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Oral history interview with Thomas M. Aitchison and Jean Aitchison

  • 2000-Jul-04

Oral history interview with Thomas M. Aitchison and Jean Aitchison

  • 2000-Jul-04

In his joint interview with Jean Aitchison, Thomas M. Aitchison begins his interview by detailing his educational background and then continues by discussing how he first became interested in the field of information science. With the start of his career at Courtaulds, Aitchison got his first taste of working in a library. However, it was with the completion of the Library Association correspondence course that Aitchison gained the confidence and knowledge necessary to become a successful librarian. After applying for and being hired as divisional librarian and information officer with the British Aircraft Corporation, Aitchison became a member of the Aslib aircraft information group. He also joined the National Electronics Research Council and helped the Council develop a journal and numerous other projects. In January 1967, Aitchison helped form the Information Service in Physics, Electrotechnology, and Control (INSPEC) and became the information research manager. He also worked to mechanize Science Abstracts and organize the Direct Evaluation of Indexing Languages (DEVIL) project. He concludes his interview by sharing recollections of those who had the most influence on his career.

Jean Aitchison begins her interview by discussing how she first became involved in thesaurus development. She continues by sharing her first meeting with Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan and her initial impressions of him. Aitchison worked to complete three editions of English Electric Faceted Subject Classification for Engineering, between 1958 and 1961. With the help of others, she developed and reclassified many projects. She worked with Cyril Cleverdon on several publications and in March 1967 she began work on Thesaurofacet. She also worked to develop and improve the Bliss Association Classification system.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 35 pages
  • 01:31:00 (Thomas M. Aitchison's interview)
  • 00:40:00 (Jean Aitchison's interview)
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewer

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.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0200

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

Aitchison, Jean

  • October 06, 1925
  • Huddersfield, United Kingdom
  • November 26, 2020


Year Institution Degree Discipline
University College, London Diploma School of Library, Archive and Information Studies

Professional Experience

Ministry of Town and Country Planning Library

  • 1948 to 1949 Assistant Librarian

Derbyshire County Library

  • 1949 to 1950 Deputy Librarian

Sheffield Public Libraries, Science, Commerce, and Technology Library

  • 1950 to 1951 Sub-Librarian

Kingston-Upon-Hull Public Libraries, Commercial and Technology Library

  • 1952 to 1954 Librarian

English Electric Company Limited

  • 1955 to 1964 Chief Librarian

J & TM Aitchison

  • 1961 to 2016 Consultant; J & TM Aitchison operated 1988-1998


Year(s) Award
1982 Ranganathan Award for work on Thesaurus Design

Aitchison, Thomas M.

  • July 31, 1923
  • Glasgow, United Kingdom
  • 2018


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1944 University of St. Andrews BSc Mathematics and Physics
1955 Library Association Associate

Professional Experience

Courtaulds (Firm)

  • 1948 to 1955 Librarian

British Aircraft Corporation

  • 1955 to 1964 Divisional Librarian and Information Officer

National Electronics Research Council (England)

  • 1964 to 1966 Technical Officer and Director, SDI Project

Institution of Electrical Engineers, INSPEC

  • 1967 to 1988 Deputy Director, then Director

Peter Petergrinus, Ltd.

  • 1980 to 1988 Director

J & TM Aitchison

  • 1988 to 1990 Partner


Year(s) Award
1986 Order of the British Empire
1987 Hon. Fellow, Institute of Information Scientists
1988 Hon. Fellow, National Federation of Abstracting and Indexing Services

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PDF — 358 KB

The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

3 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads