Oral history interview with Jacques Tocatlian

Oral history interview with Jacques Tocatlian

  • 2000-Jun-22

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.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 36 pages
  • 01:57:00
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute
Digitization funder
  • Audio synchronization made possible through the generous funding of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

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.

Physical location

Oral history number 0208
Physical container
  • Shelfmark QD22.T633 A5 2000

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • August 31, 1929
  • Alexandria, Egypt
  • January 24, 2019


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1953 Jāmiʻat al-Iskandarīyah 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 Machinery and Chemical Corporation

  • 1963 to 1968 Literature Chemist

Merck Sharp & Dohme

  • 1968 to 1969 Information Specialist


  • 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

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PDF — 214 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

4 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads