New Information Vistas

Brian Campbell Vickery

    I would pinpoint 1958 as a special time in my career. I had for some years been working with the Classification Research Group in London, and in 1957 we had held a small but successful conference to which Jesse Shera, Gene Garfield and others had come from the USA. In 1958 I published my first book, Classification and Indexing in Science, and attended the International Conference on Scientific Information in Washington. This was my first visit to the USA - I flew in a US Army transport plane with Cyril Cleverdon. The Conference papers opened up all kinds of new information vistas - in many ways setting the agenda for the ensuing development of the field. I met many interesting people - some who stand out in the memory are Peter Luhn, Mortimer Taube, John O'Connor and Desmond Bernal. The experience of attending the conference, and of other visits I paid at that time, led to the writing of my second book, On Retrieval System Theory. During the conference, Donald Urquhart told me that he would be looking for a Deputy for the developing UK National Lending Library (NLLST), might I be interested? Yes, please! Despite all the excitement of online bibliographic access, in the last resort the provision of actual documents to working scientists is the end-aim of scientific information provision, and in the UK we have always regarded the development of our national science library service as a major achievement.
    I had taken a chemistry degree in 1941, and till I joined Urquhart in 1960 I worked as a chemist and then chemical librarian - first at a government explosives factory, then at Imperial Chemical Industries. Much of my work has been concerned with scientific and technical information. During the 1950s I started to compile a History of Scientific Communication, a work only recently completed, which I hope will soon be published. After leaving the NLLST, I carried out research, development and consultancy for Aslib, and particularly treasure our contributions to the development of the computer information systems of the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux and the House of Commons, work which led me to a third book, on Information Systems.
    I then moved to teaching and research at University College London. Information science defined as the practice of information provision has made enormous strides during the half-century I have been working in the field. But practice needs an underpinning of theory, and I have ever tried to explore and contribute to the development of information science in this second sense, summing up an understanding of it in the book written with my wife, Information Science in Theory and Practice. After retiring from full-time employment, we both had the opportunity of further active work developing online search aids (Journal of Documentation, June 1993).
    In 1945 Desmond Bernal delivered an inspiring paper to an Aslib conference, asserting that 'information service is essential to the progress of science'. I am happy to have been able to make some contribution to its development.

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