Information Services, Scientifically Speaking
Alvin R. Hutchinson, B.A. ’86
Like most traditional academics, scholars at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., are expected to publish the results of their research in peer-reviewed journals, which might include the likes of Science, Nature and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, among other publications.
And for the past five or so years, Alvin R. Hutchinson, B.A. ’86, head of information services at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, has been collecting these articles and sorting the information by author, title and so forth, with a link to a PDF. So far, there are about 12,000 articles in the Smithsonian Digital Repository. “Our scholars publish about 1,800 articles annually,” Hutchinson says. “We collect many of these journal articles and put them into a digital archive and, as an added value, we include key words—that might not be in the title or subtitle—that will make it easier for people to discover this research.”
Or, put another way, if a researcher is searching for information about a town or an individual, but the name of the city or the person is not listed in the title or subtitle, Hutchinson will make sure the related articles are more easily found as a result of a common key word search.
Handling digital materials is not the same as working with print materials. “With digital articles, you have to open each one up to see what it is and what information it contains, which is more cumbersome than just walking up to a bookshelf,” Hutchinson says.
But for those traditionalists who love the feel of a print book, take heart: They are not going the way of the T-Rex—at least, not quite yet. As Hutchinson puts it, “Paper books have been around for 500 or more years, and digital is a mere 20-30 years old. We don’t know about the life of digital materials, so we will hold onto the paper edition for a long time. But librarians are in for some big changes, and I went into digital as a way to remain useful and relevant in my work.”