The International Catalogue of Scientific Literature

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  • This article was written by the Librarian of the Smithsonian Institution, who presents background information, including pertinent correspondence, to trace the evolution of the first international catalogue of scientific literature ever produced. He begins by commenting that the International Bibliographical Conference, held in London, England, during July 14-17, 1896, was the most important step ever taken toward international cooperation in scientific and bibliographical work. Prior to concentrating his efforts on that conference, however, the author suggests he first review the history of the movement to compile such a catalog.
  • An initiative to compile a scientific catalog was originally proposed in 1854 by first Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry. After he approached the British Association for the Advancement of Science to seek its assistance, the matter was referred to and approved by Fellows of the Royal Society of London. The British Association then suggested the formation of a "philosophical memoirs" catalogue at its 1855 meeting, and, ten years later, the Royal Society undertook production of a catalog of scientific papers written since 1800; eleven volumes had been published by 1897.
  • The Royal Society had issued a circular in March, 1894, to learned societies throughout the world to notify recipients of the scientific literature catalogue's shortcomings at that time: it was limited to scientific literature from periodicals arranged by author name, not by subject, and, since it did not include monographs or independent books, was described as incomplete. The Society's plea for international cooperation to produce a revised catalog was favorably received; as the Smithsonian was closely associated with the Society, third Secretary Samuel P. Langley received a separate letter requesting the Institution's assistance.
  • After it was proposed that the Smithsonian Institution lead the effort in the United States to compile a new catalog, G. Brown Goode, Assistant Smithsonian Secretary in charge of the United States National Museum, produced a plan of operations: the catalog should be international in name and scope, exhaustive in its contents, published in book form, and include broad classifications of science that had previously been excluded. As favorable responses were received from the Smithsonian Institution and other scientific bodies, the Royal Society recommended an international conference be held as a first step toward production of a new catalog and suggested that the British government invite representatives from other nations to the conference. The matter was referred by the U. S. Secretary of State to the Smithsonian; the Institution's recommendation that John S. Billings of the U.S. Navy and Simon Newcomb of the U.S. Nautical Almanac Office be sent to the conference as delegates from the United States was approved.
  • The bulk of the article is then devoted to the author's extensive and well-documented description of the 1896 conference. Although not an attendee, Adler produces this work in great detail with assistance from the two official conference publications, the Acta and Conference Proceedings issued by the Royal Society, information from the two United States delegates and official correspondence of the Smithsonian Institution.
  • The author includes a list of the 23 governments represented by delegates, a condensed account of debates concerning bibliographical and scientific interests, a recapitulation of twenty-nine pertinent resolutions, the report of the U. S. delegates, and various correspondence, including that sent by Smithsonian Secretary Langley to federal government authorities requesting funds in the amount of $10,000 per annum to support the Institution's directive to catalogue the scientific publications of the United States.


  • Billings, John Shaw 1838-1913
  • Goode, G. Brown (George Brown) 1851-1896
  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Langley, S. P (Samuel Pierpont) 1834-1906
  • Newcomb, Simon 1835-1909
  • Royal Society of London
  • International Catalogue of Scientific Literature
  • British Association for the Advancement of Science


Smithsonian History Bibliography

Contained within

Science Vol. 5, Issue 136 (Journal)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


August 6, 1897


  • Communication in science
  • International cooperation
  • Science
  • Science publishing
  • Learned institutions and societies
  • Societies
  • Exchanges, Literary and scientific
  • Science--International cooperation
  • Science--Societies, etc
  • Catalogs

Physical description

Number of pages : 18; Page numbers : 184-201

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