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Magazines > Information Today > March 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 20 No. 3 — March 2003
Conference Circuit
Information Online 2003
By Ray Lewis

This conference, held Jan. 21­23, saw my fourth consecutive visit to the "Land Down Under." Of the many such events I've attended down the years, this continues to be my favorite. Not only was the Sydney Convention andExhibition Centre Southat Darling Harbour stunning, but there was a genuine buzz of interest pervading the exhibit floor.

My previous three events had involved the occasionally arduous task of manning a booth, but this trip gave me the opportunity to spend some serious time circling the floor. Most of the usual suspects were present, such as BIOSIS, CISTI, CSA, Dialog (in fact, there was a big Thomson contingent), EBSCO, Elsevier Science, Factiva, ISI, LexisNexis Butterworth, Ovid, ProQuest, Wiley Interscience, and Information Today, Inc.

Information Online is promoted as the "Premier Conference and Exhibition for the Online Information Industry in the Asia Pacific Region" and is commonly touted as the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. I haven't seen any evidence to refute either claim. In an interview with Elizabeth Swan, the chief organizer of the conference and representative from the convening Australian Library and Information Association's Information Specialists Group, I discovered some details about the conference and its history.

Information Online Background

I learned that the conference began in 1986, initially as an annual event. It switched to a biannual schedule in 1989. The conference started in a local Hilton Hotel before outgrowing it and moving to a more specialized venue, somewhat mirroring the London Online Information conference and its original Novotel site.

Unlike the majority of its counterparts in the Northern Hemisphere, this event has seen steady growth over recent years against most of the usual metrics. Again this year, general attendance was up, both in the exhibit hall and in the conference sessions. Approximate final figureslist 1,200 delegatesplus another 1,000 visiting the exhibit hall and its 79 exhibiting companies. A big plus to the venue, aside from the stunning skyline, is that it is able to house all aspects of the event in very close proximity. This was particularly well-received by the exhibitors as it reduces the delegate "walkabout effect" between sessions, at coffee breaks, and during any allocated exhibit time.

While the majority of the attendees were from Australia and New Zealand, there was also some considerable representation from other Pacific Rim countries as well as a sizable contingent from both the U.S. and U.K. My question to those who are reading this in the Northern Hemisphere and considering making such a long journey for the 2005 event (which apparently already has more than 30 companies that have booked exhibit space) is: Does a break from the January chill to Sydney's glorious midsummer climate warrant the inevitable cynicism of your boss?

My opinion is that if you can find the funds, it really is worth the effort. From an exhibitor's point of view, the customer satisfaction you'll receive will be tangible and the growth potential for this burgeoning sector of the globe makes it a positive, cost-effective move. From a delegate's point of view, the sessions were also extremely valuable.

Swan pointed out the high quality of the attendee audience and stated that the exhibitor feedback was very positive. She said: "The caliber of the keynotes from both within Australia and overseas was excellent. Some of the 'Super Searchers' are special favorites. Mary Ellen Bates, Anne Caputo, Amelia Kassel, Carol Tenopir, Coralee Christou, and Steve Coffman were very well-received also, and everyone was thrilled to welcome Roger Summit back."

A personal highlight of the show came during the Dialog cocktail event when Summit was invited to speak about his personal view of the information industry's history and, specifically, Dialog's role in it. Because he is commonly recognized as the founding pioneer of the industry as we know it from the work he did at Lockheed in the late 1960s/early '70s, he's well-qualified to give such a talk.

I was familiar with Summit's presentation style, having seen his keynote speechat a recent ASIDIC conference. Once again his dry humor regaled the audience, and I found one particular anecdote especially interesting. Apparently, Summit was initially contemplating some sort of relevance ranking as the core machinery of the developing search engine (or whatever necessarily prescient terminology was in use at the time) before persuadinghimself that Boolean logic was the way to go. Now there's a decision that impacted so many of our working lives.

All in all, I enjoyed the Sydney event more than ever, and I would recommend it to anyone who's thinking about attending the 2005 conference. As Bruce Heterick, JSTOR's director for library relations, put it, after taking an audience photo, "I just wanted to prove to my boss that I did come here to work." I'm sure that the several hundred smiling librarians and information specialists in the audience will attest to that.


Ray Lewis is an independent information consultant. His e-mail address is
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