This article is an adaption of a story previously published in CapLits, Year-End 2018., the PHT newsletter, written to recognize the great effort put forth by the many volunteers over the years who have made the PHT Spring Meeting happen and to acknowledge the longstanding achievement this unique gathering represents. This account has added meaning this year, 2020, because it marks the 35th anniversary of the Spring Meeting. Many PHT members state that this Meeting is the chief reason they belong to this Community.
For more on this year's meeting, and to register, click here.
The question of how the PHT Meeting began was raised with Kerry Kushinka and Barbara Boyajian, longtime PHT members, who suggested also talking to Diane (Shaffer) Torrance and Joanne Lustig, all located in New Jersey at the time of this article. These early pioneers gathered in-person in September 2017 to tell the story of the earliest PHT Meetings:
Like any good info pro, Kerry arrived with files from her reign as PHT Chair in 1986-87. Not surprisingly, once the documents were placed in the center of the four info pros, the meeting minutes, CapLits, and overheads were immediately organized. (For younger readers, overheads are individual, transparent 8.5" x 11" sheets of plastic on which presentations were printed for use with an overhead projector). Kerry, Joanne, Diane, and Barbara quickly read excerpts out loud, and shared many laughs and memories.
The "Pharmaceutical Division" of SLA was originally a Section of the Science-Technology Division of SLA, which was founded in 1947. Members of the Pharm Section voted in 1965 to pull out of Sci-Tech and become a full-fledged Division, thereby gaining greater financial support from SLA, and representation in the management of SLA. Two decades after the founding of PHT, the idea of a meeting solely for the Pharm Division emerged.
Barbara said, "SLA had gotten so big it was hard to find like-people. There were a lot of us around but we didn't have opportunity to get together." A few other SLA Divisions had staged their own conferences. Kerry recalls that the PHT leadership decided the Division should have a regional meeting and they cajoled her to serve as Program Chair for that initial meeting and then run for Chair.
There were practical reasons for the Pharma Division to facilitate its own meeting. Some recalled that the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (PMA, now PhRMA, founded in 1958) -- which had an information section -- and the Drug Information Association (DIA, founded in 1964) were being confused with SLA's Pharmaceutical Division. The PMA meetings specifically staged for info pros, were, in fact, an inspiration for the inaugural PHT Meeting. Kerry recalls that the "PMA meetings were awesome. Although they preferred that we not mention the term librarian."
The initial PHT conference, held in 1985 at the Hyatt Hotel in New Brunswick, NJ, was called a "regional" meeting -- as were the subsequent annual gatherings – because they drew attendees from the local area. At that time, as continues today, New Jersey had a concentration of pharmaceutical companies. The next annual meeting was held in Somerset, NJ. Princeton, NJ was the site of the third gathering. The fourth meeting was staged in Philadelphia – a popular destination for the Division in recent decades -- at BIOSIS. After the third PHT Meeting, the Division sought to replicate these PA-NJ-NY regional meetings in other areas of the country through a call for volunteers, but none came forward.
The initial assemblies were one-day affairs, unlike the multi-day gatherings that are familiar today, with vendor exhibits staged during lunch or receptions at the end of the day.
The first gatherings were a success. In the SLA-NJ Chapter Bulletin from 1985, Kerry wrote: "This was the first meeting of the Pharmaceutical Division being held apart from the SLA Annual Meetings. Based upon the enthusiastic response, it will likely become an annual event in the New Jersey-New York-Philadelphia area." The second through fifth meetings averaged 80 member attendees. The initial cost to attended was $48. The Division realized a "profit" each year from the Meeting. The number of people joining the Division increased after each meeting. Diane remembered, "Membership was growing. People said 'Thank goodness we met you.' Everyone was glad to talk to each other."
What's notable is that some things have not changed as far as programming goes. Issues discussed in the early days of the PHT Division are very similar to those faced today, like "Career Paths for Information and Library Professionals" (1986), "Adverse Drug Reaction Reporting" (1987), and "Information Technology Trends" (1989).
One aspect of the PHT Spring Meeting that attendees have repeatedly reported as a great benefit is the opportunity to see vendors, old and new. The vendors like the meeting too – and have from the start. It's not clear how many vendors may have been at the initial meeting, but there were six at the second meeting, including longstanding support from products Diogenes, Derwent, IMS, and Pharmaprojects. (In 2019 there were over 30 vendors.) Back then, vendors would demonstrate their products, including copier machines (!), and otherwise discuss new technology. Kerry noted, "We were happy and surprised that vendors wanted to come." There is no denying that the PHT Meeting has been staged annually for over 30 years in large part because of vendor sponsorship.
Volunteers Make It Work
No PHT Meeting would take place without strategic leaders and volunteers, and the early gatherings were no different. Barbara remembers planning committees sitting in her living room and stuffing meeting packets. She said, "We could all depend on each other and worked on different things. A lot people contributed in small ways."
Spring or Annual?
Because PHT Meetings were usually held in March or April, the name eventually became the PHT Spring Meeting. However, there was a heat wave in Princeton in April 2002, and snow fell at the 2007 Spring Meeting held in Boston.
Over the years, PHT members have expressed that the annual PHT Meetings are an invaluable benefit of their membership. Diane said, "Every time we held one it got better." For Kerry, it's been satisfying to see the PHT Meeting take place every year since 1985, saying its success has been "a continuum of knowledge and experience."