by Dick Kaser
Two years ago, I attended what would prove to be a very significant conference in the Bloomsbury section of London. The event was known as the Bloomsbury Conference, jointly sponsored by the Commercial, Legal and Scientific Information Group of CILIP (the U.K. library association), in cooperation with the venerable European Association of Information Services (EUSIDIC).
The Bloomsbury Conference in 2008 was dubbed Beyond Discovery, recognizing that an information industry that once was entirely focused on search and retrieval of mostly scientific and academic information in databases was moving into the Web 2.0 era. “Things once unthinkable are now part of daily life,” quipped the keynoter.
By the end of that year, another unthinkable thing occurred. EUSIDIC itself (which only a decade before boasted of being “the largest association of its kind in Europe,” including major users, publishers, and information distributors from every European nation and representing “the widest set of interest in what is prospected to be the 21st century’s major industry”) simply evaporated upon the untimely death of its then-current executive secretary and champion documentalist Johan van Halm.
So the significance of the 2008 Bloomsbury Conference proved to be that it was the last official meeting of EUSIDIC, a group which dated from the start of online information retrieval.
Then, a few weeks ago, I attended another meeting in Philadelphia. This was a conference for EUSIDIC’s American cousin, ASIDIC (The Association for Information and Dissemination Centers), a meeting which I now fear may prove to be as equally significant as the Bloomsbury Conference.
Founded in 1968 and originally known as the Association of Scientific Information Dissemination Centers, ASIDIC first consisted of research organizations that “spun tapes” (i.e., had access to computer-readable databases on their mainframe computers).
As with EUSIDIC (which once also had “information dissemination centers” in its name), ASIDIC evolved and grew into an association for publishers, information service providers, and information professionals.
When I attended ASIDIC’s 35th annual spring meeting in March, I thought the most significant thing about the program was that it was focusing on Web 3.0 (semantic web) developments. But no sooner had the event ended than a press release was issued announcing that ASIDIC would soon be dissolved unless it found a backer or a buyer.
Lately, I have been thinking that anyone who doubts the power of social networking technology need only think about how important networking has been to each of us in the past, and the perfect examples are associations such as EUSIDIC and ASIDIC.
Both ASIDIC and EUSIDIC emerged and developed on the basis of the sheer fact that people in scattered locations working on similar problems needed to communicate with each other. Not only that, but they needed to consolidate their resources to achieve common goals related to advancing the state-of-the-art, countering perceived threats, and agreeing upon standards and best practices.
Professionals involved in these networking groups gained strength, even competitive advantage, by merely associating with their peers from other organizations in other states and other countries via the communications channels their associations facilitated, primarily publishing information related to activities and conferences. People backed their associations because it was ultimately in their own best interest to do so.
Today, those who are participating on popular social networking platforms, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, are looking to achieve similar goals—especially if efforts aimed at seeking new job opportunities are added into the mix, which in my personal experience seems to have a great deal to do with what’s happening on today’s social networking platforms.
But this is not to say that trade associations are passé in the 21st century or that face-to-face meetings and conferences will go the way of the dinosaurs.
What it does imply is that now, just as in the past, professional success would appear to be as much about who you know as what you know.
There are many means for achieving the same ends. EUSIDIC and ASIDIC served a couple generations of information professionals very well. I am saddened to see the era that sustained them drawing to a close.
But at the same time, I am encouraged by the new generation that is coming now to the forefront, armed with the powerful communications tools that only a few years ago could hardly have been imagined.