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Viewed from the Information Age, the year 1914 is practically the Stone Age. But even then, librarians sought out the most efficient ways to collect content and inform patrons, and that strategy included abstracting and indexing.

1914 marked the first edition of the Bulletin of the Public Affairs Information Service, A Cooperative Clearing House of Public Affairs Information. The genesis of what is now the Public Affairs Information Service (PAIS) seems quaint by today's standards, as written in the 1914 edition by editor Orrena Louise Evans:

A little group of special librarians meeting in Kaaterskill [upstate New York] in June, 1913, discussed a plan for keeping themselves informed systematically in regard to publications and movements of interest to them in their work. As the result, Public Affairs Information Service was organized on a cooperative basis.

Today, PAIS continues to chronicle the world's public affairs, public and social policies, and world politics, focusing on subjects that reflect contemporary issues. It is an eclectic mix of journals, gray literature, books, government documents, and other sources, irrespective of disciplinary boundaries.

What began with weekly mimeographed sheets “listing by subjects notices of important publications and movements regarding to public affairs” quickly became an annual accumulation. By the end of this year, PAIS International will boast more than 2 million citations.

The early PAIS records offer a fascinating window on the social issues at the beginning of the 20th Century. Periodicals referenced in that first edition include American Gas Light Journal and Horseless Age. Subject categories include Housewives' leagues, Jitney buses, Malingering, Gins and ginning and the especially awkward Feeble-minded. Cited records of those early years include:

>> “Can we afford child labor?”
>> “America's interests as affected by the European war”
>>“How shall a new motor vehicle law be framed?”
>> “New York society for the suppression of vice”
>> “Epidemiology of the outbreak of poliomyelitis in Buffalo, N. Y., 1912”
>> “Slums: a sociological retrospect of the city of Dublin”

Of course, PAIS has evolved over the past century. It changed hands several times, and eventually migrated to CD-ROM, then became an online offering. It added foreign language content and improved its subject indexing.

But what is more remarkable about reading PAIS in 1914, is that the topics still resonate today. Those early citations included articles about industrial accidents, agricultural credit, banking, budgeting, child labor, crime and criminals, courts, hours of labor, law, legislation, elections, foreign affairs, exports and imports, wages, and education – all of which are still being debated and discussed in today’s society. Titles like these, from 1914, include familiar issues:

>> “Montessori method and the kindergarten"
>> “Results of studies upon the dust and bacteria content of the air of cities”
>> “Abolition of Poverty”
>> “Anti-discrimination laws”

Each of these headlines could easily be contemporary searches in PAIS. PAIS still uses a controlled taxonomy as well. Some of the terms used in that first edition—including Crime and criminals, Economic conditions, Labor camps, Old age pensions, and Freedom of speech—are active now.

But is the product still relevant to today's researchers?

The value of this simple newsletter—focused on contemporary research and news focused on modern advancements—has turned into an extraordinary trove of historical citations. Just as newspapers provide both the in-the-moment daily information as well as the historical record, PAIS’ showcase is now its remarkable archival content. This probably would never have been imagined by that small initial group of special librarians.

This backfile, while providing value to researchers, is also a tradition at ProQuest. PAIS is still managed by a small editorial team of subject area specialists in Louisville, Kentucky. It still offers no core coverage of any particular subject, instead opting for that same heterogeneous mix of materials that has been its hallmark. Jitney buses are now high-speed rail, and pamphlets from the Farmers' Bulletin have given way to web content from the Urban Institute, but the beat goes on.

The painstaking editorial effort ProQuest puts in to PAIS is not only as a way to add in current information and data, but involves a century of caring curation.

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Take a look at the rest of the ProQuest Social Sciences collection here.

07 Nov 2014

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