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The genesis of Current Contents

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Early days of Current Contents
Eugene Garfield Scientist
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Now, what was a consequence of that, of course, nothing, nobody, at that time I wasn't thinking of producing the SCI myself. I mean, Current Contents was still Contents in Advance, they were still producing that thing and eventually I turned it over to a couple of librarians I knew who worked in the pharmaceutical industry. Anne McCann and some other librarian, Marge Couraine, I think it was. They were, I had met these people at library school and I was just working as a consultant, you know. But, as a consultant, I decided to do a management edition. I thought, Contents in Advance was okay for librarians but was it going to be a commercial success? The field of management somehow struck me as being potentially interesting so, as a documentation consultant, I put together Current Contents of Management and when I announced it, it just so happened that the librarian, Richard Gremling at Bell Laboratories, had wanted to do the same thing for his staff. So, he contacted me and he said look, 'Look, this publication you're doing is fine but I want the same thing for Bell Labs but I want you to tear the cover off and put our cover on it'. Okay, so, he wanted a customised edition. The title of that, by the way, was unbelievable. The original title of Current Contents Social Sciences was Management's Documation Preview. Documation, automation of documentation. So, a very funny story about that one, too, because somebody recently asked me about Mortimer Taube. Mortimer Taube was... do you know anything about corded indexing, the history of that? Oh, my God. Anyhow, Mortimer Taube started a company called Documentation Inc and he was angry as hell at me because I called my company DocuMation Inc, Docu, capital M and eventually when I started this Current Contents not only do I get the Bell Labs contract but a couple of guys who were from Washington DC contacted me. One of them was a PR man, the other was the owner of a printing press in Washington called the Kaufman Press. He saw an opportunity to get a printing client. For some reason they had, they'd made some money on some deal and they wanted a, it was, like, a tax loss thing. They said, come on, we'll, we're going to become your partner, we'll help you print it and so forth and promote it. So, I said, fine. We had a long discussion and Harry Brager was the name of this PR consultant. And he said the title of that publication is absolutely absurd. It's, it's an impossible thing to pronounce. Why don't you call it something simple? So he says... what is it? So, I say, he says, 'Describe it to me', I said, 'Well, I thought it was the current contents of the different journals', he said, 'Well, that's it, that's the name of your, of your magazine'. So, that's why we called it Current Contents So, however, he says, 'Okay, now we're going to, we're going to plan a direct mail campaign', and I, you know, I'd been promoting, knew a little bit about direct mail but, I said this is, this is not a publication. I didn't think it was a publication for, how can I say, line managers, if I can put it that way. It was an academic, for academics, you know, and people, librarians and so forth, they insisted that we make a mailing of 5,000 pieces or whatever, spend this huge amount of money in order to demonstrate that this thing was a killer application or not, okay. They bought a mailing list of executives who earned at that time, let's say, $100,000 or more. I said to them, 'You are absolutely crazy, there's no guy who's earning $100,000, that...' there's a guy who earns $1m a year, are you going to sit around and read Current Contents?They insisted that was the right way to do it, well it wouldn't be the guy himself it would be his assistant, it would be the librarian or whatever. They made this mailing and it was total bomb. I think we got three or five subscriptions. The first subscription came, the Allan Wood Steel Company, some vice president, okay. So, after that happened they came to me and they said, 'Well, that's it, this thing it was a great idea but it just isn't going to fly, okay'. So, they said, 'We're out of here, you can, it's all yours, do what you want with it'.

Eugene Garfield (1925-2017) was an American scientist and publisher. In 1960 Garfield set up the Institute for Scientific Information which produced, among many other things, the Science Citation Index and fulfilled his dream of a multidisciplinary citation index. The impact of this is incalculable: without Garfield’s pioneering work, the field of scientometrics would have a very different landscape, and the study of scholarly communication would be considerably poorer.

Listeners: Henry Small

Henry Small is currently serving part-time as a research scientist at Thomson Reuters. He was formerly the director of research services and chief scientist. He received a joint PhD in chemistry and the history of science from the University of Wisconsin. He began his career as a historian of science at the American Institute of Physics' Center for History and Philosophy of Physics where he served as interim director until joining ISI (now Thomson Reuters) in 1972. He has published over 100 papers and book chapters on topics in citation analysis and the mapping of science. Dr Small is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an Honorary Fellow of the National Federation of Abstracting and Information Services, and past president of the International Society for Scientometrics and Infometrics. His current research interests include the use of co-citation contexts to understand the nature of inter-disciplinary versus intra-disciplinary science as revealed by science mapping.

Duration: 6 minutes, 35 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2007

Date story went live: 23 June 2009