A Career Turning Point

Claire Schultz


    One of the significant moments in my career was the day John Mauchly, co-inventor of the Univac computer, came to visit me at Merck, Sharp and Dohme, in 1953. We first met a few days earlier, at the Welch Library Conference on information retrieval, at Johns Hopkins University.
    Mortimer Taube spoke at the evening session of the Conference. He described his manual "Uniterm" system. I had not heard of it before, and found some of his statements ill founded: I said so when it was time for audience participation. Emcee, Ralph Shaw of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Library took me to task, saying that I did not show proper respect for Taube's insights as a logician. Dr. Mauchly responded in defense of what I had said and thereby became "my hero."
    Returning to Philadelphia by train, Dr. Mauchly chose to sit with me, to hear more about the Merck, Sharp and Dohme retrieval system to which I referred when I answered Taube. He knew Calvin Mooers, so understood the random, superimposed coding system I had described. He was interested in how we sorted our coded cards via the IBM 101 Electronic Statistical Machine, which had recently come on the market. At the end of the conversation, Dr. Mauchly said he would visit my library [not far from where he lived] so he could experience its operation.
    On his arrival, he chose the subject for the search--treatment of anemia in human beings. We focused on the auxiliary panel board, which accommodated codes for up to four search terms per question, and allowed for "and", "or" and "not" connectives among them, without having to change any wiring of the machine between questions. Cards fed through the sorter, were deposited in separate pockets of the machine, according to which descriptors the cards contained. At one point, Dr. Mauchly asked where I had learned Boolean algebra. I answered that I had not heard of Boolean algebra. He chuckled and said that I had absorbed it somehow, and was using it to good advantage. He added that he had thirty people working for him who were solving numerical problems by computer. He needed someone who could work with language problems. Could I come work with him?
    My response was that I did not know a thing about computers. He replied that he could teach me. He said he did not know much about information retrieval, but that together we could do some very important work. My next response was that the system he was viewing was in its infancy and it would not survive, if I left. He said he understood. Would I signal if I ever wanted to change jobs? Three years later I signaled and he hired me.
 
 

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