The 2008 Robert D. Williamson Award went to Elizabeth Drynan and Pamela Johnstone, from Enterprise Information Management Pty Ltd, for their outstanding contribution to librarianship as editors of Online Currents.
Online Currents has been a dedicated independent published source of information about the online library industry in Australia since the 1980s. Online Currents has reported on every new development in our industry, every database, new online services, CD-ROMS, and in more recent years, search engines and websites. In providing clear, unbiased, and quality information to the library profession over many years, Elizabeth Drynan and Pamela Johnstone are very worthy recipients of the 2008 Robert D. Williamson Award.
The 2008 Robert D. Williamson Award Citation for Elizabeth Drynan and Pamela Johnstone reads as follows.
VALA’s most prestigious award is the Robert D. Williamson Award, which is in memory of one of the early pioneers of our industry, Bob Williamson. This biennial award is presented to an individual or organisation who or which, in the opinion of the judging panel, has made and is currently making an outstanding contribution to the development of information technology usage in Australian libraries and is positively and significantly influencing development in information technology usage within libraries.
Although originally a chemical engineer, as manager of APM’s (now AMCOR’s) research library, Bob was an early devotee of information technology in libraries. By the early 1970’s, he had persuaded management to invest significantly in relevant US computer databases and software to support the company’s business objectives. This predated all of the publicly available services. Professionally Bob was a leader. He was a quiet man, both curious and innovative, a generous adviser to colleagues, and an eager participant in the professional debates at the time. He was the industry representative on the STISEC committee convened by the National Library of Australia to quantify scientific and technical publication in Australia. When Peter Judge, of CSIRO, formed ALIA’s national Information Science Section, Bob was an obvious choice to convene that Section in Victoria just a few years before his sudden and untimely death in 1980.
There was a seismic change in our industry in the 1970s, when George Maltby and Brian Callaghan steered the Overseas Telecommunications Commission’s launch of its packet switching service MIDAS thus making online access to Dialog and Orbit financially more accessible. ACI Computer Services with assistance from the National Library of Australia launched AUSINET, the first training for Dialog and Orbit was initiated by the NSW Information Science Section and subsequently continued by Insearch/Dialog set up by Dorothy Peake at the Institute of Technology (now UTS). It was heady time learning about modems, qualifiers, string searching, proximity operators, ever increasing baud speeds and how to obtain a secure connection in a TI terminal built for American telephone handsets. In fact, Bob developed “recipe books” to help new online searchers navigate the different commands needed to access the new online services. There were lively debates about the benefits of controlled versus uncontrolled indexing and the need for high quality thesauri and of course the need for standards!
About this time, the first information businesses were also established – some more successful than others. The inimitable Grisha Sklovsky, after being Chief Information Officer at ICI for 30 years, had become joint managing director of Trans Knowledge Associates in Melbourne in 1977. His fellow joint managing directors were Frank Nicholls (ex CSIRO) and, after 38 years at APM, Bob Williamson. Diana Killen and June Anderson were running Infoquest – an information business within the Melbourne retailing icon Myer. One of the most successful was the transformation of Phil Ruthven’s IBIS research services – a market research business founded in 1971 – into IBISworld in 1987.
One can’t help but ponder on how much Bob would have revelled in the tumultuous developments since 1980. Today there are so many amazing products available in our online world both in the free web space and in the value added services, but there were many developments along the way. The National Library’s Ozline service in the 1980s and 1990s, CSIRO’s AUSTRALIS and News Ltd’s Presscom, Computer Power’s ill-fated legal service called CLIRS, and eventually RMIT’s launch of Informit as an online service in 1998. Meanwhile many overseas services slowly became available – STN, Finsbury (taken over by Reuters), Dow Jones, Reuters, ProQuest, Lexis Nexis, Factiva, Ovid, Fairfax.com – to name just a few. What would Bob have thought of some of the powerful and innovative products now on our desktops, such as mash-ups?
Meanwhile, as a means of helping us all to keep abreast of all these new exciting developments, VALA started its conference in Melbourne in 1981 and the NSW branch of the ALIA Information Science Section started its Information Online conferences in January 1986. Both conferences have been enormously successful over the past 27 years.
Parallel to all these developments, in 1985 another small company was established in Sydney by a group of dedicated librarians excited about the new online world, as well as the opportunities for libraries, to benefit from the new microcomputer-based technologies. They offered a range of services, such as information management consulting, advice on setting up libraries, automating catalogues, and creating online databases. Over the years, they have trained hundreds of librarians to use various online services such as Presscom and STN, and in more recent years, the Internet. They have set up libraries for organisations, coached librarians on how to use products such as Inmagic and DB/TextWorks, and coached business people on how to find business information online. They have a fantastic reputation as indexers, editors and thesaurus developers. They also created an important database for many years. But most of all they are admired and respected for the years spent publishing Online Currents – the only independent published source of information about the online industry in Australia since the 1980’s. Online Currents has reported on every new development in our industry, every database, new online services, CD-ROMS, and in more recent years search engines and websites. Anyone wanting to trace the history of online products in Australia from financial analytics to AOL’s children’s online timer would be wise to start with the indexes of Online Currents.
VALA’s biennial Robert D. Williamson award is presented, in memory of Bob Williamson, to an individual or organisation who or which, in the opinion of the judging panel, has made and is currently making an outstanding contribution to the development of information technology usage in Australian libraries and information services and is positively and significantly influencing development in information technology usage within libraries.
Bob Williamson would have admired the 2008 award winners, because they also are enthusiastic, highly professional, persistent, knowledgeable and continually willing to share information with their colleagues. He would have admired the outstanding contribution they have made over the past 20 years or so to the online information industry in Australia – their diligence and impartial and ethical commitment to all stakeholders in the industry – practitioners, authors, businesses and educators.
It is with great pleasure that I announce the winners of the Robert D. Williamson Award for 2008. For the substantial contribution they have made to our industry, the winners are – Elizabeth Drynan and Pamela Johnstone, from Enterprise Information Management.