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Donald J. Urquhart and the integration of science with librarianship: Part 1

Stephen J. Bensman (Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA)

Interlending & Document Supply

ISSN: 0264-1615

Article publication date: 5 June 2007



The purpose of this article is to analyze the historical significance of Donald J. Urquhart, who established the National Lending Library for Science and Technology (NLL) that later was merged into the British Library Lending Division (BLLD), now called the British Library Document Supply Centre (BLDSC).


The paper presents a short history of the probabilistic revolution, particularly as it developed in the UK in the form of biometric statistics due to Darwin's theory of evolution. It focuses on the overthrow of the normal paradigm, according to which frequency distributions in nature and society conform to the normal law of error. The paper discusses the importance of the Poisson distribution and its utilization in the construction of stochastic models that better describe reality. Here the focus is on the compound Poisson distribution in the form of the negative binomial distribution (NBD). The paper then shows how Urquhart extended the probabilistic revolution to librarianship by using the Poisson as the probabilistic model in his analyses of the 1956 external loans made by the Science Museum Library (SML) as well as in his management of the scientific and technical (sci/tech) journal collection of the NLL. Thanks to this, Urquhart can be considered as playing a pivotal role in the creation of bibliometrics or the statistical bases of modern library and information science. The paper relates how Urquhart's son and daughter‐in‐law, John A. and Norma C. Urquhart, completed Urquhart's probabilistic breakthrough by advancing for the first time the NBD as the model for library use in a study executed at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, connecting bibliometrics with biometrics. It concludes with a discussion of Urquhart's Law and its probabilistic implications for the use of sci/tech journals in a library system.


By being the first librarian to apply probability to the analysis of sci/tech journal use, Urquhart was instrumental in the creation of modern library and information science. His findings force a probabilistic re‐conceptualization of sci/tech journal use in a library system that has great implications for the transition of sci/tech journals from locally held paper copies to shared electronic databases.


Urquhart's significance is considered from the perspective of the development of science as a whole as well as library and information science in particular.



Bensman, S.J. (2007), "Donald J. Urquhart and the integration of science with librarianship: Part 1", Interlending & Document Supply, Vol. 35 No. 2, pp. 74-84.



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