A Moment in Time

Melvin S. Day

     For generations scientific Journals and technical book literature have been principal media for communicating scientific, engineering, and medical information. World War II gave the technical report a life of its own even within an environment of controlled access to security-classified information. Nowhere was this limitation more pronounced than on the nation's Manhattan Project (atomic bomb project) from 1942 to 1946. Compartmentalization of information was a way of life for all of us on the project. I knew the details of what I was doing and I knew what my staff was doing. I did not know, nor was I supposed to know, what my immediate management was doing or what my colleagues in other laboratories were doing. The only reports I wrote were to my supervisor. The only reports I read were from my own staff.
     In 1946, Congress voted to establish the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (USAEC) effective January 1, 1947 and to transfer to that civilian agency all of the existing duties of the Manhattan Project being operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. During the War everything on the project was classified. In 1946 the Army decided to declassify as much of this information as possible for the education of the public about atomic energy as well as for the use of the, soon-to-be established, Atomic energy Commission. The Army Corps of Engineers had not issued policies covering the preparation of its Manhattan Project technical reports. As a result, when these technical documents were declassified many did not carry am author's name, dates, pagination, etc. that we take for granted today.
     Concurrent with undertaking the major declassification effort, the Army established a small technical information documentation program to organize the information materials that were declassified and to start cataloging, abstracting, indexing, publishing, announcing, and making them available to the public. Dr. Alberto F. Thompson headed the technical information program and he asked me to join him prior to my discharge from the Army. Bernard Fry became the Chief Librarian and he selected Dr. Israel A. Warheit to direct the program for cataloging, abstracting, and indexing the information materials that would be turned over to the USAEC for its stewardship.
     When the USAEC was formally established, a large number of documents were being declassified. Following a time-honored library practice, a set of catalog cards was distributed to all AEC National Laboratories and AEC contractors for each report distributed by the central technical information office in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Each technical document was indexed in-depth with as many as 16 subject cards included in a single set. Within a relatively short time large backlogs of unfiled cards began to accumulate across the country. The card recipients were literally drowning in catalog cards and the AEC discontinued its practice of issuing catalog cards covering reports. In place of the cards the AEC issued a monthly current awareness tool with indexes entitled Abstracts of Declassified Documents. In the late 1940s this journal was expanded and became Nuclear Science Abstracts with world coverage of all unclassified nuclear science reports, published articles, books and handbooks. Each monthly issue had 4 separate indexes: subject, author, corporate author, and report number. Quarterly, semi-annual and annual indexes were issued shortly after each calendar period that they covered.
     An important moment in time for me was the development of the atomic energy technical report from its elementary form covering government war-time programs in the 1940s to a highly used and valuable medium for communicating scientific and technical information. At the same time (50 years ago) the USAEC developed its precedent-setting abstract journal, Nuclear Science Abstracts, as both a current awareness announcement tool and an in-depth finding tool. In today's electronic world the production systems that we developed, although effective at the time, would now be considered out-of-date and old-fashioned. The story of how the USAEC accomplished this in the 1940s with the use of only electric typewriters and card sorters is a fascinating moment in time but must be left for another day.

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