Scientific Documentation in France
The French Scientific Research National Center (CNRS) created, at the beginning of 1940, a documentation service; during the war period, before the invasion of France by the German armies, it was necessary to point out quickly to the laboratories the articles which had appeared in scientific and technical journals that were very difficult to get on account of the war and eventually to provide the laboratories with photographic reproductions of the articles they were interested in.
During the dark war years, while our laboratories lacked most journals and bibliographical reviews such as Physical Abstracts and Chemical Abstracts, the documentation center was of great help in publishing its bibliographical journal and in providing microfilms from the few journals which reached Paris. It was during those years, when France was isolated, that our scientists became well aware of the sharp necessity to have at hand an efficient documentation service. We had too few scientists and engineers to permit them to lose time and money in solving problems of which the solutions had already been found elsewhere or in building apparatus already out of date.
The documentation center is always continuing its development. At the present time buildings are being constructed which will be large enough for its different services with their 150 full-time workers and 500 part-time workers.
The organization of this center is unusual. I believe it was the first center in the world to associate many different documentation activities which are usually separated, and to include the wide range of all the sciences and all the techniques. Scientists, that is, in the end, users, are responsible for the center’s organization and are in charge of it. In France and elsewhere, such a system has often been criticized. Before I describe it in detail, I should like to present some of the principles and motives that have guided us.
J.WYART Faculty of Sciences, University of Paris at the Sorbonne.
The aims of the Center
The Center of Documentation is available to scientists and applied research engineers in every field from pure mathematics to biology. It makes, day by day, a complete and superficial survey of the content of certain journals. This enables the scientists to mark the papers that interest them, the patents not included, and to make a quicker and better bibliography.
In France the discontinuance of most bibliographical reviews published by scientific societies has helped this new organization and increased funds and more efficiency have been some of the results.
The Center of Documentation was conceived only for scientists and engineers, and not for teachers who need a complete summary written with a critical mind and who must not read the whole article. On the contrary, the scientist is a specialist whose documentary needs are more precise.
The encyclopedic character of our Center has been brought about by the nature of modern scientific work. More and more the scientist has become a specialist, but this does not mean that he is isolated from the other fields of science. Take for instance the case of the crystallographer who specializes in the study of solid state by means of x-rays. He uses in his laboratory the most modern equipment and the best mathematical tools. A score of years ago, this crystallographer would have studied mainly minerals; nowadays, not only mineralogists and geologists, but also chemists, physicists in every field, metallurgists, and biologists will come to him for help in certain problems. In turn, he will need them for his own problems.
Thus scientists are more specialized, but have become, at the same time, more diversified and more in need of each other. The papers they are interested in are now to be found in a great number of periodicals. Not so long ago a physicist needed only to look through a score of journals. For instance, the electron microscope specialist, a so-called physicist, now has to consult a number of important physical, chemical, crystallographical, metallurgical, and biological reviews.
Another aspect of the specialization and of the more universal character of the scientists comes from the drastic change in their relationship with industry. The barriers between pure and applied research have collapsed. It is well known that the most theoretical discovery is followed closely by industrial applications, and Nobel prize laureates come often from industrial laboratories. This shows that the need for documentation is the same for both scientists and engineers.
The Center of Documentation of the CNRS offers the following services: a
library, a bulletin of abstracts (Bulletin Signalétique), a bibliographical research service, a translation service, a photographic reproduction service.
The Library is only concerned with scientific periodicals from all over the world, 7,000 in all, obtained by subscription or exchange. It also receives complimentary copies from scientific publishers from all over the world. These books are mentioned in the Bulletin, after which they are turned over to university libraries or CNRS laboratories.
Owing to its large coverage, the library can provide the most important journal in every field and since it is not a lending library, visitors are always sure to find these journals.
Each year, we add subscriptions, and soon the total number of our collection will reach 15,000. When the new buildings of the Center of Documentation are finished, the Library will have a large reading room for document consultation. Moreover, because of the difficulties encountered in the printing of scientific and technical works, often impossible to reproduce completely and therefore lost for scientific information, the Center of Documentation has been led to offer to scientific workers the opportunity of keeping their manuscripts free of charge in its Library. These works are mentioned in the Bulletin and, as for articles, microfilm reproductions may be had on demand.
Publications of the Center of Documentation
In order to inform scientific workers and specialized documentation services of the content of main journals, the Center of Documentation reproduces their tables of contents, and publishes a 35-mm microfilm monthly review called Revue mensuelle des Sommaires des principaux périodiques scientifiques et techniques, which covers about 300 periodicals in such fields as physics, chemistry, and biology.
However, the main publication of the CNRS documentation center remains the bulletin of abstracts, which in a standard format of 21 cm by 27 cm was given the title, in 1956, Bulletin Signalétique, instead of Bulletin Analytique. The new name fits the concept of the publication better, since essentially it was designed for rapid information in all branches and therefore is concerned only with brief summaries of articles.
The Bulletin is divided into three parts:
Part I, Mathematics, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, Sciences of the Earth
Part II, Biological Sciences, Pathology, Pharmacology, Food Industry, Agriculture
Part III, Philosophy, Religious Sciences, Esthetics, Arts, History of Sciences and Technology, Psychology, Pedagogy, Sociology, Sciences of Languages
Part I and Part II are monthly publications. Part III is a quarterly. Each part of the Bulletin contains an Author Index, and each year, three indexes are issued. The three parts of the Bulletin are subdivided into sections printed separately.
Part I is divided into eight sections:
Section I, Pure and Applied Mathematics, Mechanics, Mathematical Physics
Section II, Astronomy and Astrophysics, Physics of the Globe
Section III, Physics in general, Acoustics, Thermodynamics, Heat, Optics, Electricity, and Magnetism
Section IV, Corpuscular Physics, Structure of Matter
Section V, General Chemistry and Physical Chemistry
Section VI, Inorganic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Applied Chemistry, Metallurgy
Section VII, Engineering
Section VIII, Mineralogy, Petrography, Geology, Paleontology
Part II is divided into four sections:
Section IX, Biochemistry, Biophysics, Pharmacological Sciences, Toxicology
Section X, Microbiology, Immunology
Section XI, Animal Biology, Genetics, Vegetal Biology
Section XII, Agriculture, Phytopharmacology, Food Industries
Part III is divided into two sections:
History of Sciences and Technics
On account of the quality of its information, several scientific societies have decided to adopt the Bulletin, or part of it, for their own bibliographical research. Such are the International Union of Astronomy, the Geological Society of France, the American Crystallographic Association, and the International Union for History of Sciences, which all subscribe for the sections of the Bulletin corresponding to their own branches.
The Bulletin differs in its principles from most of the actual bibliographical reviews. The abstracts consist of a title in the original language and its translation in French, followed by a summary expressing the content of the article in several brief sentences in telegraphic style. This abstract is considered sufficient for a specialist to see immediately whether he is interested in reading the entire
article, since even with the most complete analysis, the scientist might still wish to consult the original document.
These abstracts must always be only factual. They must not be a reflection of the abstractor’s opinion or just a copy of the writer’s summary which appears at the head of most articles in periodicals, because authors usually emphasize some new results in such summaries, and leave in the background points of view which may be of great interest to other scientific workers. The abstractor never has to decide whether it is worth while to abstract the article, and the scientific workers can be assured that all the articles in periodicals chosen at the beginning of the year will be analysed.
Not all of the numerous periodicals in our Library are abstracted. This will always be impossible, since a too-voluminous Bulletin would be soon unconsultable. For this reason we are reducing our abstracts and are using, as often as possible, only brief sentences. Moreover, this offers the possibility of an easier codification in the near future. In 1957 the Bulletin published 163,125 abstracts compared with 22,670 in 1940.
Three different services, working separately, and corresponding to three parts of the Bulletin undertake its editing. (1) As soon as the periodicals have been registered in the Library, they are transmitted to the chief editor of each service, who distributes them to the abstractors and supervises their work. Each month a specialist is responsible for the classification of the abstracts within each section of the Bulletin. When all the periodicals have been completely abstracted, they are returned to the Library. (2) A common central secretariat assumes the technical preparation of the manuscript and sends it to the printer. (3) The staff of 300 abstractors is composed of full-time specialists and scientists depending on the CNRS, or having an agreement with it. A delay of 5 months is anticipated between the arrival of the periodicals and the publication of the Bulletin.
Subscriptions are annual. In 1957, the CNRS Center of Documentation recorded 7,135 subscriptions for the Bulletin or its different sections.
The Bulletin staff is composed of 3 chief editors, 3 editors, 1 editorial secretary, 83 sections heads (47 for Part I, 23 for Part II, and 13 for Part III), 300 abstractors, and 20 laboratories or organizations collaborating with the Bulletin.
Bibliographical research service
At the beginning of each month, the Bulletin provides carefully classified abstracts, but it is not very convenient for retrospective bibliographical research because it has no detailed subject index, because first it would be difficult
to make a good index, and secondly, such an index would soon become unusable. The main difficulty comes from the need to choose two or three words out of the twelve or fifteen ideas that make an abstract. This choice, necessarily somewhat arbitrary, has to be made by good scientists for whom it would be a loss of time. Furthermore, such indexes soon become unusable as they would be much too voluminous and expensive. Most laboratories, in France, make use of the Chemical Abstracts index which achieves a kind of perfection in this domain. Every year the index is bigger. The decennial index for the years 1947–1956 contains 19 volumes and 21,500 pages. If nothing changes, it will contain 30 volumes and 30,000 pages in 1966, provided they do not cover more than a few of the 1,000 Russian scientific and technical periodicals and no Chinese at all, which is highly improbable.
This is the reason why, a few years ago, the Center of Documentation started a bibliographical research service to cope with the problem created by the ever growing number of scientific publications. This service will develop greatly in years to come. Every notion appearing in an abstract is translated into code language. This enables a much less voluminous classification; the selection does not have to be made by a specialist any more—a machine does the job. Thus a scientist will be able to subscribe to the bibliography of his specialty, and every month he will receive the abstracts related to it. It will also be possible to provide the past bibliography of any problem.
The most interesting task of the translation service is to coordinate all the translations made in different French centers. The Center publishes a monthly review of translations and, thanks to a punched card system, can give rapid information as to the existence of a translation and where it can be found. There is also a staff of translators.
Photographical reproduction service
This service provides a photographic reproduction of any scientific article, most often in the form of a 35-mm microfilm delivered in 22-cm long strips which correspond to ten pages. A great number of articles can thus be filed easily, and the scientists can have at hand a very specialized library. Every laboratory now has microfilm readers. The Center can provide reproductions of articles published either in any one of the 7,000 periodicals in its own Library or in journals stored in a hundred other Parisian libraries (for instance, articles published before 1940). The service also has a staff of highly qualified librarians
who can complete or correct bibliographical references. The number of reproductions made by the Center is high: in 1956, 2,322,300 microfilm pages and 158,000 pages of paper reproduction were delivered, 60% of them to industrial laboratories. International agreements have been made with 17 countries to exchange microfilms. In 1956, the Center received 39,160 pages of microfilm, and sent 85,558 pages abroad.
In my description of the different activities of the CNRS in the documentation field, I have tried to emphasize the vital importance of this information service in the fight of all scientists, both in universities and in industry, for better development of the country’s economy. This requires close cooperation with other documentation centers in France. Three hundred such centers have been registered and most of them are well organised and efficient in their field. Already, several centers are working in collaboration with the CNRS; 100 of them constitute a “translation pool,” others contribute to the publication of the Bulletin, for instance, the CNET (Centre National d’Etudes des Télécommunications); the CDS (le Centre de la Sidérurgie); l’Institut du Pétrole, des Charbonnages de France, de l’Institut Textile de France, de la Fonderie, de la Céramique, des Sociétés Air Liquide, Kodak.
On the international scale, through the ICSU abstracting board (Bureau des résumés analytiques du Conseil des Unions scientifiques internationales), relations have been established with the American, British, German, Russian, and French bibliographical reviews abstracting boards, in the fields of physics, chemistry, and soon biology.
Only international cooperation and mechanisation of the usual means of registration and research will solve the problem of an ever increasing scientific literature all over the world, and allow scientific workers to avail themselves of maximum information.
I think also that the International Scientific Unions can play a prominent part in editing high standard journals and bibliographies. Thus the International Union of Crystallography edits Acta Crystallographica with an international editorial board. The material in the papers submitted to referees must be original and must not have been previously published in any language. For retrospective bibliography this Union publishes an annual book entitled Structure Reports where the results published in the crystallographic field during the year are presented in normal form and in a critical spirit. It is beyond doubt that, in the near future, such international cooperation in the editing of scientific and bibliographic journals will become more and more important.