Organizing Scientific Information after Sputnik
As I think back over the early days of information
science, when I was at the National Science Foundation, the memorable "moment"
that first comes to mind occurred right after the 1957 launching of Sputnik.
I was startled one evening to hear Eric Sevareid in his 11 PM radio broadcast
describe the Soviet Union's All-Union Institute of Scientific and Technical
Information and its coverage of the world's scientific and technical literature.
He contrasted it with the Office of Technical Services, in the Department
of Commerce, and its abstract journal, U.S. Government Research Reports.
He apparently did not know that in the U.S. scientists and engineers relied
on abstracting and indexing services covering their fields, such as Chemical
Abstracts, Biological Abstracts, and Index Medicus.
The subcommittee's work resulted in a report of the President's Science
Advisory Committee, "Improving the Availability of Scientific and Technical
Information in the United States." It was issued by the White House on
December 7, 1958, with a press release stating that "the President today
approved a plan designed to help meet the critical needs of the Nation's
scientists and engineers for better access to the rapidly mounting volume
of scientific publication." The President directed that NSF take the leadership
in bringing about effective coordination of scientific information activities
within the Federal Government. Our mission was thus made clear.
NSF promptly announced, on December 11, 1958, the establishment of a Science Information Service, its objective to extend the Foundation's existing science information programs in order to carry out the President's objective. To oversee development of this expanded effort a Science Information Council was named with representation from Federal agencies and private scientific organizations.
I might add that this memorable year was made still busier by NSF's participation in organizing the large International Conference on Scientific and Technical Information, which was held in Washington, November 16 to 21, 1958. It was sponsored Jointly by NSF, the National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council, and the American Documentation Institute (predecessor of the ASIS). The conference was conceived three years earlier by members of ADI. I served on the program committee with responsibility for organizing and summarizing Area 1 ("Literature and Reference Needs of Scientists") of the seven areas on which sessions were held. The proceedings were published in two volumes by NAS-NRC in 1959.
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