Session One- Lecture Notes
The Nature of Scientific and Technical Literature
During our trek through resources in science and technology we will
be exploring a variety of types of literature germane to the field.
Journals are undoubtedly the most important communication tool for scientists
but the value of monographs in sci-tech should not be understated.
There are lots of unique forms of literature and these include specialized
directories, handbooks, manuals, laboratory notebooks, society publications,
manufacturer’s literature, preprints, conference proceedings, specialized
indexes & abstracts, translation services, databases, patents, technical
reports and standards. In this course you will be introduced to each
type and given an opportunity to work with them. More on each format
There are three main classes of literature in the scientific literature life cycle: primary literature, secondary literature and tertiary literature. Characteristics of these classes are as follows.
· New material reports of recent research results or new interpretations of previously reported work.
· Contains unique information, which must be examined directly.
· Reports on a completed phase of scientific work.
· Not well organized as a body of literature.
Examples: Journals, Patents, and Technical Reports.
· “Older” than primary literature.
· Generally extractive. Organizes, synthesizes or edits facts first reported in the primary literature.
· Guides the user to locating materials previously unknown to them.
· “Older” than secondary literature.
· Generally auxiliary information not directly related to the actual conducting of the research.
Examples: Textbooks, Treatises.
It is important to note that primary information plays a vital role
in the rapid dissemination of information to the greater scientific and
technological community. It is much faster to share information at
the generation stage of the Research Information Cycle by publishing a
technical report or a journal article than to publish a book. However,
the more recent the work, the more difficult it can be to locate using
traditional indexing tools. Tools, which now assist us in locating
new research in an expedient way, include full text databases, the publishing
of full text journals online, and authors choosing to publish their findings
on the Internet. Older material is usually much simpler to find.
The Research Information Cycle
How do Scientists work? Generally speaking they follow a research pattern, or a cycle, which begins with the investigation of an idea or a topic. During this investigation period the researcher will look for information in a variety of places, utilizing both formal and informal communication paths. They will ask their fellow colleagues, through personal and group contact. This is known as the ‘invisible college’. Via email and face-to-face interactions at a professional meeting, researchers inquire about their topic and may learn about past and current related experiments, research papers and their respective authors. Seeking out the leads they received on published papers brings them to the library. Here the formal method of investigation happens. Through searching databases, journals articles in that topic are discovered; perhaps a patent for an invention is looked up and acquired or a technical report is checked out. The library plays a clear role at this stage of the cycle. Information is extracted and collected and will now be compiled into a formal communication tool (journal article, technical report, or delivered at a conference) which is disseminated back into the body of scientific knowledge offering a new and unique perspective on that topic. At this stage the findings are either accepted by the scientific community through peer review or are discounted as invalid research. As new knowledge becomes fact, it is communicated through textbooks and other reference sources. At this point in the cycle the information becomes obsolete as new research replaces it. See Figure 1:
The scientific style follows this formula:
Body of knowledge Þ Experiments Þ Axioms Þ Body of knowledge
Put another way, scientific methodology consists of first understanding or recognizing the problem, stating the problem, collecting data, analyzing that data, interpreting the findings, and drawing conclusions.
Scientists and Engineers: What are they really like?
See Figure 2: Do you know any scientists that look like this? I hope not! In truth my science and engineering clients look quite normal - just maybe a bit more focused than the general population. It is because of their focus on an area of interest that mankind has flourished in nature and industry. That’s pretty awesome. Let’s take a look at engineers and scientists separately first, then we will address the differences and similarities in their approach to research.
Engineering is a profession of devices, materials, systems, and structures. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook engineers “apply the theories and principles of science and mathematics to research and develop economical solutions to practical technical problems. Their work is the link between scientific discoveries and commercial applications.” Most engineering training is conducted at four-year universities and colleges. These programs are accredited by an official body, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), comprised of practicing professional engineers. The field is very broad and includes the disciplines of aerospace, atmospheric and oceanic studies, agriculture, architecture, bioengineering, materials science, chemical, civil, computer and electrical, industrial, mechanical, mining and geology, naval architecture and marine, nuclear, and petroleum. Upon graduation, an engineer must take the professional exam to be able to practice in society.
There are hundreds of professional societies in engineering and tens of thousands of journals, newsletters, listservs, and so on. Engineering resources are diverse and prolific. The half-life of engineering information is short, especially in the area of computers and electronics. Engineer’s value current information but they are known to walk no further than 90feet to obtain it! Engineers prefer electronic formats and there is a widespread interest in learning more about tools for information retrieval. Engineers are very down to earth and make decisions based on data and evidence. They are introverts by nature, are very focused (I usually say they have tunnel vision), and appreciate when information is presented to them in an analytical and factual way.
Scientific research involves an interaction between tradition, experiment and observation, and deduction. Scientists perform controlled experiments in a laboratory setting where they compare observations and measurements with a body of experimental data. Generally speaking, their field of expertise is very narrow and focused. Often their work studies a very macro view of phenomena which adds to the larger body of knowledge in their area. Much of their work is performed in a laboratory setting.
Scientists and Engineers: how they differ
The function of a scientist is to know, while that of the engineer is to do. Scientists look to nature and ask questions about how it operates, which generates more questions of interest. Scientists often work solo, where engineers work in groups. The engineer does not have the luxury of solving problems which interests him/her but must solve problems as they arise, many times with costly social implications. The scientist can focus on a minute area of physical phenomena, while in the design process of engineering the information needed to solve the problem can be more diverse and cross several fields.
The Sci-Tech Research Environment in Libraries
Science happens everywhere. It’s a part of our everyday lives.
If we just become observant about our surroundings we will begin to be
aware of the magnitude of its importance. Science and technology
advances and knowledge rely on libraries for archiving the history of these
fields and for providing materials necessary for insight into our future
inventions and understanding of natural and material phenomena.
So let’s chat about types of libraries that support science and engineering materials.
There are many specialized engineering and science collections housed
in corporate and government libraries around the world. These
collections support both commercial and non-profit endeavors. Corporate
librarians locate, collect and disseminate information directly applicable
to the business of the company. For example, a corporate firm, such
as General Electric, has interests in the aerospace field and so maintains
several libraries internationally whose main purpose is to support the
business in this area. Special librarians needs are very focused
and they often are the solo professional in a company library. If
you identify a special collection, and you need information from that library,
the librarian is generally more than willing to share non-competitive intelligence
business information. Of great value to corporate librarians is the network of fellow librarians in which they interact and come to know by belonging to professional library associations. Having the name of a colleague in a science or technology library that holds materials that the librarian may need for his or her client assists in extending their collections. Professional societies and associations often have subject libraries whose mission is to support the information needs of their members.
Most major universities and colleges with engineering and science departments have large library collections to support the curriculum. The world’s premier scientific collections are housed in academia. With the rising costs of journals many academics are joining forces to share collecting responsibilities and reduce overhead costs. Many librarians working in sci-tech libraries have a second degree in a science or engineering subject field which can lend strength to their expertise in selecting materials and in their liaison role with faculty. Some very good collections can be found at Yale, Princeton, Michigan, Harvard and MIT. Academic libraries offer document delivery services to both their internal clientele and to outside clientele, such as special librarians and businesses.
When I think of premier science and technology collections the first
public libraries that come to mind are the New York Public’s Science and
Technology section and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. It may
seem odd that our nation has very strong sci-tech collections in libraries
but it is by no coincidence that this is the case. As public libraries
serve everyone in our country, regardless of their ability to pay or by
their affiliations, science information is vital to create an informed
public. These collections may also be serving as government depositories.
Patents, standards and government documents along with traditional science
materials such as journals, monographs and technical reports can also be
If you would like to read more about sci-tech users, see the following readings available at the Carlson Library at Clarion, on reserve or on reference.
Supplemental Reading: Mounts and Kovacs: pp. 3-11; 12-14