The Literature Department as the Intelligence Center of the R&D

March 22, 1955


A typical literature department of an industrial organizationís research and development division is discussed in terms of modern communication theory -- input, output, and feedback These functions can be quite mechanical in some organizations as is the case with a computing device. However, the introduction of programming by the human operator, the literature scientist, makes the organism quite organic and synthetic, i.e. producing original ideas, rather than solely mechanistic and automatic, i.e. re-arranging known data.

A brief description is given of the research-exploratory and product
development team with particular emphasis on the role of the literature scientist. The principal phases of literature activity are discussed from the conception of the idea through exploratory testing, to the FDA, patenting, domestic marketing and promotion, product diversification and expansion, and foreign exploitation.

Other activities of the literature scientist are discussed in his role as communicator of scientific information throughout the company.


To those familiar with the job done by a literature research group in a research and development organization, it may be difficult to believe there could be any question that the functions it performs are necessary. Indeed, to these people a more appropriate question might be, how can a research and development organization get along without it? Of course, no organization of the type does get along without a literature research group, but many of them don't get along as well as they could with it. In other words, they fail to utilize the literature research team in such a way as to realize its full potentialities.

The literature scientist can function in a variety of ways. In one organization he may function as part of the library unit, in another as part of the technical information division. In others he may work in conjunction with a research team. The purposes of this talk is to indicate the many vital functions a literature research group may perform by describing the work done at the Smith Kline and French Laboratories' Literature Department. Each individual, however, is a member of or associated with a research or development team. Each team consists of a member of the three main departments of the company's Research and Development division; namely, the Literature Department, the Laboratories Department, and the Medical Department. The purpose of each team is to guide and direct work in the R&D division on the development of a new product or in the pursuit of a specific research program.

The literature scientist is responsible for the following activities:

1.    He must read the scientific literature in his field and extract  material             pertinent to the company's research and development projects or promotional programs and communicate the information to those persons who can use it to the best advantage.

2.    He must provide information from the Literature Department's archives.

3.    He must analyze data collected not only from the published literature but from scientific studies conducted within our own laboratories and laboratories or clinics outside the company, all of which flows into the Literature Department.

Indeed, some of these studies are initiated and designed by the Literature Department, often with the assistance of its own statistical unit.

In addition, he may have other responsibilities, as e.g. the Chairmanship of a research committee.

Before discussing the work of the individual literature scientist, let us consider the department of which he is a member. The Literature Department might be likened to a "thinking machine" reminiscent of H.G. Well's World Brain. Its memory is conditioned to store information by a feedback mechanism which evaluates the quality and quantity of information it stores and necessarily governs the nature of the information produced on request.

Let us trace the flow of information in and out of our "thinking machine". In the first instance, we have the problem of input literature scientists, by daily scrutiny of journals and other sources provide a steady flow of information into our large intelligence mechanism. Information is stored in its memory for quick retention by a programmed system of retrieval, that is, systematic though selective coding and indexing. The information absorbed is organized so as to make it accessible in the future when either the memory of the individual begins to wane or the information desired is of such complexity that it is beyond the capacity of individual retention.

On the other hand, one has the problem of output . Upon request or even at his own behest the literature scientist will require certain information. He can often times, of course, call upon his own memory.

More often he will have to seek the help of the mechanism which he has helped to create. He has at his disposal a variety of tools, all part of the overall mechanism and if they are properly coordinated can make the output time as short as possible.

There is in addition to the input and output phenomena, the concept of feedback. There is a constant interplay of ideas between the literature representative on the research team and the laboratory and medical representatives on the team. For example, the laboratory scientist has an idea which is worth exploring and passes it on to the literature scientist for examination. He in turn sifts his memory, activates the mechanism which he has established for storing information and tries to determine if the idea is really new or pertinent or if an old one, how apt it is. Of course, feedback works both ways. It is a condition of equilibrium or resonance so to speak. The literature scientist may come up with new ideas, pass them on to other members of the research team and they will, on the basis of experience, have to pass judgment on these ideas. There is no hard and fast rule about who can originate an idea on a research team since the literature scientist is on an equal level, with any other member of the team. Indeed, at Smith, Kline and French Laboratories he is possibly the chairman of the group.

The literature scientist also plays a role in communication outside the department and outside the company. A considerable volume of information is required by other company departments and by outside agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and, the American Medical Association.

The Literature Department is responsible for providing information to these agencies. An example is the SKF copywriter who wants to write copy for a new product. He has no scientific background concerning the product so he draws on the various reports that have been prepared or stored in the Literature Department then supplements these by conversations with the literature scientist the project team.

It has become a cliche to mention the tremendous increase in the volume of the published literature which makes it almost impossible for the creative scientist to be thorough in his coverage of the literature if he is to reserve enough of his precious time to conduct research in the laboratory. The dilemma it would seem can be partially solved through literature research groups. The work of scanning the literature can be performed by people who do nothing but read and handle literature on a full-time basis. Knowing the general and specific interests of the laboratory scientist, the literature scientist can keep him posted on most of the major developments affecting his work. Duplication of effort is thereby reduced.

Each three-member team guides the progress of its project. The literature department member is often the project team head. The literature scientist is as well informed as anyone in the R & D division about the projects progress and, can best guide the collection of information in the files of the Literature Department.

It would be best to illustrate his activities on a project team of which there are basically two types. One is an exploratory research team, the other a product development team. These correspond to the two main parts of the Research and Development division.

On an exploratory research team the literature representative is responsible for keeping the other persens on the team aware of all new developments published in the literature. For example, on the cardiovascular research program the literature scientist regularly prepares annotated abstracts of the cardiovascular literature. These are circulated to all in the company who are interested in this program.

In addition, this literature scientist meets regularly with the other members of the cardiovascular team, helps them analyze their data, and helps to prepare the reports that are submitted to the various operating committees of the company. In addition to the literature coverage, there is the matter of patent searches and patentability suggestions. The obvious need for this type of literature work does not warrant further explanation.  This illustrates some of the work on a research team.

In the case of a development team we usually start with a new compound or a combination of compounds. First it may be necessary to determine the patentability or infringement status of the preparation.

Next, it is necessary to perform laboratory and clinical investigations to prove the safety- and efficacy of the product. Material, collected from these studies flows into the Literature Department where it is analyzed and summarized and disseminated to all the persons who are interested in the development of that product.

Periodically the literature department member of the team helps to prepare product status reports, and as indicated prepares research circulars which are sent to clinical investigators.

These physicians must do the initial clinical work in proving the efficacy of the new product in human subjects. When sufficient laboratory and clinical work has been done to warrant marketing this new product it must be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration in Washington.

In some cases a considerable volume of data must be supplied before it can be approved for marketing. All the information collected must be organized and summarized in a form in which it can be readily assimilated by the Food and Drug Administration so that they can pass judgment on the safety and efficacy of the product. Data stored in the Literature Department is used by the literature scientist when preparing this "submission". Concurrent with the preparation of a Food and Drug administration "submission" the literature scientist begins to brief the promotional departments of the company with the optimistic idea that the drug will be approved for marketing. If approval is received from the Food and Drug Administration the literature scientist must instruct the promotional personnel in all aspects of the productís efficacy, superiority, side effects etc.. In this way the copywriter can write promotional material which describe the utility of the product, as well as the limits of its utility, to the physician.

It would seem that this was the end of the literature scientistís work in the development of a new product. However, more or less, it is only the beginning because other agencies such as the American Medical Association require information on our products. Beyond this, there are many requests for information on our products from physicians, hospitals, etc. The background data for answering these queries is supplied by the Literature Department to the Medical personnel answering them.

The product may be marketed in foreign countries by SKF's foreign division. The literature scientist must draw again on his bank of information to provide background to the foreign government agencies.

As the years pass the published literature accumulates on each product.   The literature scientist must keep abreast of it, keep it organized so that at any point he can re-evaluate the product to decide if it has further value, if it may be used in a different dose form or if it may be used in combination with other products or in different diseases.  If there is a decision to market the product in other forms then it may become another development project initiating a new cycle.

In conclusion then, we have tried to illustrate by examples of Research and Development how the literature scientist provides a necessary link in a communication's chain in a fairly large organization. We have not mentioned the numerous detailed activities which the Literature Department may perform in carrying out this role such as the utilization of mechanical devices, specialized types of indexing, etc. but these would be more properly the subject of another paper.