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Thomas M. Aitchison

  • Born: July 31, 1923, Glasgow, Scotland

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0200
Interview Date: July 4, 2000
Location: Letchworth Garden City, Hertsfordshire, United Kingdom
Interviewer: W. Boyd Rayward
No. of pages: 43
Minutes: 132
Sponsor: Eugene Garfield Foundation
Eugene Garfield Foundation

  Abstract of Interview

Thomas M. Aitchison begins his interview by detailing his educational background and then continues by discussing how he first became interested in the field of information science. With the start of his career at Courtaulds, Aitchison got his first taste of working in a library. However, it was with the completion of the Library Association correspondence course that Aitchison gained the confidence and knowledge necessary to become a successful librarian. After applying for and being hired as divisional librarian and information officer with the British Aircraft Corporation, Aitchison became a member of the Aslib aircraft information group. He also joined the National Electronics Research Council and helped the Council develop a journal and numerous other projects. In January 1967, Aitchison helped form the Information Service in Physics, Electrotechnology, and Control (INSPEC) and became the information research manager. He also worked to mechanize Science Abstractsand organize the Direct Evaluation of Indexing Languages (DEVIL) project. He concludes his interview by sharing recollections of those who had the most influence on his career.

Joint interview with Jean Aitchison.

Jean Aitchison begins her interview by discussing how she first became involved in thesaurus development. She continues by sharing her first meeting with Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan and her initial impressions of him. Aitchison worked to complete three editions of English Electric Faceted Subject Classification for Engineering, between 1958 and 1961. With the help of others, she developed and reclassified many projects. She worked with Cyril Cleverdon on several publications and in March 1967 she began work on Thesaurofacet. She also worked to develop and improve the Bliss Association Classification system.


1944 B.Sc., Mathematics and Physics, University of St. Andrews, Scotland
1955 Associate of the Library Association, U.K. Library Association, United Kingdom

  Professional Experience

Courtaulds, Ltd., Braintree, Essex, United Kingdom

1948 - 1955 Librarian

British Aircraft Corporation, Luton and Stevenage, United Kingdom

1955 - 1964 Divisional Librarian and Information Officer

National Electronics Research Council, London, United Kingdom

1964 - 1966 Technical Officer and Director, SDI Project

Institution of Electrical Engineers, London, United Kingdom

1967 - 1988 Deputy Director, then Director, INSPEC

Peter Petergrinus, Ltd.

1980 - 1988 Director

J&TM Aitchison, Information Consultants, Letchworth, United Kingdom

1988 - 1990 Partner



Order of the British Empire

1987 Hon. Fellow, Institute of Information Scientists
1988 Hon. Fellow, National Federation of Abstracting and Indexing Services

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Thomas M. Aitchison Interview 1

Attended the University of St. Andrews, interested in math and physics. Joined the army but was discharged to work at the Admiralty Signal and Radar Establishment in Haslemere, England. Lost interest in a career as a physicist. Became librarian for Courtaulds Limited.

Organization Affiliations and New Projects 3

Became a member of Aslib. Set-up manual SDI (Selective Dissemination of Information) system which was greeted with enthusiasm. Joined National Electronics Research Council. Transferred to the IEE (Institute of Electrical Engineers).

INSPEC Formed 6

January 1967, INSPEC (Information Service in Physics, Electrotechnology and Control), a mechanized version of Science Abstracts, formed. The DEVIL (Direct Evaluation of Indexing Languages) project started. Thesaurus developed.

Director at INSPEC 9

Tensions with AIP (American Institute of Physics) rose. Became an agent for IEE primary publications. Competition and collaboration with different information committees. INSPEC grew.

Jean Aitchison Interview 20

Originally ran large library in the English Electric Company. Hoped to create classification system. Developed the English Electric Faceted Subject Classification for Engineering between 1958 and 1961.

Thesaurofacet 23

Started work on Thesaurofacet in March 1967. General Electric Company took over the English Electric Company and closed down most of the libraries. Thesaurofacet died.

Work at UNESCO 25

Helped develop UNESCO thesaurus. Made system for the Royal Institute of International Affairs, in London, published in 1991. Retired from the field.

Notes 32

Index 33

  About the Interviewer

W. Boyd Rayward

W. Boyd Rayward is a research professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Chamapaign. He turned to librarianship after graduating in English literature from the University of Sydney. He received his Ph.D. from the Graduate Library School at the University of Chicago in 1973. He has held positions in the University of Chicago (where he became Dean of the Graduate Library School). He served as professor and head of the School of Information Library and Archive Studies and Dean of the University's Faculty of Professional Studies at the University of New South Wales in Sydney where he is now professor emeritus. He has published two books related to Paul Otlet, Belgian documentalist and internationalist, and a great many articles on history of national and international schemes for the organization and dissemination of information.

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