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Jacques Tocatlian

  • Born: August 31, 1929, Alexandria, Egypt

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0208
Interview Date: June 22, 2000
Location: Paris, France
Interviewer: W. Boyd Rayward
No. of pages: 36
Sponsor: Eugene Garfield Foundation
Eugene Garfield Foundation

  Abstract of Interview

Jacques Tocatlian has always had an international take on learning and acquiring information. He was born in Egypt, where he attended a French secondary school. From there, Tocatlian moved on to study industrial chemistry at an Egyptian university, where he took classes taught by English-speaking German professors. Tocatlian then earned an M.S. in textile technology from Milano Polytechnico in Italy, and an M.S. in organic chemistry from Utah State University. After a position as a literature chemist caught his eye at Monsanto Chemical Company, Tocatlian interviewed and was referred to the research department because of his outstanding qualifications. Still, research in the laboratory did not quell Tocatlian's attraction to research in the library. After work in the plastics division at Monsanto, Tocatlian accepted a position at the Food and Machinery Corporation in Princeton as a literature chemist, and worked on the first Selective Dissemination of Information (SDI) experiment. Tocatlian decided to pursue a master's in information and library science at Drexel Institute (now University), which was at the forefront of scientific information storage and retrieval in the 1960s. No sooner did Tocatlian learn of the United Nations Conference on World Science Information System (UNISIST) than he applied to one of its parenting organizations, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) where he worked from 1969 until retirement in 1991. Throughout the interview, Tocatlian discusses the international standardization issues of UNESCO and the organization of UNISIST. Woven into the history of the program is mention of the tension brought about by the Cold War. Tocatlian discusses influences of non-governmental and other information science organizations on UNISIST, as well as the impact of the failure of the Global Information Network, created by UNISIST 2 in 1972. He concludes the interview by reflecting on the conceptual shift of science from a "social good" to a commodity, observations of UNESCO, and his decision to leave the laboratory.


1953 B.S., Industrial Chemistry, Alexandria University
1956 M.S., Textile Technology, Milano Polytechnico
1959 M.S., Organic Chemistry, Utah State University
1968 M.S., Library and Information Sciences, Drexel University

  Professional Experience

National Starch Co., Alexandria, Egypt

1953 - 1957 Industrial Chemist

Monsanto Chemical Company

1959 - 1963 Research Chemist

Food and Machinery Corporation

1963 - 1968 Literature Chemist

Merck Sharp & Dohme

1968 - 1969 Information Specialist

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

1969 - 1973 Project Officer (P-4/5)

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

1977 - 1978 Project Officer (P-5), Bureau of Studies and Programming

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

1979 - 1987 Director (D-1), Intergovernmental General Information Program

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

1988 - 1990 Director (D-2), Office of Information Programs and Services

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

1990 - 1991 Consultant for Bibliotheca Alexandria

United Nations University

1991 - Present Part-time Consultant

International Federation for Information and Documentation (FID)

1991 - Present Part-time Consultant

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Early Education and Career 1

Family background and early schooling. Studying organic chemistry at Utah State University. Applying for work at Monsanto Chemical Company and development of an interest in information science. Moving from the Plastics Division at Monsanto to the Food and Machinery Corporation in Princeton as a literature chemist. Obtaining a degree in information and library science at Drexel Institute. Work at Merck, Sharp & Dohm Pharmaceutical Company.

International and Standardization Issues of UNISIST and UNESCO 4

Introduction to UNESCO and job application. Tension in scientific information systems due to the Cold War. Organization of UNISIST International compatibility, professional, and standardization issues of UNESCO. Description of the sophisticated UNISIST approach to information science. Attempt at maximizing international acceptance of programs.

The Global Information Network and Consequences of UNISIST 2 9

UNISIST 2 in conjunction with the UN conference on Science and Technology for Development in Vienna, 1972. Establishment of the Global Information Network (GIN), lasting ten years. The impact of the failure of UNISIST 2 on UNISIST. The creation of PGI in 1976 due to overlapping responsibilities and goals of UNISIST and DBA.

A Career at PGI 13

Reaction, especially Russian, to Tocatlian becoming director of PGI. Political aspects of increasing the flow of scientific information. Russian attempts and desire to control PGI. Influences of other organizations such as ICSU, PGI on UNISIST. Creation of PGI and issues with ICSU. Discussion of why there was a need for UNISIST. Staff size and responsibilities at PGI.

Reflections on UNESCO and Conclusion 20

Effect of withdrawal of United States and United Kingdom from UNESCO, especially Tocatlian's transition to director of PGI. Discussion of NGOs such as IFLA, FID, ICA, ICSU, ICSTI. Reasons behind the failed evolution of GIN and the establishment of INIS. Changing perceptions of science from a "social good" to a commodity. Renewed need for national nodes of scientific information. Natalie Dusoulier's vision for PGI. Reflections on UNESCO and move from lab to UNESCO.

Notes 33

Index 34

  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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