This year I will be taking part in the Strix Award event, an Award which recognises the contribution that Dr. Tony Kent made to information retrieval. There is some background material on the Award and on Tony Kent on the CILIP website. The Award was inaugurated in 1998 when I was still playing a reasonably active role in the Institute of Information Scientists and was on the committee that met to decide who would be the award winner.
I first met Tony in 1975 when I was invited to be a member of a Committee set up by the British Library on Information Transfer and Use in Chemistry which met over the period from 1975 to 1977. The report was published in 1978 and highlighted a gap that was developing between research into chemical information retrieval and the extent to which this was being adopted by commercial services. I have a copy of it on my desk as I write this note. Actually ‘invited’ is perhaps not quite the right word as I gate-crashed the Committee once I realised that there were very few information science practitioners on the Committee. At that time I was the Information Officer at the Zinc and Lead Development Association. Among the members were Cyril Cleverdon (Cranfield Institute of Technology) and Angela Haygarth Jackson, Head of the Literature Services Section of ICI Pharmaceuticals. Tony Kent was a member through being the Director of the UK Chemical Information Service, run under the auspices of The Chemical Society.
Cyril, Angela, Tony and I quickly formed a cabal in the corner of the Council Chamber of The Chemical Society in Burlington House, working together to bring some practitioner sanity to what was otherwise a rather academic-focused Committee. We also became good friends and these friendships lasted for many years. I learned so much from all three of them, including how to make useful contributions to a large committee in a way that gradually moved the centre of gravity towards user requirements! Tony was the star of the Committee, with a breadth of knowledge that was awesome. He also had a very dry sense of humour that was often lost on other members of the Committee. The quality of the output from the Committee owed much to his input. His later work was on the development of the Strix PC-based information retrieval software, whose particular attribute was to search with immense speed but with a need for comparatively light memory and processor capabilities that were available on PCs in the early 1990s. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I had reason to ask for advice from Tony on a number of occasions about both technical and career development issues and it was always given immediately and in abundance. In 2008 I had the privilege of taking the statuette of a Strix owl to the University of Tampere to present the award to Professor Kalervo Jarvelin. This required taking the statuette through security at Heathrow Airport. That was an interesting experience!
Looking back I realise that it was Tony in particular who shifted my interests from chemistry with a touch of information science to information science with a touch of chemistry. For that I will be eternally grateful to him, and it will be an honour to be taking a minor role at the Award event this year.