Creation of an International Center of Scientific Information
Because of the rapid progress of human knowledge, we produce a considerable quantity of documents. The increasing number of scientific books, the increase of specialized periodicals, and the accelerated rate at which international conferences and colloquies are being organized render the work of those who devote themselves to scientific research, an essential part of which consists in retrieving information indispensable to the progress of their work, more difficult every day. Some progress has been made in the field of documentation since the last century, but it should be recognized that the means which we possess no longer meet the requirements of the new disciplines.
The reasons for adapting methods of abstracting, classification, and dissemination of scientific documents to these requirements appear on reading the proceedings of discussions by the most eminent specialists. Certain of their discussions have already borne fruit. The effort of simplification and rationalization accomplished in the area of terminology, abbreviations, and scientific symbols, in the improvement of methods of classification and selection of information, the measures suggested in the conclusions of the International Conference on science abstracting, the agreement established among the editors of several large abstracting journals, the development of translation services, in short, the work of world-wide cooperation accomplished by the International Council of Scientific Unions—all are evidence.
Nevertheless, in spite of the increase of information centers in all countries (apart from the Centre National directed by Professor Wyart, there are more than three hundred in France), our methods of documentation remain imperfect, and every day the necessity to improve them by establishing close cooperation among the specialized services is felt more and more.
To meet this need, would it not be wise to unite our effort by setting up an international center as coordinator of all documentation services?
Although it is difficult initially to delimit with precision the immense field of
PAUL BOQUET Institut Pasteur, Paris.
activity of such an institution nevertheless we shall try to state briefly its main functions and to define its relations with other information services. In short, without minimizing the difficulty of the problem we are raising, we shall examine some of the indispensable conditions for the foundation and development of this institution.
The facts drawn by researchers out of the documents at their disposal are of various kinds. Some are analytic. They include indicative cards, abstracts of articles, of theses, and of scientific works, indexes, tables of contents, lists of periodicals, texts translated from one language into another, and finally, journals devoted to the publication of summaries. Others are synthetic. These include synoptic accounts, monographs, general reviews followed by extended bibliographies, and reports in extenso of conferences or symposia dedicated to the study of a particular problem. Still others are of a technical character. They are concerned with scientific apparatus and patents.
The activity of the international center would consist not only of gathering, reproducing, and disseminating information but also of close cooperation with all documentation services. Each service or each national or local center sending to the international institution information published in its own country, would get in exchange documents of foreign origin translated into one of the officially adopted languages. Thus the abstracts of the scientific texts, published in each country (abstracts written by professional abstractors, author abstracts, homotopic abstracts, or indicative abstracts, according to the circumstances), collected, classified, and translated into several languages through the efforts of the international center, would be distributed among the editing committees of all abstracting journals.
Technical information, especially that concerning scientific apparatus, would be collected and then distributed by a similar procedure.
Because of the quality of the information contained in the monographs and periodicals devoted to the discussion of current problems or to the publication of reviews, the international center will have the responsibility of publishing versions of these publications in several languages in order to encourage their propagation and diffusion.
In the same line of thought, conferences and symposia organized through this institution, would, at regular intervals, bring together the specialists of the most diverse fields of scientific disciplines.
The proceedings of these meetings would be published by the international center. This organization, in short, would meet the desire of all scientists if it contributed to the establishment of links between scientific research centers, no matter how distant they might be, not only by asking for exchanges of documents, but also by placing at the disposal of the scientific public a directory of
these services and lists of specialists. In this regard we will mention as an example the directory of laboratories recently published in France, under the direction of M.Bayen and H.Weiss, by the national office of French universities and schools.
The accumulation of materials by the international center would make indispensable the use of improved methods of classification, selection, and reproduction of documents. We shall not attempt to enumerate these methods here, or to summarize the discussions which they raised, but, in order to explain our idea, we shall quote the opinion of H.Coblans who writes:
Even if not immediately profitable or feasible, some form of automation in the long run is one of the most likely remedies for the documentation chaos already engulfing us (Unesco Bulletin for Libraries 11, 11 (July 1957).
We do not doubt that some have certain reservations concerning the value of electronic devices, but we hope that the continuing improvement in devices will contribute to the spread of their use for registration, classification, selection, and translation of scientific information, and will thus place all sources of cybernetics at the disposal of the international center.
The purpose of the bibliographical services within this institution would be to perfect its multiple functions in close cooperation with similar services of other centers and of those of industries whose activities are related to it. The same services would be in charge of standardizing bibliographical methods and improving the procedures for the dissemination of information in solving the problem raised ten years ago by Professor Bernal about a possible eventual reform of the structure of scientific periodicals and the method of their distribution.
Thus guided by its own bibliographical services, enriched by documents arriving from all countries and invigorated by continuous exchanges the international center of information would be called to play an essential role in the development of scientific research.
How to establish such a center, in the actual circumstances
It is difficult to imagine the creation of an entirely new organization which would impose on each nation a heavy financial burden, but we may justifiably imagine that the institutions founded with the purpose of establishing international cooperation in the field of scientific culture would respond to the appeal addressed to them. I will cite Unesco, whose Director-General at its General Conference at New Delhi saw it entrusted with the task of encouraging the organizations that were founded for the purpose of developing and improving documentation methods.
In a recent report Dr. Bentley Glass suggested that this institution, the Inter-
national Council of Scientific Unions, the International Union of Biological Sciences, the International Organization of Medical Sciences, and the individual biological societies should be invited to give financial help to the abstracting journals in order to allow them to participate in the vast plan of cooperation that he presented. The cooperation of these foundations, that of the World Health Organization and various scientific societies would be necessary for the creation of the international information center, but it is doubtful whether these institutions, solicited from all sides, would be able to furnish sufficient material aid. For that reason it is necessary to consider appealing to the resources of organizations whose prosperity is closely tied to the development of scientific research. A contribution from industry would place at the disposal of the information center financial means commensurate with the work to be accomplished.
On the other hand, it would be desirable to persuade countries to abolish customs duties and lower postal rates for anything related to the exchange of scientific documents.
One might object that those governments with the greatest financial resources might exercise an overwhelming influence within the international organization. It must be admitted, however, that the constitution of this institution would have to assure its moral independence.
We may equally object that the collecting of documents by an omnipotent organization and the standardization of scientific information methods could, after a short time, bring about the disappearance of ancient institutions. Certainly the development of the international center would render obsolete manual methods of documentation, but we may hope that the innovators would avoid any destructive revolutions by obtaining the collaboration of all existing organizations which will adapt their activities and techniques to the new system of exchange. In order to obtain coherent teamwork, it would be useful to define and coordinate the activities of these organizations. Thus learned societies, scientific institutions, universities, certain government departments, and industrial research centers would be called upon to cooperate, in each country, in order to render effective these innovations, to assure a rational division of work among the information services, and to establish an efficient control over this work.
One might finally allege that a center with the purpose of establishing international cooperation in the field of scientific information would see its role rapidly restricted by strategic reasons imposed by the circumstances. There can be no doubt that today frontiers restrict several fields of science and interrupt the exchange of documents, but other fields, e.g., medicine, biology, and the related sciences are widely open and lend themselves to the fundamental experi-
ment that the creation of the center would be. Thus the rhythm of the researches carried out for peaceful purposes would be increased to the benefit of humanity.
It would be desirable through such institutions as Unesco and ICSU to carry out an inquiry on the advisability of creating an international center devoted to enriching the collective patrimony by the exchange of documents between all countries.
The goal of this center would be:
To assure close cooperation between all documentation centers (national and regional centers, centers operating under state control, as well as private centers).
To collect, classify, select, preserve, translate, and reproduce scientific information by modern methods.
To facilitate the dissemination of periodicals and selected monographs by publishing them in the officially adopted languages.
To organize symposia and conferences and to publish their reports.
To publish at regular intervals indexes, tables of contents, and journals devoted to summaries of periodicals.
To carry out bibliographical work for scientific institutions, laboratories, and offices of various industries.
To organize research services for unifying and improving documentation methods.
To aid relations between all scientists by publishing a directory of research centers and lists of specialists.
In order to carry out this program the financial participation of official institutions (international institutions, learned societies, various foundations), and even private groups (publishers, financial companies, and industrial groups) might be solicited.