A Brief History

by Betsy King

April 1996

Author's Note: This history was assembled from old minutes, meeting notices and newsletters, for the 10th anniversary celebration.

Before 1983, many librarians in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties worked in isolation. Telephone calls across the Bay were long distance (not to mention calls to Pasco and Polk Counties), and electronic mail was not generally available. Organizations for librarians existed in the Tampa Bay area, but they were not focused specifically toward special (or specialized) libraries.

The Special Libraries Association (SLA) had several local members, but no local chapter to draw people together. A few special librarians knew each other individually, talked by phone, and occasionally got together. However, no group existed that reached out to librarians in both counties.

In 1983, Judy Dolce was the librarian at Jim Walter Research Corporation (now known as The Center for Applied Engineering) in St. Petersburg. Having worked in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, she had been involved with the active library community there. Judy took the initiative to contact several company librarians, and she arranged a meeting to "get to know other area librarians in order to share ideas and to foster cooperation and growth among us."

Information specialists invited to this first meeting (according to a letter sent out to them) were:

  • Pat Boody | TECO, Tampa
  • Doug Cornwell |Florida Power Corporation, St. Petersburg
  • Judy Dolce | Jim Walter Research Corp, St. Petersburg
  • June Martin | Paradyne, Largo
  • Sue Weiss | E-Systems/ECI, St. Petersburg
  • Vici Hammerle, Mary Lipthay, and Mary Jane Houser | Honeywell, Clearwater
  • Margaret Sumner | Research Unlimited

They met on November 17, 1983 at the Olde Ville Restaurant, at Gandy and 34th Street in Pinellas Park. The group discussed the feasibility of cooperative membership for OCLC access or for document delivery services. They also decided to continue meeting regularly.

Judy and the others attempted to identify additional local librarians to include in this group. Word spread, and 16 people showed up at the next meeting, held on January 23, 1984, at Critikon, Inc., in Tampa, hosted by Dennis Vescey, Critikon's librarian. Topics included cataloging options of OCLC and Marcive, the exchange of library forms developed by the various libraries, and a tour of Critikon's automated library.

The third meeting, on March 19, 1984, was lunch at Jim Walter Research, hosted by Judy Dolce. Sue Weiss of E-Systems was our first official guest speaker. She talked about new technology applications at ECI.

Gwen Walters of University Community Hospital hosted the next meeting in May 1984. A tour of the Medical Library included a demonstration of the library's computerized system (online cataloging, ordering, and receiving). 19 people attended this meeting.

The next meeting wasn't for another 7 months, in December 1984, again for lunch at Jim Walter. The 23 attendees at this meeting decided to name the group "Suncoast Information Specialists." It was felt that the group should encompass everyone in the information field, not just those who fell under the heading "librarian." During this time, attempts were made to identify as many libraries / librarians in the area that we could. The SLA membership directory, various library directories, blind phone calls to companies, and word-of-mouth resulted in a growing list of people to be included in each mailing. Judy Dolce continued to be the main force in planning the meetings and sending out notices.

At this point, SIS was a real group, and we felt the need to become more organized. Help was needed with the coordination of future programs, publicity, planning for future direction, and continuing education opportunities. The next meeting, in May 1985, at Tampa Electric Co., was a "Let's Get Organized" meeting. Officers were chosen for the first time -- Judy Dolce was elected president; Doug Cornwell, vice-president; Kit Boone, secretary; and Betsy King, treasurer. Committee volunteers were solicited. A bylaws committee was established to begin the process of writing bylaws for SIS.

Dr. Knego agreed to become the University of South Florida School of Library and Information Science liaison, and Pat Boody became liaison with the Tampa Bay Library Consortium. The bylaws committee consisted of:

  • Pat Craig | USF Medical Library
  • Sarah Harman | Tampa Bay Medical Library Network
  • Gwen Walters | University Community Hospital
  • Doug Cornwell | Florida Power
  • Judy Dolce | Jim Walter
  • Betsy King | Reflectone

The committee met many times during the next year, attempting to define Suncoast Information Specialists without putting too many restrictions on its future development. The final Association Bylaws were approved at the June 1986 meeting. Dues of $5.00 were set at the October 1986 meeting, with the feeling that such a small sum would not discourage anyone from joining, but that it would help establish a definite "membership."

Prior to this, no money at all had been involved with SIS. Betsy King, the treasurer, had created and verified a membership list used for mailings, had sent out a survey of libraries for a 1986 Library Directory, and finally had issued the 1986 SIS Membership Directory, which included 79 members.

Officers for the 1986-87 year were: Doug Cornwell, President; Gwen Walters, Vice President; Kit Boone, Secretary; and Betsy King, Treasurer. Carolyn Bass (TECO) volunteered to prepare a regular newsletter. Following a couple of "trial" issues in 1986, Volume 1, Number 1, of the SIS Info was issued in January 1987.

Some members expressed an interest in sponsoring a continuing education workshop, perhaps with new automated tools, etc. After several discussions and meetings, the general consensus was that the work involved would be too much for the interest shown. It was generally felt that the personal and professional contacts made were the most valuable part of SIS and that bi-monthly meetings were sufficient.

Several times in SIS's history, concern has been expressed about the lack of support, too much work by too few people, lack of participation, etc. Somehow, these complaints seems to wax and wane over time.

SIS now boasts more than a hundred members, from virtually every niche of the local information profession community, representing more than 60 different institutions. During the past decade, SIS has definitely fulfilled its original goals -- "sharing ideas and fostering cooperation and growth" among the area librarians.