A personal introduction

Charles Oppenheim

The Institute of Information Scientists had a quite remarkable history, one that has hitherto not been properly recorded to the depth that it deserves. The authors of this history, Sandra Ward and Martin White, have done a quite remarkable job in researching and recounting the history and pre-history of the Institute. They, like me, joined the IIS when it was already a well-established organisation and at a time when its founders were still key figures in it.  I joined because Jason Farradane, the founder of the IIS, was the Head of the Centre for Information Science at The City University when I was doing a postgraduate Diploma in Information Science there. Farradane made it truly clear to all his students that it was essential they join the Institute.

Sadly, the location of the Institute’s archives is unknown at present. As a result this meant that Martin and Sandra had to combine published and semi-published outputs, such as journal articles, newsletters, conference proceedings and so on that they had access to (Inform being a particularly rich source), with their own, and others’ recollections. They have been greatly assisted by learning from the memories, and, in some cases, the personal collections, of a large number of former members of the Institute, all of whom are acknowledged in this History. They then carried out the formidable task of knitting together these primary sources to tell the story of the IIS.

And what a story it is! It’s fair to say the Institute always punched above its weight and had significant influence on key developments in the technical, educational and policy arenas, both in the UK and more widely.  For example, its promotion of a series of highly successful Text Retrieval conferences, and its nurturing of UKOLUG (the UK Online User Group), which in turn led to the development of a series of local online user groups, were particularly noteworthy. UKOLUG and the organisations that were developed from it, really deserve a history of their own. The authors were lucky to have access to its archive, fortunately still complete, held by Christine Baker and Chris Armstrong, and have devoted an entire chapter to it. The Institute also encouraged the formation of other Special Interest Groups, and welcomed the pre-existing Patent and Trade Mark Searchers’ Group into its fold. The Institute’s role in promoting the development of high educational standards with its Criteria for Information Science, and in encouraging professional development with courses and events were also extremely important.

The Institute always ran on a tight budget and was lucky in its choice of full time and part time members of staff, who were friendly, efficient and committed. It operated from a variety of office addresses, including some in London and one in Reading. It established a number of geographic branches, some of which were extremely successful. Some of its publications were milestones in their particular fields. Friendly meetings and conferences, often well attended and profitable, were a highlight for many members. Sometimes the Institute participated in multipartite conferences with, for example, the Library Association and Aslib. The Institute’s contributions to these events, including, of course, the famous Infotainers, was another example of the way it punched above its weight.

This History also highlights some of the awards the Institute gave to individuals and organisations over the years. The John Campbell Trust was particularly important in helping information scientists carry out research projects and visits, but there were other important awards. Typical of the Institute’s sometimes irreverent approach to matters, the Golden Daffodil Award was given annually to the organisation which had the best freebie at the International Online Information Meeting (IOLIM), held in London every December and with which UKOLUG (Chapter 7) was closely involved.

The importance of the Presidents of the Institute cannot be over-estimated.  In the early days, they were frequently eminent scientists (some were Fellows of the Royal Society), who helped promote the idea of information science generally, and get the Institute listened to. It says something about the reputation and networking ability of the early leaders of the Institute that they got such influential people on board.

This History covers all these aspects, and others, with many interesting anecdotes and comments. Very often when reading the though this document I thought “Oh yes, I’d forgotten about that!” and I hope other readers will get the same reactions from time to time. The History is a rattling good yarn – a combination of fascinating stories with sources provided for anyone who wants to follow things up. The Institute is the only professional association I have belonged to which achieved that right combination of seriousness and fun. I am therefore proud to have been involved, if only on the periphery, in the writing of this wonderful History. Enjoy!


Charles Oppenheim

May 2022