|Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship||Spring 1998|
Engineering Index is a primary reference tool for science and technology libraries, and one familiar to most in the profession. The fact that is has existed, in various forms, since 1884 provides a context in which to examine the development of reference tools and changes in user service practices across the decades. As Engineering Index developed and changed over the years, so has the role of the library professional. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, indexing of engineering literature was a new concept. The precursor of Engineering Index consisted of highly-selected notes on a small body of literature. At about that same time, technical libraries began to come into their own, with the librarians of that day functioning primarily as clerks. Today, the successful conduct of technical research is dependent upon successful interaction among skilled researchers, library professionals with a palette of sophisticated information skills, and comprehensive information tools such as COMPENDEX Web / Ei Village.
It is from this beginning that Engineering Index soon developed into a form that would be familiar to many technical librarians today. In 1892 an eight-year cumulation of the "Index Notes" was compiled into Descriptive Index to Current Engineering Literature. This work can still be found on the shelves of many research libraries.
The latter years of the nineteenth century were also a time of great development for the profession of librarianship. In 1873 the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) acted on the need to create a technical library (Mount 1982). The approach to the development of the collection for that library reads much like a modern collection-development plan, but the role of the librarian, as was all too typical for that time, is described as that of a clerk or secretary. In 1877 the American Institute of Mining Engineers (AIME) established a library, and in 1885 the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers followed suit. In each of these instances, the focus was on the collection, and not on the librarian as an active participant in the research process. This situation was soon to change as librarians moved into expanded roles. That change has continued and accelerated as we approach the twenty-first century.
By the 1880's the ASCE library was offering what would today be viewed as fee-based reference services, and in a short while, several hundred searches per year were being conducted by the librarians (Mount 1982). Similar developments occurred in other society libraries, and in technical libraries such as the John Crerar Library in Chicago, which opened in 1896. Librarians of that day must have felt a future shock similar to that experienced by many in the profession today. By the turn of the twentieth century, technical librarianship was expanding its role in parallel to the development of reference tools like Engineering Index.
Librarians continued to enhance their skill sets with the 1928 introduction of the Ei Card Service. Subscribers to this service received, on a daily or weekly basis, abstracts selected against a profile built from over 200 subject classes in engineering (Bissell 1969). Librarians assumed an active role in assisting researchers to obtain the results they needed without pulling down "false hits". Ei continued this service under various names until 1975 (when the cards were made obsolete by computerized services). Today, librarians routinely provide similar profile development and maintenance services for a variety of SDI-type products.
Evidence of the increasingly active role of librarians in the research process is seen in the growing number of information tools, including Engineering Index, that were being used for information service to the technical disciplines. (Johnson 1959; Jenkins 1962). In Johnson's day, librarians and engineers were faced with a dearth of technical reference sources. By the 1960's librarians routinely assisted patrons in choosing an appropriate resource as part of most reference interactions.
As the sixties came to a close, librarians continued to expand their roles as they embraced computer technology. COMPENDEX was first issued on magnetic (mainframe) computer tape in 1969, and the age of "computer-assisted" reference was begun (Engineering Index, Inc. 1984). With over five thousand new records released each month, COMPENDEX challenged librarians to develop reference skills that would make full use of the capabilities of this resource. In 1973 online access to COMPENDEX became available through commercial vendors such as (then) Lockheed DIALOG and ORBIT, creating a new realm of librarianship that the "Secretary of the Society and Librarian" of the ASCE could never have imagined in 1875. (Mount 1982). The specialized search skills and knowledge of the workings of specific databases required for effective mediated online searching mandated that the working relationships between technical librarians and researchers become closer than ever before.
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