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The 1960s and the birth of INSPEC

INSPEC ( Information Service in Physics, Electrotechnology and Control) was launched in January 1967 as a service which embraced the current six publications of Science Abstracts.

The UDC schedules became increasingly inadequate to cope with the subject expansion in physics and the decision to finally abandon its use for Section A (Physics Abstracts) was taken in December 1960. However UDC continued to be used for Section B for seven more years.

The information explosion had resulted in the production of 10,000 abstracts each year between 1950 and 1958, 14,000 in 1959 and 21,000 in 1960. Coverage was further extended in 1962 upon the demise of Radio Research Abstracts. This rapid increase in production was achieved with no fundamental change in the production methods; no full time abstractors were employed, the efforts of several hundred free-lance abstractors being collated and edited by full-time editors. In 1963, there were 14 full-time editors, 9 working on Section A and 5 on Section B.

The continuing rise in published literature through the 60s paralleled a rapid increase in product development. In 1964, Current Papers for the Professional Electrical and Electronics Engineer (later changed to Current Papers in Electrical & Electronics Engineering) was launched as a fast monthly current awareness bulletin for engineers which contained titles, authors and bibliographic references. This publication proved a financial success and was followed by a similar publication in physics two years later.

In June 1966, Control Abstracts - (Science Abstracts Section C) was launched primarily to replace the IFAC (International Federation of Automatic Control) Bibliography of Automatic Control. In addition, Current Papers in Control was also introduced.

In May 1966, the IEE was awarded an OSTI (Office of Scientific and Technical Information) grant to develop information services and computerised production. For this project, the IEE purchased a computer, an ICL 1901 for the purpose of the mechanisation project and in November 1966 they took over the National Electronics Research Council's SDI project.

INSPEC ( Information Service in Physics, Electrotechnology and Control) was launched in January 1967 as a service which embraced the current six publications of Science Abstracts and the development programme. The computerised production system was designed so that a single machine entry would contain all the information necessary to allow for the production of all the various publications including annual and cumulative indexes and also for future machine retrieval requirements.

To these ends, ten fields were identified for the machine record:

  • Document title
  • Author and author affiliation
  • Bibliographic description
  • Date
  • Language, where not English
  • Conference details (where applicable)
  • Document code, a code giving some indication of the nature of the document, i.e. theoretical, review, bibliography
  • Classification code. The heading under which the item will appear in the Abstracts Journals or Current Papers
  • Subject index terms
  • Abstract
INSPEC early magnetic tape deck for PDP8 computer - late 1960s

The printing programs were written and tested during 1968 and in December 1968, five magnetic tapes containing the January 1969 input for all six INSPEC publications were delivered to Unwins. To be able to print the publications Unwins had to install a Lumitype 713 photo-typesetter. This was chosen for two reasons; firstly it had a character set of over 700, essential for the scientific nature of the material being handled. Secondly it could accept magnetic tape input.

The new production method was significant, not only because the production system was faster and more efficient, but because it provided a database from which all future products became feasible - notably the online database

1969 was also the year when completely new pricing schedules were introduced for the Abstracts Journals as it was recognised that they had become 'library tools'. For this reason, IEE member discounts were discontinued. The coverage of Control Abstracts was widened and the journal was renamed Computer and Control Abstracts.

Now that production of the publications via magnetic tapes was established, INSPEC was anxious to make these tapes available to external users. Emphasis on their use for publication production, however, had meant that the tapes were not necessarily in the most convenient format for potential users.

During 1969, a survey was undertaken of prospective customers querying format requirements and at the same time a detailed study on the evaluation of indexing languages was begun. The project, entitled DEVIL (Direct Evaluation of Indexing Languages), investigated the retrieval effectiveness of:

  • natural language
    • (a) title
    • (b) abstract
  • controlled language
  • free indexing
  • hybrid language (this was derived from the use of a controlled subject heading together with an uncontrolled modifier line giving expanded information on the subject of the particular document)

The findings of this research project showed that controlled language was superior in performance overall, but that the use of free indexing was in turn superior to the use of other natural language fields. Free index terms also reflect the terminology in use in the literature.

As a direct result of these findings, free index terms were added to the database and still today provide an effective searching tool which gives high relevance.

The addition of free indexing terms to the database also meant that subscribers to the SDI service (Selective Dissemination of Information) were able to take a more direct role in the writing of their profiles.

Continue with the history of Inspec.