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Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information: Two Volumes (1959)

Chapter: Training for Scientific Information Work in Great Britain

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Suggested Citation:"Training for Scientific Information Work in Great Britain." National Research Council. 1959. Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information: Two Volumes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10866.
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Training for Scientific Information Work in Great Britain

B.I.PALMER and D.J.FOSKETT

ABSTRACT. The demand for the services of information workers has been met in Britain in various ways, sometimes by secondment from laboratory work and sometimes by extension of the librarian’s function. As many of the Library Association’s members are engaged in special libraries, the Library Association has a natural interest in their training and qualification. The basic techniques of the librarian and the information officer are the same, and the Association’s examination system recognises this. The development of the Library Association’s syllabus since World War II has been directly conditioned by the development of information work, and examples of this are given. The growth of a teaching system correlated with the Association’s syllabus and the extension of this system to specialised applications of librarianship are noted. Aslib’s continuing interest in the education of information officers is also shown, although they have decisively rejected a proposal to establish a separate register of information officers, in the interests of professional solidarity. It is shown that experience leads to the conclusion that the British system of qualification is a valuable and flexible one, and is worthy of study by others, as it brings together workers in all fields of information service, and each gains in strength from this association.

There is no prescribed course of training available in Great Britain for the scientific information officer as such. The demand for such workers has been met in various ways as the need arose within various organisations. In some cases, scientists have found themselves assuming responsibility for this work on behalf of their colleagues, and their subsequent appointment as Information Officers has been a de jure recognition of a de facto circumstance. In other cases, where the organisation concerned already had a library service functioning, the work of the information officer has been regarded as the natural dynamic extension of that of the librarian, and he has carried out the work, with or with-

B.I.PALMER The Library Association, London.

D.J.FOSKETT The Institute of Education, London University, London.

Page 1496 Cite
Suggested Citation:"Training for Scientific Information Work in Great Britain." National Research Council. 1959. Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information: Two Volumes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10866.
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out the addition of the title of Information Officer to his existing title. Yet other cases have occurred where a delimitation of functions has enabled both a librarian and an information officer to work together, the first as a provider and disseminator of information, and the second as a trained user of information services acting as an agent for his scientific colleagues (1). Some would go further and declare that there is no difference at all between a special librarian and an information officer. In discussing a paper at the 20th Aslib Conference held in London, September 1945, Mr. A.B.Agard Evans said:

Mr. Simons was in an elementary but fundamental error in trying to distinguish between a special librarian and an information or intelligence officer. They were precisely the same animal, whatever the local term…. Roughly 99% of information was recorded either in print, typescript, photographs or files. A special librarian collected, classified and indexed the literature and answered questions by means of it; an intelligence officer, on the other hand, found the information he required by consulting the literature he had previously collected and filed. Both used outside sources freely, knowing the limitations of their own (2).

For sixty years the Library Association has been the qualifying body for librarians in the United Kingdom, and for nearly thirty years it has provided, as we shall show, some form of examination in the documentation of science and technology. In recent years a great deal of study and discussion have taken place, and the syllabus of examinations has been continuously modified and improved in this respect.

Many members of the Library Association who are qualified librarians (“Chartered Librarians”) are directing or employed in special libraries devoted to the organisation and dissemination of scientific and technological information. Careful examination of the kinds of work they engage in, and comparison with that of librarians working in other fields, leads us to conclude that there are certain basic techniques common to workers in all kinds of libraries, and that these are susceptible to development to meet the varying needs of different kinds of libraries. These techniques are (1) organisation of knowledge through schemes of systematic classification, through catalogues and through indexing, (2) the dispensing of information in response to enquiries, through enquiry techniques and bibliographical research, (3) the dissemination of information in anticipation of needs through a study of the work of the research staff, the preparation of displays, bibliographies, abstracts, and so on, up to and including full-scale literature surveys, (4) the organisation of an integrated library and information service, to deploy staff and resources to achieve these ends.

On the basis of a satisfactory examination result after study of these techniques and practical in-service training, a general qualification in librarianship

Page 1497 Cite
Suggested Citation:"Training for Scientific Information Work in Great Britain." National Research Council. 1959. Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information: Two Volumes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10866.
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is granted, that is, election to the Register of Chartered Librarians in the category of Associate, or Chartered Librarian.

Not unnaturally, the examinations have tended always to pre-occupation with that branch of the library service which was developing at the time of the formulation of the syllabus. The great extension of scientific information work since World War II, and the corresponding increase in the numbers of workers in research and industrial libraries, have brought about a concentration of attention on those parts of the syllabus which have ceased to cater adequately for these workers.

Very soon after World War II, despite the very recent introduction of a new syllabus of examinations in 1946, the Library Association set up a syllabus subcommittee to review the syllabus in the light of developing post-war conditions, and invited representatives of all interests in the library and information field, including Aslib. The result was an improved syllabus (3) effective from 1950 onwards, making greater provision for specialised alternatives in the Final Examination, which is subsequent to the general (Registration) examination which qualifies Associates. Some idea of the development in the last 25 years can be gained from Tables 1 and 2.

It will be noted that one of the subjects listed under Table 1, column 3, has 1959 as the date of implementation against it. This subject “The Presentation and Dissemination of Information” was first projected about 1952–1953, when it was the subject of discussion by the Reference and Special Section of the Library Association. It was adopted as part of the syllabus in 1957, and comes into effect after a statutory 2-year period which allows teaching bodies time to provide the appropriate courses. There follows an outline of the syllabus for “Presentation and Dissemination of Information.”

Presentation of ideas, including composition, style and language, readership, choice of material. Types of publications: reviews, house journals, annual reports, etc. Methods of reproduction and printing of foregoing. Editing, including law of libel. Preparation for the press. Copyright in dissemination. Abstracting and the form of abstract journals, preparation of reports and publicity materials. Collation of abstracts with originals. The principles and practice of indexing in special libraries, and the recent developments in mechanical and electronic methods.

Some specimen questions based on this syllabus are as follows.

  1. How would you ensure that confidential information was widely and rapidly disseminated through an organisation of 500 people in three establishments, a headquarters and two branches?

  2. You are preparing an accessions list for a circulation of 1,000. What method of reproduction would you use, and why?

  3. Draw up a set of instructions for the use of a body of abstract translators dealing with a chosen subject or group of subjects.

Page 1498 Cite
Suggested Citation:"Training for Scientific Information Work in Great Britain." National Research Council. 1959. Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information: Two Volumes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10866.
×
  1. What is the current position in this country regarding (a) fair copying and (b) protection of patents?

  2. What is meant by Prof. R.O.Kapp’s term “functional writing?” Discuss its implications for the dissemination of information in a particular organisation.

TABLE 1 Examinations in alternative subjects available to librarians in specialised fields

Examination

1930

1945

1950

Registration

Literature of Science

 

Literature of Social & Political ideas

Final

Literary History of Science

Literary History of Economics & Commerce

Indexing & Abstracting

University & Special Library Administration

The Literature of Philosophy & Religion

Social Science

Science & Technology

Fine Arts

Music

Medicine

Advanced Classification & Cataloguing

Administration of Special Libraries & Information Bureaux

The Literature & Librarianship of Philosophy & Religion

Social Sciences

Science & Technology (general)

Mathematical & Physical Sciences

Chemistry & Chemical technology

Natural History & Biological Sciences, pure & applied

Engineering & Building technology

Fine Arts

Music

Medicine

History & Archaeology

Linguistics & History and Theory of Literature

Administration of Special Libraries & Information Bureaux

Advanced Classification and Cataloguing

Presentation & Dissemination of Information (from 1959)

TABLE 2 Numbers of candidates taking the special alternatives in the Registration Examination

Examination

1950

1957

Literature of Science and Technology

10

44

Literature of Social and Political Science

24

57

Page 1499 Cite
Suggested Citation:"Training for Scientific Information Work in Great Britain." National Research Council. 1959. Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information: Two Volumes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10866.
×

In 1955, as a result of a resolution passed by the Aslib Conference at Nottingham in September 1953, proposals were adopted for the setting up of a joint committee of representatives of the Library Association and Aslib to consider ways in which the Library Association’s Syllabus could be made to suit more fully the needs of research library and information workers. With certain points of difference between the two bodies unresolved, there was produced a suggested syllabus which sought to provide a core of general librarianship, somewhat less detailed than the present Registration Examination, and a series of alternative papers in special techniques and subject fields. The general formula for library studies in special subject fields reads as follows:

The standard works and editions. Sources of literature, e.g., societies and Government Departments. Special types of literature where applicable: “Handbücher,” monographs, reviews of progress, catalogues of specimens, log books, maps, tables, sound recordings, etc. Evaluation and selection of material. Policy of book selection as determined by clientele and cooperative provision. Methods of acquisition.

Bibliographical apparatus. Bibliographies of bibliography, guides to literature, standard bibliographies, library catalogues, bibliographies to books and articles, indexing and abstracting services, surveys, guides to libraries.

Treatment of the subject in the principal general classification schemes, and in any special schemes. Special problems of classification and cataloguing thrown up by the subject field.

Outstanding collections in the field, their contents, special features, and availability.

Exploitation of a library in the field. Assistance to readers, display, production of booklists, literature surveys. Dissemination of information.

Using this suggested syllabus (4) as a basis, the Library Association’s own Syllabus Sub-Committee is now meeting regularly with the object of completely revising the existing syllabus, to bring it even more into line with current needs of libraries, including scientific and research libraries.

The existence of a syllabus of examinations leading to a qualification offering professional status has called into being a considerable teaching system, nationwide in its provision (3). The natural home for such teaching in Britain is the Technical College, which already has a tradition of tuition for external examinations, including university degrees. This institution is a flexible one, being willing to provide either full or part time courses, according to demand. It can use the services of practising librarians as part-time teachers, and can provide a course on any subject if more than a handful of students are forthcoming. There are now 9 such institutions offering full and part time courses in preparation for the Library Association’s examinations, and a further 38 offering part time courses only. Additionally there are frequent part-time and specialist courses held by such institutions, using the lecturing staff assembled for teach-

Page 1500 Cite
Suggested Citation:"Training for Scientific Information Work in Great Britain." National Research Council. 1959. Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information: Two Volumes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10866.
×

ing in connection with the Library Association’s examinations. Examples are those provided by the North Western Polytechnic, London, in the Literature of Science; and by Manchester College of Science and Technology in Special Librarianship and Information Work, and in Textile Information Work.

This last has been conducted in co-operation with Aslib, which has long concerned itself with the training of information officers (5): indeed, Aslib annually offers a short “first aid” course for junior information officers and workers in special libraries, and from time to time has also provided short refresher courses of about a week’s duration for senior workers in the field. It intends to develop this side of its work considerably in the future; the last Aslib conference, however, decisively rejected a proposal to establish a Register of Information Officers, as a qualification gained by examination, or the equivalent.

This factual picture of the situation with regard to the education, training and qualification of those engaged on scientific information work in Britain is offered as an example of what can be done by professional associations to encourage the study of documentation techniques. All the experience of the Library Association (and of other British professional associations) goes to show that the offer of a definite qualification leading to professional status, based partly on an examination upon a published syllabus, has a stimulating effect upon education for the profession. If every country has not the same teaching facilities to hand, the system is flexible enough to lend itself to any circumstances. It should here be pointed out that the Library Association examines in many countries overseas the candidates preparing themselves by correspondence or private study. The correspondence courses of the Association of Assistant Librarians have done valuable and world-wide work in training students in out-of-the-way places for general library work. Professional associations in other countries might find such courses a useful addition to their own endeavours.

Our experience has convinced us that the profession of librarian and information officer is one, using the same kinds of materials and techniques, even if not always in the same way. We also believe that, contrary to what is sometimes maintained, there is no characteristic peculiar to scientific literature that necessitates a distinct profession in that field (6). The services given to scientists by librarians, information officers, literature chemists, etc., are no less needed in other fields of knowledge, and will without any doubt develop in a similar manner. Yet it is likely that the profession will never be great in numbers, and while we may recognise many variations in both the pattern of organisation and the particular subjects studied in libraries, we cannot feel that complete fragmentation in professional education is possible or desirable (7).

The pattern of qualification evolved over nearly three quarters of a century

Page 1501 Cite
Suggested Citation:"Training for Scientific Information Work in Great Britain." National Research Council. 1959. Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information: Two Volumes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10866.
×

of discussion and practice by the Library Association has much to recommend it, since it brings together workers in all fields of information service, and each gains in strength from this association. We suggest that professional bodies concerned with documentation in other countries might well be able to benefit from this experience in establishing standards, and building up a system of education to meet them.

REFERENCES

1. The Library Association. Memorandum on the rank and status of special librarians and information officers, priv. circ., 1949.

2. The Association of Special Libraries and Information Bureaux. Report of the Proceedings of the Twentieth Conference, London, 1945, p. 60.

3. The Library Association. Students’ Handbook. Annually, January.

4. The Library Association Record, March, 1957, pp. 97–99.

5. WILSON, L. The education of the information officer in the United Kingdom, in Congrés international de bibliothèques et de centres de documentation, vol. IIB, Nijhoff, La Haye, 1955.

6. FARRADANE, J. Professional education of the information scientist. Ibid.

7. STOKES, R.R. Education for librarianship. Ibid.

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Suggested Citation:"Training for Scientific Information Work in Great Britain." National Research Council. 1959. Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information: Two Volumes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10866.
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Page 1495 Cite
Suggested Citation:"Training for Scientific Information Work in Great Britain." National Research Council. 1959. Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information: Two Volumes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10866.
×
Page 1495
Page 1496 Cite
Suggested Citation:"Training for Scientific Information Work in Great Britain." National Research Council. 1959. Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information: Two Volumes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10866.
×
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Page 1497 Cite
Suggested Citation:"Training for Scientific Information Work in Great Britain." National Research Council. 1959. Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information: Two Volumes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10866.
×
Page 1497
Page 1498 Cite
Suggested Citation:"Training for Scientific Information Work in Great Britain." National Research Council. 1959. Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information: Two Volumes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10866.
×
Page 1498
Page 1499 Cite
Suggested Citation:"Training for Scientific Information Work in Great Britain." National Research Council. 1959. Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information: Two Volumes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10866.
×
Page 1499
Page 1500 Cite
Suggested Citation:"Training for Scientific Information Work in Great Britain." National Research Council. 1959. Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information: Two Volumes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10866.
×
Page 1500
Page 1501 Cite
Suggested Citation:"Training for Scientific Information Work in Great Britain." National Research Council. 1959. Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information: Two Volumes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10866.
×
Page 1501
Page 1502 Cite
Suggested Citation:"Training for Scientific Information Work in Great Britain." National Research Council. 1959. Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information: Two Volumes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10866.
×
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The launch of Sputnik caused a flurry of governmental activity in science information. The 1958 International Conference on Scientific Information (ICSI) was held in Washington from Nov.16-21 1958 and sponsored by NSF, NAS, and American Documentation Institute, the predecessor to the American Society for Information Science. In 1959, 20,000 copies of the two volume proceedings were published by NAS and included 75 papers (1600 pages) by dozens of pioneers from seven areas such as:

  • Literature and reference needs of scientists
  • Function and effectiveness of A & I services
  • Effectiveness of Monographs, Compendia, and Specialized Centers
  • Organization of information for storage and search: comparative characteristics of existing systems
  • Organization of information for storage and retrospective search: intellectual problems and equipment considerations
  • Organization of information for storage and retrospective search: possibility for a general theory
  • Responsibilities of Government, Societies, Universities, and industry for improved information services and research.

It is now an out of print classic in the field of science information studies.

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