Document (#28313)

Author
Bensman, S.J.
Title
Urquhart and probability : the transition from librarianship to library and information science
Source
Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. 56(2005) no.2, S.189-214
Year
2005
Abstract
In this article, I analyze the role of Donald J. Urquhart in the creation of modern library and information science. Urquhart was one of the chief architects of information science in Britain and founder of the National Lending Library for Science and Technology (NLL), which evolved into the present-day British Library Document Supply Centre (BLDSC). In particular, I focus an the part played by Urquhart in the development of that branch of information science termed bibliomefrics, the application of mathematical and statistical techniques to information phenomena, pursuing both historical and practical aims. The article is intended not only to trace the history of the probability distributions applicable to library use and other facets of human knowledge but also to demonstrate how these distributions can be used in the evaluation and management of scientific journal collections. For these purposes, the paper is divided into three parts of equal importance. The first part is statistical and establishes the theoretical framework, within which Urquhart's work is considered. It traces the historical development of the applicable probability distributions, discussing their origins an the European continent and how Continental principles became incorporated in the biometric statistics that arose in Britain as a result of the Darwinian revolution. This part analyzes the binomial and Poisson processes, laying out the reasons why the Poisson process is more suitable for modeling information phenomena. In doing so, it describes key distributions arising from these processes as weil as the various tests for these distributions, citing the literature that shows how to conduct these tests. Throughout the discussion, the relationship of these distributions to library use and the laws of information science is emphasized. The second part of the article analyzes the pioneering role of Urquhart as a conduit for the entry of these probability distributions into librarianship, converting it into library and information science. He was the first librarian to apply probability to library use, utilizing it not only to establish and manage the scientific journal collections of the NLL but also to evolve his Law of Supralibrary Use. Urquhart's work is portrayed within the context of a general trend to adopt probabilistic methods for analytical purposes, and a major premise of this article is that his law and the probabilistic breakthrough, an which it was based, were most likely in Britain, which was one of the few countries not only to develop but also maintain the necessary scientific preconditions. The third-and concluding section-discusses how Urquhart's Law forces a probabilistic reconceptualization of the functioning of the scientific journal system as weIl as the law's practical implications for journal sales, collection evaluation and management, resource sharing, and the transition from the paper to the electronic format.

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