Reading the announcement about the closure of the Online Information Show, and Phil Bradley’s blog post about his experiences at Olympia made me think about my own memories of ‘Online’, as most of us referred to it.
I first attended Online a long time ago – I can’t remember which year it was. I wasn’t prepared for it and was rather overawed by the massive size of the exhibition and the thousands of visitors.
After a break of a couple of years, in 1998, I was back, presenting a paper entitled “Enabling the user in the quest for quality” and taking a turn on the JISC stall to tell people about EEVL. The conference/exhibition was a wonderful way to meet up with colleagues and others working in the information industry. It really did give you the feeling that you were part of something big and current, and I learnt an immense amount by attending various presentations and working on various stands.
My Online highlight was being presented with the Information Professional of the Year 2000 award at the official Online party.
In the years that followed, I used the venue to consult with publishers, do various deals with information providers and others, take part in a nerve-racking panel session, meet friends and collect brochures and other information for Heriot-Watt University Library. I’d go home with a bag packed full of leaflets, and magazines such as Information World Review, Online Searcher and various other Information Today titles. What I quickly learnt was that you had to be well prepared to make the most of the Show, and if you wanted to collaborate with a publisher, for example, you had to find the right person to arrange a meeting with. Having a name badge saying ‘Presenter’ opened doors as well. Online was also an opportunity to attend other meetings, arranged to coincide with everyone being in London for the Exhibition and Conference. We also had a few parties, several with others working on RDN projects.
For a number of years running I gave Updates on Engineering Information Sources at the Exhibition, which gave me an excuse to attend and make various contacts, which were nearly always useful.
The Updates, of which this is the most recent one which survives, took place in one of the three seminar areas dotted about the Exhibition. The first time I gave one of these updates I was surprised by how many people attended – Yes – there were others who were interested in engineeering information resources! Although only twenty minutes in length, the updates took a lot of advance preparation because they were collations of what twenty or more publishers/websites/services/projects were doing, and each had to be contacted a couple of months ahead of the Show, and then followed up.
I can’t remember which year it was, but I’d been ill for a few weeks before Online with a stubborn kidney stone, and wasn’t as well prepared as usual. That year, it seemed to be incredibly stuffy in the seminar room, and I melted as I went through the list of things that were happening in the world of engineeering information. Dehydration is the worst thing when you’ve got a kidney stone and I was aware that my presentation suffered. I also wasn’t encourged by the fact that the number of attendees at my session was down on previous years, but I just about got through the talk, went back to the hotel, changed my soaking shirt, and eventually felt sufficiently revived to go to a party organised by ProQuest in the Shakespeare Globe Theatre, Southwark.
At that party I found myself sitting at a round table with various other librarians, publishers and hangers-on. I turned to the chap on my right and asked him how his day at Online had been.
“Oh, quite good, actually” he replied.
“Did you attend any good sessions?” I enquired.
“Yes, a few” he continued, “They were all very well presented apart from the one at lunchtime. Dreadfully boring, it was, and the man giving it had the most awful monotone voice, he… oh! … Oh my Goodness … It was YOU!”
“Oh dear” I responded, “I’m very sorry about that, but I wasn’t feeling very well earlier today. But at least I hope you found the content of some interest.”
“None at all, I’m afraid” he continued, “I only went into the talk because there were so many empty seats, and I was desperate for a sit-down.”
After that, I was dreading the next year conference, but that one actually went very well, with standing room only for my presentation, and several people coming up to me afterwards saying that they’d found it useful.
My thanks go to all those who helped organise Online over the years, and who made it such a rewarding experience for everyone who attended.