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An International Institute for Scientific Information

WALDO CHAMBERLIN

We are living in a society in which scientists “will largely determine the fate of mankind,”1 a society in which “there is every reason to believe that the pace of change will be much more rapid than during the previous period in our technical development,”2 and one in which there are not enough scientists. In such a situation, the storage and retrieval of scientific information is a vital and urgent problem.

The problem

The problem can be stated quite simply: more scientific information has been produced than can be stored and retrieved, and the body of that information is said to be doubling every ten years. Thoughtful men have long been aware of the resulting dilemma, and as early as 1936 Ortega y Gasset clearly stated the issue in an article entitled, “Man Must Tame the Book.”3 In 1945 Vannevar Bush pointed out

The difficulty seems to be, not so much that we publish unduly in view of the extent and variety of present-day interest, but rather that publication has been extended far beyond our present ability to make real use of the record. The summation of human experience is being expanded at a prodigious rate, and the means we use for threading through the consequent maze to the momentarily important item is the same as was used in the days of square rigged ships.4

WALDO CHAMBERLiN Professor of Government, Graduate School of Arts and Science, New York University, New York.

1  

BUELL G.GALLAGHER, New York Times, November 15, 1957.

2  

Report of President’s Committee on Scientists and Engineers, November 30, 1957, as reported in New York Times, December 1, 1957.

3  

The Wilson Bulletin, January 1936.

4  

“As We May Think,” Atlantic Monthly, July 1945, p. 102. This was the article in which Bush suggested, with tongue in cheek, perhaps, his famous “Memex”; a desk in which a scholar could keep all his records, notes, clippings, etc., for a lifetime yet have them instantly available through the use of electronic devices. See also his Science, the Endless Frontier, U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development, Washington, 1945.



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--> An International Institute for Scientific Information WALDO CHAMBERLIN We are living in a society in which scientists “will largely determine the fate of mankind,”1 a society in which “there is every reason to believe that the pace of change will be much more rapid than during the previous period in our technical development,”2 and one in which there are not enough scientists. In such a situation, the storage and retrieval of scientific information is a vital and urgent problem. The problem The problem can be stated quite simply: more scientific information has been produced than can be stored and retrieved, and the body of that information is said to be doubling every ten years. Thoughtful men have long been aware of the resulting dilemma, and as early as 1936 Ortega y Gasset clearly stated the issue in an article entitled, “Man Must Tame the Book.”3 In 1945 Vannevar Bush pointed out The difficulty seems to be, not so much that we publish unduly in view of the extent and variety of present-day interest, but rather that publication has been extended far beyond our present ability to make real use of the record. The summation of human experience is being expanded at a prodigious rate, and the means we use for threading through the consequent maze to the momentarily important item is the same as was used in the days of square rigged ships.4 WALDO CHAMBERLiN Professor of Government, Graduate School of Arts and Science, New York University, New York. 1   BUELL G.GALLAGHER, New York Times, November 15, 1957. 2   Report of President’s Committee on Scientists and Engineers, November 30, 1957, as reported in New York Times, December 1, 1957. 3   The Wilson Bulletin, January 1936. 4   “As We May Think,” Atlantic Monthly, July 1945, p. 102. This was the article in which Bush suggested, with tongue in cheek, perhaps, his famous “Memex”; a desk in which a scholar could keep all his records, notes, clippings, etc., for a lifetime yet have them instantly available through the use of electronic devices. See also his Science, the Endless Frontier, U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development, Washington, 1945.

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--> The need for methods of storage and retrieval that are better than those used in the “days of square rigged ships” stems from two facts; the first being that we do not have, and are not likely to have, enough scientists to meet the foreseeable demand for many years to come and, second, that the scientists that we do have waste an immense amount of time in determining what has already been done in any area of research, a process sometimes called “literature search.” The scientist makes this search in order to avoid duplicating work already done elsewhere, and because he must know what others have done, or found out, that will assist him in his own project.5 WHAT INFORMATION DO SCIENTISTS NEED? Scientists seem to be in general agreement that there are six major problems of storage and retrieval that apply to all branches of science in varying degree: Lack of comprehensive means for retrieving information, particularly in peripheral fields. Lack of accessibility to many publications. Lack of translations of much of the material appearing in “exotic” languages, such as Russian and Japanese. Delay in publication of abstracts. Uncertainty that abstract coverage includes important articles and reports in little known periodicals, or from “remote” scientific meetings. Duplication of effort and frustration in literature search. WHAT HAS BEEN DONE ABOUT THE PROBLEM? The amount of time that scientists spend on literature search is not known. We do know that the process is so involved and complicated that some industrial concerns have established technical information divisions because “digging out information has become so time-consuming that men are discouraged from making the effort”—this “at a time when technical manpower is at a premium.”6 Studies of the problem have not been lacking, and evidence that there are at 5   John P.Alden of Food Machinery & Chemical Company’s technical center has said that there are two ways to solve a technical problem: the laboratory and the library. He notes that library research is probably cheaper than laboratory research, and calls attention to the fact that companies that report primary dependence on library sources for information for management decisions are in the first 30% of companies with increased earnings. Chemical and Engineering News, Sept. 23, 1957, p. 115. 6   One of these is the Esso Research and Engineering Company which has established a Technical Information Division that is described in an article in Petroleum Weekly, March 1, 1957, entitled “System of the Future Gets Information to the Technical Man Who Needs It.” The new Division is also described in a paper presented before the American Chemical Society’s Division of Chemical Literature, by three officers of the company, W.C.Asbury, E.Duer Reeves, and W.T.Knox.

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--> least partial answers available is provided by the program of the International Conference on Scientific Information. There have been so many conferences, symposia, colloquia, round tables, workshops, and seminars devoted to the subject during the past ten years that there is a temptation to apply to the problem Mark Twain’s famous remark about the weather, “Everybody talks about it but nobody does anything about it.” In 1949 the National Research Council rejected a plan for an international coordinating office for science abstracting because it was “quite without prospect of the necessary financial support, and on the further grounds that the first thing for the United States to do was to put its own house in order.” Insofar as financial support was concerned, the International Conference on Science Abstracting and Indexing, convened by Unesco in 1949, was of the same mind, but did recommend some “palliative measures.”7 While these “palliative measures” have been under way, the Russians in 1952 established an All-Union Institute of Scientific Information, in an attempt to provide a complete, coordinated system of documentation for their scientists.8 Regardless of whether or not this Institute has accomplished all that was expected, it is an attempt to tackle the problem of storage and retrieval on a coordinated basis. In spite of efforts by individuals and groups that have tried to do something about the problem of storage and retrieval, the conclusion is unescapable that what has been accomplished to date has been a whittling on pieces of an immense problem. WHAT SHOULD BE DONE ABOUT THE PROBLEM? The situation has now reached a point where it is, or should be, clear that the time for palliative measures has passed. The President of the United States has said that in this country there has “been a tragic failure to secure the benefits that would flow from mutual sharing of appropriate scientific information.”9 The political and scientific atmosphere seems to be ripe for a great step forward in the development of a huge program of basic research—a necessary part of which would be the creation of adequate tools for storage and retrieval of scientific information. The problem is so large and so complicated that it probably cannot be solved without major financial assistance from govern- 7   Verner W.Clapp, “Indexing and Abstracting: Recent Past and Lines of Future Development,” in College and Research Libraries, July 1950, p. 203. 8   For accounts of the Institute, see Rita G.Piepina, “Scientific Documentation in the Soviet Union,” in American Documentation, vol. V, pp. 71–79, January 1954; “Scientific Information in the U.S.S.R.” in Science, vol. 124, No. 3223, 5 October 1956; and Harry Schwartz, “Soviet Science at Work,” in New York Times, November 17, 1957. 9   New York Times, December 8, 1957.

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--> ment. The difficulty of doing anything truly effective lies in the fact that long-range planning with financial support is necessary and, in the United States at least, long-range planning and financial support by Government are still feared as being “creeping socialism,” or worse. The pressure of events, however, may be such that this fear can be overcome. Perhaps the establishment of the All-Union Institute for Scientific Information in the USSR may have been such an event. The issue for the United States and the countries of the West is whether or not they can afford to continue their uncoordinated, unrelated, inefficient, and wasteful methods for storage and retrieval. In considering the methods for solving the problem, scientists seem to divide into three groups. One group contends that the emphasis in the approach to storage and retrieval should continue to be on study, rather than on action to solve the problem. A second group believes that we should not jump too rapidly in any direction until more thought has been given to the problem, but that an increase in cooperative action is needed now. A third group argues that we already have sufficient knowledge of the nature of the problem to make it possible to take a major step forward, even though research on the nature of the problem must continue. The first group believes that considerable progress on storage and retrieval has been made and that any radical move might endanger what has been accomplished. Chemistry and medicine are cited as two branches of science in which there have been great accomplishments through cooperation but without coordination.10 The second group acknowledges the accomplishments made thus far, but believes that the situation is so acute that a much greater cooperative effort is now necessary. This group sees the great work in chemical abstracting, for example, as a splendid achievement, but it believes that broader coverage and more rapid abstracting are necessary, and that they can be achieved through improved and increased cooperation of all interested parties. This group also believes that the development of bibliographical controls in medicine is impressive but that there are too many such controls and that some rationalization and simplification can be achieved through increased cooperation. The third group, the one desiring coordinated action now, differs from the second primarily in its conviction that the present need is so great, and becoming greater, that cooperation without coordination will not provide an adequate solution to the problem of storage and retrieval. Within all three groups there are individuals who believe that the most effective approach to the problem must be international in scope, because science is international, and because the material in question is already within 10   There are said to be 450 bibliographic services in the field of medicine. See Council on Library-Resources, First Annual Report, Washington, 1957, p. 15.

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--> the public domain and not affected by security regulations.11 Any effort to solve the problem by a purely national effort would be wasteful and inefficient and, in the long run, more expensive than an international effort. A coordinated national attack on the problem of storage and retrieval would mean, in the United States, an effort by Government, industry, universities, research institutions, professional societies and philanthropic foundations. It might be less difficult to secure adequate financial support from Government if the problem were attacked on the national level, but the international character of science would make such a program inefficient and wasteful. Scientists need to know what is going on in other countries and without a pooling of effort, each nation duplicates many of the services provided by others and, because resources are limited, certain needed services are not supplied at all. For example, there are said to be 150 abstracting services that are of interest to physicists and 450 in the field of medicine, but none in the English language for astronomy or geophysics. Further evidence of duplication of effort and serious gaps in bibliographical controls is the fact that of the articles abstracted in Physics Abstracts, 47 percent were also abstracted separately for Chemical Abstracts, and this at a time when about two-thirds of scientific articles are not abstracted at all.12 Recommendation for an international institute for scientific information The best solution to the problem of storage and retrieval will probably be found in the development of an international organization, the fundamental purpose of which would be to assist the scientists of all nations, by providing the machinery through which nations could do together those things that can be done effectively only when done together. An international institute for scientific information could provide for all scientists what the Soviets are trying to provide for theirs. The best elements of the Russian experiment should be used, but to these should be added the advantages that are inherent in competition, flexibility, and cooperation; advantages that are seldom found simultaneously in any governmental body. To achieve such a purpose, the powers and authority of the institute would have to be clearly defined. It should have sufficient autonomy to “spit in the eye” of any government, industry, university, professional society, or founda- 11   This paper is not concerned with classified scientific information, which is already being considered as the result of the NATO meetings in December 1957. See the “Declaration of Principles,” published in the New York Times, December 20, 1957. 12   Clapp, p. 198.

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--> tion that attempted to dominate. Because of the very great services that could be rendered by an institute sufficiently autonomous to be free from domination by any vested interest, except that of international science, governments should find it to their advantage to permit such freedom, and to provide the necessary financial support. It is obvious that states that supplied the major funds would influence the character of the institute, but influence and domination can be quite different. AUTONOMY OF THE INSTITUTE The autonomy of the institute might be assured if its resources were diversified so that no government (or group of governments), industry, professional society, university, research institution, or foundation would be in a controlling position. The necessary diversification might be obtained by including in the formula for national contributions both money and services. Certain functions of existing national scientific bodies, both public and private, would be adapted to the needs of the institute and included in the national contribution. For example, the American Chemical Society’s expenditures for Chemical Abstracts could be included in the United States contribution, and the sum required to publish the Soviet Union’s Abstract Journal-Chemistry could be included in the Soviet contribution. Services presently operated by government agencies could also be included, such as the Department of Commerce clearing house for scientific information, and the National Science Foundation program for translation of Russian scientific works.13 Similarly, certain services now provided by private organizations could be adapted and included in the national contribution. To accomplish this adaptation, something more than cooperation is necessary. What is required is coordination by an international institute that would have sufficient resources to make cooperation advantageous to potential cooperators in all countries. In other words, a major source of the institute’s authority would be the fact that it would have resources that could be used to assist national agencies to do better the jobs that they are now doing and, with the same resources, channel some of the duplication into areas of science not now being served. LEVELS OF SCIENCE TO BE SERVED It has already been noted that certain fields of science have better storage and retrieval tools than others, and the same holds true for the different levels of scientists. For purposes of discussion, these may be said to be: the advanced 13   The National Science Foundation has a $107,000 translation program. New York Times, November 25, 1957.

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--> scientist, the developmental scientist (college instructors and institutional researchers), the beginning scientist (the undergraduate), and the science teacher in secondary schools. The international institute should coordinate the efforts to meet the storage and retrieval needs of all four of these levels. All of them have certain common needs, all are dissatisfied with the present state of things, and all seem to agree that the proper use of the scientists that we now have, including those that are being trained,14 requires considerable improvement in methods for storage and retrieval at all levels. THE CHARACTER OF THE INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE This world-wide problem should be approached on a universal international basis, and there is an organization available that is appropriate to undertake such a task, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). If all nations were convinced, as some appear to be, that the work of their scientists is of vital importance to the future of their countries and that the needs of their scientists for adequate facilities for storage and retrieval are acute, it should not be impossible to secure agreement upon the establishment of the International Institute within the framework of Unesco. It is generally known that international cooperation in any field is difficult to achieve, and that success is often more likely when the international body concerned has funds that can be used to make cooperation advantageous, or to turn limited cooperation into real coordination. There are many observers who believe, for example, that the United Nations Expanded Technical Assistance Program has achieved what it has, because it had the funds to make cooperation advantageous and coordination possible. Should there be substantial disagreement that a world-wide international institute for scientific information within the framework of Unesco is not desirable, it could be established as a separate organization. If there were not general acceptance of the idea of a world-wide institute, it could be developed within the framework of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). However, because science is completely international, a world-wide organization would not only be desirable but also would be the only likely means of providing the scientists of any nation with all the information that they need. Any regional concept would be second best and should be avoided unless it were certain that the broader approach was impossible. 14   Among the many who have suggested the vital importance to the future of improvement in the quality of science teaching at the high-school level, is Fred Hoyle, a British scientist presently serving as Visiting Professor of Astronomy at California Institute of Technology. See New York Times Magazine, January 24, 1958.

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--> POLICY MAKING IN THE INSTITUTE The policies of an institute designed to provide all scientists, at all levels, with all the information that they need should be determined by scientists, subject to influence, but not control, by governments. Storage and retrieval of scientific information cannot be controlled by government, but it is a problem of such magnitude that governments must provide major financial backing. The general policies of the institute could be set by representatives of states in a body such as the General Conference of Unesco, but executive policy should be determined by scientists. This might be accomplished by the creation of an executive board consisting of one member from each of fifteen states, with the states being selected by the General Conference of Unesco. The determination of the individuals that should sit on the executive board should not be made by governments, but by national scientific information commissions. These commissions should consist of very eminent persons, predominantly scientists, in each country. In the United States, for example, the commission members might consist ex officio of the presidents of such bodies as the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Research Council, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Documentation Institute, the Association of American Universities, the American Library Association, the National Education Association, and the learned societies in each field of science. Commissions composed of individuals of this type could be relied upon to insure that no interest but that of science would dominate. The type of guidance that the institute would need to attack the very wide range of problems involved in storage and retrieval could be provided by the national commissions. They should also be able to command sufficient national support to insure adequate action by legislatures in providing necessary funds, and to secure cooperation from governmental agencies, universities, industry, professional societies, foundations, and research institutions. Because most of the commission members would have had considerable administrative experience, they should be well qualified to select the proper type of national representative to sit on the executive board. The primary function of the executive board would be to select a full-time president, and to assist him in determining the executive policies of the institute. It would be the responsibility of the national commissions to select as members of the executive board, persons who had had experience in working with, and would have personal knowledge of, the type of individual needed for the presidency of the institute.

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--> ADMINISTRATION OF THE INSTITUTE The president might be a scientist; he would have to be sympathetic to, and understand the needs of scientists. It would be desirable that he have experience in science, government, industry, and education. Because his task would be primarily one of securing the continuing support of governments, industry, universities, foundations, professional societies, and research institutions, he would have to be a negotiator, a salesman, and an organizer. A combination of such qualities in one man is rare, and the compensations would have to be maintained on a very high level. However, the challenge of the job itself would probably be more significant in attracting the proper type of person to the job than would large financial gain or prestige. The structure of the institute should reflect the major areas where coordination of activities in storage and retrieval is most needed. Whatever the form of organization, it would have to be flexible, because the problems with which it would be concerned are interrelated. The major needs of scientists suggest an institute with six departments: abstracting, indexing and cataloguing, status of science, translation, library and information centers, devices. The work of each department would be related to and influence that of all others. The abstracting department would have to work closely with the indexing and cataloguing department, and both would be assisted by the translation department. All three would have to cooperate with the status of science department in the development of new approaches to the theory of knowledge, and in the preparation of compendia, reviews, surveys, and other publications designed to help the various levels of scientists keep abreast of their particular fields. These four units would aid the library department in developing better procedures, processes, and equipment for use in scientific libraries all over the world. The devices department would assist and be assisted by all other departments in the development of new equipment for abstracting, indexing, cataloguing, publishing, and physical storage and retrieval in libraries. All departments would cooperate in developing information centers, and every department would have as a continuing function participation in the training of storage and retrieval experts. Financing the institute The palliative measures that are used to solve the problem of storage and retrieval of scientific information are the result, as noted above, of a general belief that there is no likelihood of securing funds commensurate with the job that needs to be done. There is agreement on the need; there is even a wide area of

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--> agreement on what should be done to meet the need. What seems to be lacking, first of all, is a willingness to state the need in terms of money required to tackle the whole problem of storage and retrieval, rather than in terms of the money required for individual bits and pieces of the problem. I am aware that fools step in where wise men fear to tread. Nevertheless, if someone will say that an international institute for scientific information that would provide adequate storage and retrieval of scientific information would cost about $283,350,000 a year, wise men may be willing to refine that estimate and, what is more important, make an effort to induce governments and the scientific community to provide the necessary funds. Listed below is a recapitulation of expenditures for an international institute such as is envisaged in this paper. Annual budget for an international institute for scientific information Administration of the institute   $20,000,000 Abstracting department   Preparation of abstracts $18,750,000 Transmission of abstracts 18,000,000 Publication of abstracts 120,000,000 Research staff, equipment, etc. 10,000,000 $166,750,000 Indexing and cataloguing department     Indexers 3,600,000 Research staff, equipment, etc. 1,000,000 4,600,000 Status of science department     Journals and yearbooks 12,000,000 Compendia and literature improvement 2,000,000 14,000,000 Translation department     Translation 44,000,000 Research and equipment 5,000,000 49,000,000 Devices department     Supply of machines 5,000,000 Development and research 5,000,000 Supply of retrieval systems 10,000,000 20,000.000 Library department     Library schools 2,500,000 Information centers 1,500,000 General assistance to libraries 5,000,000 9,000,000 Total   $283,350,000 An institute having the functions listed would not involve an additional outlay of $283,350,000 because certain existing national expenditures would be credited toward this total. Some readers will immediately contend that $283,350,000 is an “impossible” total. The difficulty in giving an effective answer to this charge lies in the lack of any precise figures that show the cost of the present unintegrated, uncoordinated, unorganized, overlapping, and duplicating system of storage and re-

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--> trieval of scientific information. However, there are some figures available in regard to the cost of science abstracting services that suggest that the above figure might be less than what is now being paid for the inadequate system under which scientists have to operate.15 There are 3400 known abstracting services in the world, and it is improbable that the average cost of each is less than $50,000, or a total of $172,500,000. Chemical Abstracts costs about $1,300,000, and we know that there are at least twenty industrial concerns in the United States alone whose expenditures for abstracting services are closer to $100,000 than to $50,000 a year. It would be surprising if the abstract services of the Soviet Institute for Scientific Information cost less than $5,000,000 a year. The expenditures of the twenty or more governmental units in the United States that do abstracting may be close to that figure. How far from the mark would it be to say that the world now spends $200,000,000 for science abstracting? We do not know what it costs to have no abstracting services at all in the English language in fields such as astronomy and geophysics. Furthermore, we can only guess at the savings that might result, for example, from a reduction in the 450 indexing and abstracting services in the field of medicine16 or from elimination of a portion of the double abstracting of the same material, or from a substantial reduction in the 3400 indexing and abstracting services in the world, or from an amalgamation of some of the 150 abstracting services in the field of physics. Of the things that are known that support the case for a world-wide attack on all phases of the storage and retrieval problem, the most important are the facts that science is international and knows no boundaries and that the problem of storage and retrieval in one country is essentially the same as that in all countries—the difference is only one of degree. Therefore, the attempt of any one country to “put its house in order” is, at best, a second rate answer, because no national science can stand by itself. The development of an effective national storage and retrieval system requires absolutely that the scientific production of other countries be included. The creation of effective systems in any two countries would require that each duplicate almost completely what was done in the other. The creation of effective systems in five countries would make it necessary for each to duplicate most of what was done in the other four. The failure of governments to remedy the situation probably lies in the inertia of politicians in respect to anything that is thought to be non-political. 15   A similar hypothesis may have been in President Eisenhower’s mind on November 7, 1957, when he said that “the mutual sharing of appropriate scientific information” was “one way in which, at no cost (italics mine), we can dramatically and quickly magnify the scientific resources at the disposal of the free world.” New York Times, December 8, 1957. 16   Council on Library Resources, 1st Report, p. 15.

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--> If scientists agree that the problem of storage and retrieval is too big to be handled properly without an assist from government, the problem must be made “political.” Bringing the institute into being If scientists expect politicians to take an interest in science, scientists will have to take an interest in politics. A first step toward making storage and retrieval political might be for a group of national scientific organizations, professional societies, and universities to make a very strong recommendation that an international institute for scientific information be established as quickly as possible. If the range of scientific interests in such a group were broad enough, the extent of their influence, if they really desired to exert it, should bring forth the necessary initial support, which would have to be both political and financial. Political support would almost surely come from politicians who are also statesmen, men who can see that what sometimes appear to be immediate issues of the moment can only be solved by long-range policies and programs. If a group of organizations such as is suggested were convinced that an international institute is needed, it is probable that educational foundations, philanthropic individuals, and industry would provide the funds necessary for the preliminary work required to bring the institute into existence. Is it too much to suppose that a group of foundations, or even one of them, would provide the necessary funds for the preparatory work if it were clear that the scientists of the world believed that an international institute for scientific information is needed, and that it was something toward which they were willing to work?