 a year to IIS members). Members received a bimonthly UKOLUG newsletter with regular columns on key matters such as telecoms, information on academic and research networks and new products and research developments. Bibliographic software and CD-ROMs were topics added later as the technology evolved. UKOLUG also ran an active programme of training events and seminars, sometimes alongside other IIS meetings and conferences. For example, UKOLUG ran a seminar on current awareness alongside the IIS 1993 Text Retrieval Conference.

Over the next few years UKOLUG helped to establish local groups in Aberystwyth, Cardiff, East Anglia, Liverpool, Manchester, Midlands East, Midlands West, Sheffield, and Southampton. Courses were held in Belfast and Dublin, as well as Scotland, Wales and England and even attracted delegates from Europe. Many were oversubscribed and had to be repeated especially the practical ‘hands on’ events. Many hundreds of delegates passed through UKOLUG and this made a significant impact on the finances of the Group. The London Online User Group was founded around 1985, borne out of the need for online searchers in the Greater London area to meet and share their experiences and knowledge. The group had informal ties to UKOLUG which it regarded as its ‘parent’. Roger Farbey recalled it lasted for a few years. One of its first meeting reports was published in Health Information and Libraries Review[2].

The success of the organisation was down to the amazing ability, energy and commitment of its Committee members. There are almost too many names to mention, but notable names include Christine Baker (Administrator); Chairs such as Joan Day, Pauline Duckitt and Karen Blakeman; Brendon Loughridge (Treasurer); and Chris Armstrong, Norman Briggs, Linda Dorrington, Dick Hartley, Bob Holmes, Andy Large, Carol Lefebvre, Nicky Whitsed, Phil Williams and Frances Wood. UKOLUG was noted for its distinguished leadership, and its many energetic members.

The ubiquity of online searching across the profession and the importance of text retrieval techniques to open up information access gave it a distinct platform from which to operate. It was certainly an IIS flagship of which most information professionals in the UK would be aware. UKOLUG celebrated its 10th anniversary with a party in 1988 and held a 20th birthday conference in 1998. It celebrated its 100th Committee meeting in 1995.

International Online Information Meeting (IOLIM) involvement

By the time of the second International Online Information Meeting (IOLIM) in December 1979, UKOLUG was sufficiently well established to be offered a free ‘poster session’ at the exhibition. Poster sessions were held before the ‘product review sessions’ which ran in parallel with the main conference papers.

UKOLUG was invited by the conference organisers to run free ‘Introduction to Online’ courses in the conference exhibition area. The first was held in 1979 and the course ran for three to four years until ‘online’ ceased to be ‘new’. The course was targeted at new users of online services with little or no previous experience and at managers who were making decisions about introducing online services into their organisations. The course included sessions on what information was available online, indexes and databases, terminals and telecommunications, economics, costs, charges, the user and the role of the intermediary. Speakers were all UKOLUG committee members – Peter Leggate, Pauline Duckitt, Charles Oppenheim, Christine Baker, Philip Williams, and John Akeroyd.

In 1981 UKOLUG funded and managed its first Help Desk at IOLIM, providing independent advice to delegates and visitors on services and systems covered by exhibitors and what was where in the exhibition area. This became a ‘go to’ stand for many delegates. All display materials for the stand were independently produced, furniture and equipment hired and a rota for staffing drawn from UKOLUG management committee members. The Help Desk was much valued by the organisers of IOLIM as those staffing the stand were able to give independent advice to delegates and visitors on services and systems covered by exhibitors. UKOLUG Help Desk staff also developed an e-version of the exhibition catalogue to connect visitors with relevant exhibits and this was a great success.

Annual Lecture series

In 1982 UKOLUG instituted its Annual Lecture series at the International Online Information Meeting (IOLIM). The speakers and subjects are listed below:

1982 Edward Heath (UK Prime Minister 1970-1974)
1983 Carlos Cuadra (System Development Corporation)
1984 Graham Lea (Geosystems)
1985 Guy Vanautryve (Koninklijke Biblioteek, Brussels)
1986 James Ducker (Pergamon Infoline)
1987 Duncan Campbell (investigative journalist)
1988 Harry Collier (Infonortics)
1989 Pauline Duckitt (Vital Information Ltd) and Renate McKay
1990 Marino Saksida (European Space Agency)
1991 Panel with Richard Ream (Dialog), Brian Earle (ICC) and Pamela Clark (SG Warburg)
1992 Panel with Barry Mahon (European Commission), Chris Armstrong (University of Aberystwyth) and Alan Gilchrist (Cura Consortium)
1993 Bruce Royan (University Librarian and Director of Information Services, University of Stirling)
1994 Tony Benn MP
1995 Professor Cary Cooper (Professor of Organizational Psychology, University of Manchester)
1996 Ian Taylor MBE MP (Minister for Science and Technology)
1997 Mike Fitzgerald (Vice Chancellor, Thames Valley University)


UKOLUG was widely recognised for its Quick Guides. The first of these was the Quick Guide to Online Commands, written by Adrian Arthur and published in 1987. The fourth edition was released in 1994, authored by Sheila Webber. Publications included:

  • UKOLUG Quick Guide to Online Commands (1987) Adrian Arthur
  • Online Charging Policies: A UKOLUG Report (1988) Pauline Duckitt and Nigel May
  • UKOLUG Quick Guide to Online Commands [2nd ed] (1989) Adrian Arthur
  • CD-ROM: A Practical Guide for Information Professionals (1990) Angela A Gunn and Caroline Moore
  • UKOLUG Quick Guide to Online Commands [3rd ed] (1991) Sheila Webber and Chris Baile
  • CD-ROM Networking in Practice (1992) edited by Nicky Whitsed and Caroline Moore
  • CD-ROM: A Practical Guide for Information Professionals [2nd ed] (1994) Paul F Burton and Caroline Moore
  • UKOLUG Quick Guide to Online Commands [4th ed] (1994) Sheila Webber, Chris Baile, Andrew Cameron and Jonathan Eaton
  • UKOLUG Quick Guide to the Internet (1995) Phil Bradley
  • UKOLUG Quick Guide to CD-ROM Networking (1996) Phil Bradley
  • UKOLUG Quick Guide to Effective Use of the Internet (1999) Karen Blakeman
  • UKOLUG Quick Guide to Personal Bibliographic Software (2000) Tracy Mulvaney

UKOLUG was also interested in exploring wider issues around online retrieval, for example online charging policies, and legal and ethical issues including data protection and copyright.

In 2000 UKOLUG was offered the opportunity to participate in the EU’s e-Diamond project, via IIS past president, Marino Saksida. This was a feasibility study into distributed and multifaceted online trading networks. UKOLUG’s role was to validate the proposed e-Diamond platform with information professionals, end-users and with vendor SMEs


From 1984 UKOLUG conferences were held every two years. They came to be styled as a ‘State of the Art’ event in 1992. The focus of the conferences was very much on the practitioner, providing them with advice and insights that they could make immediate use of on return to their organisations. In comparison, the IIS conferences tended to be more ‘big picture’ events. Over 200 delegates attended the 1996 State of the Art Conference, in Warwick and even more attended the 20th Birthday Conference in 1998.

Year Location Theme BL collection
1984 York Online retrieval
1986 Bristol Yes
1988 Barbican, London
1990 Ripon, College of Ripon and St John Information retrieval, today and tomorrow Yes
1992 Guildford University of Surrey Database 2000
1994 Edinburgh University Changing patterns of online information Yes
1996 Warwick University (7th Conference) State of the art



1998 Manchester conference centre (20th Anniversary) http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue/17/ukolug/


2000 Cambridge, St Catherine’s College Yes
2002 Birmingham Cancelled


UKOLUG funded a number of awards and bursaries for students. One award that ran in the early 1990s was established to help employed members undertake original research into online and CD-ROM database use. This award was open to all fully paid members other than those serving on its Management Committee or who had received an award in the last three years. Its value was £1000 for travel, subsistence, or other legitimate costs.  A short report was required with the expectation that the work would benefit the UKOLUG community.

In 1995 UKOLUG sponsored its first UKOLUG Online Award. This offered a £100 prize and £100 expenses to enable inexperienced information professionals to attend the International Online Information Meeting (IOLIM) in London. They also received a copy of the Online Proceedings. The award was competitive requiring a paper of 500-700 words explaining why attendance at Online was so valuable to those just entering the information profession.

In 2000, a new award was announced – UKOLUG Student Bursaries of £2500 to students on a course with significant coverage of information resources especially e-sources.  Library and Information Studies schools as well as other departments whose courses had a significant information handling or information management content, could nominate one student by providing a brief recommendation on why UKOLUG should choose their candidate.


  1. The International Online Information Meeting (IOLIM) was launched in 1977. Organised by Learned Information, it became the most important annual conference and exhibition space for producers and users of electronic information. The event was known by several names by attendees, including ‘IOLIM’ or, simply, ‘Online’. Throughout this History it is referred to as ‘The International Online Information Meeting (IOLIM)’
  2. Health Information and Libraries Review (1986), 3,3, 181 (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.1365-2532.1986.3301774.x)


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

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