Jacques Tocatlian

Born: August 31, 1929 | Alexandria, EG

Jacques Tocatlian was born in Egypt, where he attended a French secondary school and then studied industrial chemistry. After work in the plastics division at Monsanto, Tocatlian accepted a position at the Food and Machinery Corporation as a literature chemist, and worked on the first Selective Dissemination of Information [SDI] experiment. Tocatlian pursued a master's in information and library science. Throughout the interview, Tocatlian discusses the international standardization issues of UNESCO and the organization of UNISIST. 

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0208
No. of pages: 36
Minutes: 117

Interview Sessions

W. Boyd Rayward
22 June 2000
Paris, France

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. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1953 Alexandria University BS Industrial Chemistry
1956 Polytecnico di Milano (Polytechnic University of Milan) MS Textile Technology
1959 Utah State University MS Organic Chemistry
1968 Drexel University MS Library and Information Sciences

Professional Experience

National Starch Co., (Egypt)

1953 to 1957
Industrial Chemist

Monsanto Chemical Company

1959 to 1963
Research Chemist

Food and Machinery Corporation [FMC]

1963 to 1968
Literature Chemist

Merck Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories

1968 to 1969
Information Specialist

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO]

1969 to 1973
Project Officer (P-4/5)
1977 to 1978
Project Officer (P-5), Bureau of Studies and Programming
1979 to 1987
Director (D-1), Intergovernmental General Information Program
1988 to 1990
Director (D-2), Office of Information Programs and Services
1990 to 1991
Consultant for Bibliotheca Alexandria

United Nations

1991 to 2001
Part-time Consultant, United Nations Univeristy

International Federation for Information and Documentation

1991 to 2001
Part-time Consultant

Table of Contents

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 PhD 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.