Submitted to Special Libraries
Many years ago, I attended a lecture by Alfred Korzybski, the founder of General Semantics. I am sure that the large audience in attendance at Cooper Union Hall in New York will never forget Korzybski's dramatic technique in getting across the idea that association-of-ideas techniques can lead to poor semantic adjustments. Korzybski had placed a huge placard on the stage which was an enlargement of the familiar Aunt Jemima pancake flour box. Aunt Jemima remained on the stage all the time Korzybski spoke.
The boxing gloves I referred to symbolize my own reaction to the topic for this talk. When I see or hear the word "versus" I immediately think of a prizefight. So, if it is a fight you want, I am at least prepared.
The difficulty is in deciding which side of the versus I should be on, or whether my position should be that of the referee. Indeed, I would question whether there need be any versus at all. Perhaps the juxtaposition could be justified if there were clear-cut agreement on what a librarian or documentalist is or ought to be. But this is by no means the case. Assuming that as librarians you have each decided what you are in this hectic life, I would like to spend some time this morning reviewing some of the conflicting conceptions of what a documentalist is.
As defined by the International Federation of Documentation of which the American Documentation Institute is the American affiliate, the term "documentation" refers to the creation, transmission, collection, classification and use of "documents"; documents may be broadly defined as "recorded knowledge in any format." (V. Tate, Amer. Doc. v.1, p. 3 (1930)).
Mortimer Taube refined this slightly by defining documentation as the complex of activities required in the communication of specialized information including the preparation, reproduction, collection, analysis, organization, and dissemination of graphic records."
Both of these statements would imply that library science as part of a much broader network of communications, is part of documentation. Taking a somewhat more philosophical view, Simons has said: Documentation is virtually the custodianship and utilization of what Wells has aptly termed the "world brain." It is the ‘open Sesame’ to all the wisdom and knowledge needed by, and stored up for, mankind." In sharp contrast with these opinions, Bradford was very explicit in his firm belief that documentation is subsidiary to library science. In his monograph on Documentation, he states:
Bradford was a librarian who became particularly interested in the specialized problem of documenting the periodical literature of’ science, that is, be was concerned with the problem of indexing and abstracting the scientific literature. Like the other early European documental ists he was preoccupied with the potentialities of UDC, the Universal Decimal Classification. He was so taken away with UDCs worth that in one place in his book be paints an over-glamorized and histrionic picture of the now famous classification marathon conducted by Paul Otlet and Henri LaFontaine in 1895. Bradford implies that in six weeks they bad completely catalogued 400,000 documents.The principal medium for recording progress is the periodical press, which speaks in so irregular and incoherent a manners that it is impossible without documentation, to obtain a clear and concise view of any particular branch of knowledge, large or small. This disorder reigns in the production of documents of all kinds. Documentation is the necessary remedy. It will be observed at once that documentation is no more than on. aspect of the larger art of librarianship. But it is a special aspect needing a special study. For, while the wide subject of librarianship is concerned with every aspect of the treatment of books, the business of the documentalist is to make available the original information that has been recorded in articles in periodicals, pamphlets, reports, patent specifications and such records. Because the material, with which it deals is so much the more voluminous, its methods must be so much the more precise. So, by his unostentatious drudgery, the documentalist contributes to the increased production of genius, and becomes, by proxy, the benefactor of mankind."
I don’t think Bradford was thinking about the Washington brand of documentalist. I think be has in mind a group of which I should like to say wore later on.
Katherine Murra has more accurately indicated that they merely assigned the appropriate Dewey numbers to some 400,000 cards they already had in their subject catalog. Nevertheless, this was no small feat by the founders of the International Institute of Bibliography. And Bradford, the scholar-librarian, made many significant contributions to documentation.
I have briefly presented some of the conflicting interpretations of the scope of documentation. Whichever you may prefer, I would for a moment like to dwell on this latter important aspect of documentation namely, the problem of indexing and abstracting of the scientific literature. There can be little doubt that the library profession has for all intents and purposes ignored or glossed over this problem, at least from a professional and educational point of view. In 1950, Shera indicated that nothing was being done in the U.S. about training people for documentation. This is basically still true, and the price we may have to pay for this negligence may someday be extremely high. This country is today publishing the main indexes in the fields of chemistry, medicine, biology, and psychology, we are finding it increasingly more difficult to handle this work. There is a great lack of properly trained personnel needed to take up the varied tasks involved in the preparation of indexing and abstracting publications. I can state from personal acquaintance with the directors of our leading indexing and abstracting publications that this situation becomes worse each day.
Working in the Field of Scientific Documentation
In the laboratories and in the field scientists increasingly are turning out the results of their investigational work. Scientific researchers play a more important role in industry and in human welfare than ever before. Scientific journals are multiplying and most of them are crowded with information. The Journal of the American Chemical Society, for example, is now publishing over 3,000 papers per year. This is but one of thousands of scientific periodicals. New scientific information is produced for use. It cannot be used effectively unless practical means of learning what is published are provided. With so many thousands of papers appearing annually in 31 different languages and in so many expensive publications, scientists must be helped by abstracts, indexes, reviews, mechanized systems, and the like. This is being increasingly recognized.
As a matter of fact, there was never a time when the importance of the effective handling of the literature of science was more fully recognized. There was a time when such work was considered to be a step down from work in the laboratory, but this is certainly not true now. The role of the scientific documentologist is as essential to scientific progress as is laboratory experimentation. The documentologist's work is as exacting and as interesting for it presents problems every day. New methods are being developed for handling scientific literature; nomenclature problems and work are increasing; and skill in searching is playing a stronger role in preventing unnecessary duplication of work in the laboratory and of making laboratory work more fruitful by providing adequate related information. The need for such work is being recognized increasingly on all sides, as by industry.
Human progress is made by cooperation. Cooperation in science depends on effective documentation /and on trained workers who can efficiently put accumulated information to work."
The Russians, I might add, are not in the same situation. Describe Institute of Scientific Institutions. E. J. Crane I am often asked how I became interested in documentation, particularly mechanized documentation. It was only recently I recognized that my previous interests in subjects such as general semantics, I believe brought me quite logically to this field. Let me quote from Alfred Korzybski's, "Manhood of Humanity" where be distinguishes man from the animals and plants, and I think you will understand what I am driving at.
"And now what shall we say of human beings? What is to be our definition of man? Like the animals, human beings do indeed have the space capacity, but, over and above that, human beings possess a most remarkable capacity which is entirely peculiar to them I mean the capacity to summarize, digest and appropriate the labors and experiences of the past; I mean the capacity to use the fruits of past labors and experiences as intellectual or spiritual capital for the developments in the present; I mean the capacity to employ as instruments of increasing power the accumulated achievements of the all-precious lives of the past generations spent in trial and error, trial and success; I mean the capacity of human beings to conduct their lives in the ever-increasing light of inherited wisdom; I mean the capacity in virtue of which man is at once the heritor of the by-gone ages and the trustee of posterity. And because humanity is just this magnificent natural agency by which the past lives in the present, and the present for the future, I define HUMANITY, in the universal tongue of mathematics, and mechanics, to be the
TIME-BINDING CLASS OF LIFE."
Korzybski's analysis of the dynamics of human progress was extremely perceptive, but I felt that be had failed to recognize that our ability to time-binders is dependent upon our own man-made mechanical devices — that, the way we link the past with the present is through the document, i.e., through Documentation. The continued preservation of our status as time—binders depends upon our ability to continue preserving that link. Over the centuries the form of our documents has evolved from clay tablets to papyri on up through the modern printed page and already is more accessible.
When I see documentalists gathered together, I am always amazed and pleased at the diversity of opinions they express and the seeming difference in their personalities. Yet I am invariably reminded at such gatherings of the Faustian personality and its insatiable desire for "knowing." I think that Dr. Faustus would have been a documentalist in our era. The renaissance man could attempt to master all of human knowledge in a lifetime, but certainly 20th century man cannot even conceive of doing this in one hundred lifetimes. But if be cannot know everything we can be satisfied with the ability to recall any small portion of the totality of knowledge —at any given moment. Surely Faustus would have liked to have at his fingertips the record of all previous human achievements, if he could simply reach down and consult his universal pocket encyclopedia. It is not as electrifying as rote memory, but far from frustrating. We documentalists envision an eighth wonder of the world — a mechanical brain that will recall any or all of the world's wisdom at will. The essence of all this is that the documentalist chooses not to be library bound as a modern army tends to be road bound but rather be wants information available to him at all times wherever he may be. Documentation is not only concerned with the organization of materials within the library, but also with making information accessible outside the sacred halls. Classification alone does not satisfy the personality of the documentalist as it did a man like H.E. Bliss. One could simply define a documentation as being that complex of activities concerned with the organizational and mechanical facets of communicating information. This definition does account for the versatility of interests of the documentalists which already include: classification, indexing and abstracting, reproduction of and transmission of documents, literature and patent searching, nomenclature, publication, and mechanization of a wide variety of other activities too numerous to mention in detail. But this definition or description is lacking in the same way that all the others I have mentioned — if attempts to describe or prescribe. Actually that activity which we are really here to discuss is improperly called documentation — but whatever its proper name may be, documentation is that force which organizes chaotic information into what we recognize as intelligence be it scientific, national, or personal. This, of course, raises some interesting questions -- for if documentation is a series of mechanical activities which transforms disorganized information into intelligence, then what is man or the human brain which leads him. I confess that the conception of man as a machine does not appeal to me, but there seems to be some good evidence that we have underrated the machine. Man is now on the defensive and it will take some effective documentation to get him back on the offensive again.