Prolific Abstractors

Madeline M. (Berry) Henderson

    In the early- to mid- 1950s there were three innovative approaches to the task of managing science information resources. In one, Calvin Mooers called for the application of "descriptors" to documents, and their coding by random numbers and superimposed punching on edge-notched cards. The random number codes and superimposed punches would cut down on false drops. Mortimer Taube proposed the use of unit terms, found in documents, to be recorded on individual cards, with document numbers listed on the appropriate term cards. Searches involved combining or coordinating terms to define desired subjects, and matching common document numbers on the selected cards. James Perry and his team of Perry, Berry, and Kent believed that the meanings of index terms or subject headings needed to be made explicit, and proposed expressing the semantic elements or "factors" of such terms. They also described use of brief "telegraphic" abstracts to express document contents.
    Each of the three innovators documented their approaches: Mooers issued Zator Company Technical Bulletins, while Taube published five volumes of his Studies in Coordinate Indexing. But neither matched the output of Perry, Berry, and Kent. We appeared in Chemical and Engineering News and in American Documentation, we conducted conferences and edited their proceedings, we published books on machine literature searching and on the use of punched cards. We were so prolific that we inspired Si Newman to compose a limerick. (Simon Newman was a chemist at the U. S. Patent office, active in early efforts to automate patent searching procedures.) Si wrote:

    Perry, Berry, and Kent
    Reannounce the self-same event.
    Their abstracts in miniature
    Cover the world's literature
    Recently doubled by Perry, Berry, and Kent!

    It was a fun time, an exciting time to be active in the field, and I am glad to have been part of it.

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