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PROPOSED SCOPE OF AREA 1

IN ORDER TO improve the dissemination of scientific information and to design more effective reference tools and services, we need to have a more complete understanding of the weaknesses and strengths of the present pattern of scientific communication and, in particular, of the unfilled or inadequately filled needs of scientists for information. It would be helpful first to have a summary of the views of a number of representative scientists in different fields concerning their own information requirements and problems; and then to review the information yielded by studies of the use of scientific literature and by surveys of various types and to attempt to identify some of the needs suggested by the results of such studies. It is to be expected, however, that a review of past and present studies will point up the need for much additional and more objective knowledge about information practices and needs. Methods by which this knowledge can best be obtained should be considered, both by evaluating the results obtained with the methods that have been tried and by discussing the potential usefulness of other methods that have yet to be applied to this problem.1

A few examples of the studies that have been made will serve to illustrate the methods that have been used to date. Dwight Gray and Bentley Glass have made questionnaire surveys in the fields of physics and biology respectively in order to determine how abstracting services are used, the degree of satisfaction with present services, and the express desires of scientists for improved services. As a part of the recent survey of the physiological sciences, the Survey Research Center of the University of Michigan included in a widely distributed questionnaire questions concerning the use of journals and bibliographical publications and the extent to which physiologists believe they are able to keep up with developments in their fields of specialization.

Interviews have been used by Saul Herner in an effort to discover from research scientists just how they look for and obtain information, what publications and library services they use, and the extent to which they do their own searching or rely on the help of librarians and information specialists.

A number of studies have made use of the “reference counting” method. Perhaps the best known of these was a study by Herman H.Fussler to deter-

1  

The proposed scope of the Conference Area, as shown here, was prepared during the Spring and Summer of 1956 and provided to all potential contributors as a guide to the aims of the Conference.



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--> PROPOSED SCOPE OF AREA 1 IN ORDER TO improve the dissemination of scientific information and to design more effective reference tools and services, we need to have a more complete understanding of the weaknesses and strengths of the present pattern of scientific communication and, in particular, of the unfilled or inadequately filled needs of scientists for information. It would be helpful first to have a summary of the views of a number of representative scientists in different fields concerning their own information requirements and problems; and then to review the information yielded by studies of the use of scientific literature and by surveys of various types and to attempt to identify some of the needs suggested by the results of such studies. It is to be expected, however, that a review of past and present studies will point up the need for much additional and more objective knowledge about information practices and needs. Methods by which this knowledge can best be obtained should be considered, both by evaluating the results obtained with the methods that have been tried and by discussing the potential usefulness of other methods that have yet to be applied to this problem.1 A few examples of the studies that have been made will serve to illustrate the methods that have been used to date. Dwight Gray and Bentley Glass have made questionnaire surveys in the fields of physics and biology respectively in order to determine how abstracting services are used, the degree of satisfaction with present services, and the express desires of scientists for improved services. As a part of the recent survey of the physiological sciences, the Survey Research Center of the University of Michigan included in a widely distributed questionnaire questions concerning the use of journals and bibliographical publications and the extent to which physiologists believe they are able to keep up with developments in their fields of specialization. Interviews have been used by Saul Herner in an effort to discover from research scientists just how they look for and obtain information, what publications and library services they use, and the extent to which they do their own searching or rely on the help of librarians and information specialists. A number of studies have made use of the “reference counting” method. Perhaps the best known of these was a study by Herman H.Fussler to deter- 1   The proposed scope of the Conference Area, as shown here, was prepared during the Spring and Summer of 1956 and provided to all potential contributors as a guide to the aims of the Conference.

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--> mine the characteristics of the research literature used by chemists and physicists in the United States, the forms and national origins of the literature used, the importance of various subject fields, the temporal span, and the most important journals for each field. Most studies of this type purport to identify the important publications. Estelle Brodman, on the other hand, has attempted to assess the validity of the “reference counting” method by asking a number of individual investigators to rate the publications most useful to them in order of their importance. She found little or no correlation between the results obtained by means of these two approaches. A “current use” study was made by D.J.Urquhart, prior to the Royal Society Scientific Information Conference, in which the users of periodicals and books circulated by a science library were asked to fill out a brief questionnaire explaining where they had learned of the publication, whether it contained the desired information, and for what the information was needed. The diary method was first used by J.D.Bernal in a study reported to the Royal Society Scientific Information Conference. He asked working scientists to keep detailed records of what they read, why they read it, and what use they made of the information. The validity of the method has recently been investigated in a pilot study at the Forest Products Laboratory, Madison, Wisconsin, under the direction of Ralph R.Shaw. D.B.Hertz and A.H.Rubenstein have investigated communication in team research, including the flow of information among members of research groups and the use of outside sources of information. Communication difficulties experienced by the groups were studied by means of interviews. The report of this investigation includes a discussion of methodology, the value of the case-study approach versus short data-gathering visits to organizations being studied. As for current projects that are trying still different methods, Russell Ackoff, Case Institute of Technology, has directed a study of the feasibility of using the techniques of operations research to obtain objective data concerning the role of information in the research process and the way in which scientists locate and use information. A full-scale study is now being planned that will employ a technique of observation to determine how much time is spent with the literature and which primary and secondary publications are used most extensively. Charles Y.Glock, Bureau of Applied Social Research, Columbia University, is initiating a project to test the value of interviews in depth conducted by skilled interviewers in eliciting from scientists on the staff of Columbia University information concerning their satisfactions and dissatisfactions with the present situation and any problems they have in keeping up with recent advances and in locating specific information when needed. A summary or, if possible, a synthesis of the results of all these and other

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--> studies would bring out the areas of agreement and of disagreement among them. For example, Urquhart, in his study of the current use of library materials, found that abstracts were the main source of information about the publications requested. Shaw, on the other hand, in his recent study based on diary records, found that abstracts stimulated a surprisingly small percentage of the requests for publications. The two studies were carried out in quite different environments, and undoubtedly there was some difference in the subject fields in which the two groups of scientists were working. Nevertheless, this difference in the findings suggests an area for further exploration. Perhaps the greatest need is for methods that will produce truly objective data that will help to define the current information problems and place them in proper perspective. Important as it is to have the views of research scientists about the adequacy of our present services, they themselves are usually not in a position to know how good a job an information service is doing unless they have had the time to study it carefully. For example, Glass found that 87 per cent of the biologists who participated in his survey regarded the coverage of Biological Abstracts as “satisfactory.” Glass comments, “This opinion can only arise from a gross misconception of the true state of affairs…. It is clear that users…have little idea of the extent of the gaps and omissions in the abstracting of the periodicals supposed to be covered, or of the vast majority of scientific periodicals with biological material that are not covered at all.” Numerous suggestions have been made for other types of studies that might add to our understanding of information problems and point the way toward improvements most urgently needed, such as: Case studies of actual research projects to determine the role of scientific literature in research, the time given to it, the way it is used, etc. Collection of data on specific instances in which time and money were wasted because information was not readily available, in particular, instances of undesirable duplication of research. Study of reference questions put to information centers to determine just what information the scientists are seeking in specific instances; also further study of “unanswered questions.” A British study of questions to which researchers could not find answers suggested that the subject indexes to our abstract journals are inadequate. Studies of the results obtained and changes in the work habits of scientists in situations where skilled information assistance and mechanized searching services are provided. Investigation of the efficiency with which individual scientists use the available facilities to keep up with advances in their own and related fields and

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--> to locate specific data when they need it. A corollary study might inquire how the best informed persons in their respective fields manage to keep up with all that is reported in the literature and to keep track of what has been done in previous years. A psychological study to determine just how persons get information from reading. Exploration of the validity of the hypothesis that the creativity of a scientist is related to the breadth as well as the depth of his knowledge. Exploration of the amount of time it is worthwhile to spend in a literature search in various special fields. Assignment of the same research problem to two different groups, one to have skilled assistance with the literature and the other no special assistance, in order to compare the courses of the work of the two groups. It is probably correct to say that up until now scientists have been concerned for the most part with maintaining and improving their journals of primary publication and with obtaining better abstracts, indexes, and other bibliographic services, with considerable discussion in recent years of the desirability of faster, mechanized search procedures. It may be, however, that if we had a more complete understanding of the information requirements of research scientists, we would place more emphasis on another aspect of the total picture, such as the preparation of more first-class reviews that synthesize new knowledge and draw attention to the areas where more work is needed. As the volume of the scientific literature continues to increase and as bibliographic and search processes are made more efficient and comprehensive, the quantity of relevant literature on any one topic will become larger. The sheer time required even to scan large numbers of publications identified in a literature search suggests that it is becoming more and more important to find means of reducing to manageable proportions the large quantities of information scattered in many different sources. The problem of reviews will undoubtedly be discussed in Areas 2 and 3, but in this portion of the agenda it might be fruitful to consider requirements for review publications or for other means of “data reduction;” and then in the succeeding areas to discuss ways and means of encouraging their preparation and possible experiments to test their value and the extent to which a good review can, for certain purposes, supersede a large number of primary publications.

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--> Suggested working papers PRESENT KNOWLEDGE OF INFORMATION REQUIREMENTS Summary of information requirements and problems of scientists in the various fields. This summary might be based on individual statements to be contributed by representative scientists in each field or, alternatively, on informal surveys to be conducted with the aid of interested scientific societies. Summary of findings to date on use of information by scientists. Results obtained through the provision of highly skilled literature scientists as participants in research and deductions concerning information needs. METHODOLOGY Interviews and surveys to determine information practices and attitudes. The diary method and other types of record keeping on uses of information. Analysis of reference questions and “unanswered questions” to help determine information needs of scientists. Case studies and other methods of determining the role of recorded knowledge in research. Operations research in the area of scientific communication.

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