Is it because of mixed feelings about Google that librarians don’t talk much about Google having its origins in the library world? As described in the quote below, it’s well-established that Google PageRank is built on librarian Eugene Garfield’s citation-analysis work done in the 1950′s, which led to the standard library reference tool Science Citation Index, and later Web of Science — So why are we not shouting it out? – Google grew from library roots!

Guy Gugliotta’s 2009 article in Wired does a good job of connecting Garfield’s work with Google (boldface added):

The science citation revolution began more than 50 years ago. Eugene Garfield, then a young librarian pursuing a PhD in structural linguistics, started wondering about that most prosaic of bibliographic tools: the footnote. Most people think of footnotes as reaching backward in time to a document’s sources. But Garfield realized that they could reach forward, too—future footnotes would cite the original article. “The citation becomes the subject,” says Garfield, now 83 and enjoying his stature as the founding father of modern citation analysis. “It was a radical approach to retrieving information.”

Some three decades before the concept of the hyperlink and the World Wide Web crossed anybody’s mind, Garfield had figured out how to connect the immense body of scientific knowledge into a network. In the early 1960s he began publishing The Science Citation Index; Garfield sold the first edition, five volumes of arcane hard-copy reference, to academic libraries for $500.

Citation-based ranking schemes … are increasingly the coin of the online realm. Understanding and quantifying reputation is the best approach to navigating the tsunami of information on the Internet. That’s why Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin cited Eugene Garfield in their academic work on PageRank, the algorithm that powers their company’s search engine.

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Why I’m calling Garfield the “grandfather of Google” — Gary Price, in 2004, seems to have been the first to refer to Garfield as The Father of Citation Analysis (which is repeated in the quote above) — So, if he’s the “father” of citation analysis, and citation analysis played a key role in the development of PageRank and Google, it’s a short step to … Garfield as Google’s grandfather.

*Garfield as a “librarian” — Although he apparently never worked in a library, Garfield did have an MLS and is often referred to as a “librarian,” as he is in the Wired quote above. In his early career, he had especially close connections in the medical library world, as this profile of him describes.

Picture of Garfield from Indiana University.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

2 thoughts on “Eugene Garfield: Librarian* & Grandfather of Google

  1. Pingback: Emeritus Director Eugene Garfield’s Work Influenced Google « Research!America

  2. [ER: This comment is by Eugene Garfield -- When the article was published in July, I sent an email to Garfield, asking if my calling him a "librarian" was OK. He answered that question, and also told interesting stories, which I'm including here, with my slight editing.]

    Garfield says: If you want to call me a librarian I don’t mind. Some of my best friends are librarians!!

    [About his library-related work and information engineering ...]

    I worked in the Johns Hopkins Welch Medical Library before I went to library school. I was there because that is where the Welch Project had one big room where we did experiments with IBM punched card machines and especially the 101 Statistical Machine. The Project was sponsored originally by the Army Medical Library which then became the Armed Forces Medical Library which then was transformed into the National Library of Medicine. All of this is described in the literature. When I was terminated by the Project Director I was advised to get a degree in library science if I wanted to make any headway in the field. That was probably not true since I had several job offers but it proved to be an interesting segue to my future role as an entrepreneur in the library field. A large percentage of my future “clients” were librarians and I was active in the Medical Library Association but in some ways never accepted because I was working in a for profit organization once I started Current Contents and then the Science Citation Index. The then cub reporter for Science magazine (William J. Broad who has gone on to become a well known science writer for the NY Times.) described me in an article as “librarian makes millions off mere footnotes.”

    Although I don’t mind being called a librarian, I think it’s more accurate to call me an information engineer or information scientist. I think the scientific community considers me a science communicator. I always considered myself an information engineer, but was forbidden to use that term by the Engineering licensing board of Pennsylvania so I called myself an information scientist. Today I am usually referred to as a scientometrician or bilbiometrician but a more accurate term might be citation analyst.

    [About his work on citation analysis and Google ...]

    Guy Gugliotta got the sequence mixed up when he said that the idea of the Science Citation Index came before I began my doctoral program in structural linguistics. It started while I was still at the Welch Project in 1953. After I left there while at library school I wrote my primordial paper for Science magazine in early 1954 but it didn’t get published until 1955, a year after I finished Library School at Columbia. By then I had gone to Philadelphia and started my small company Eugene Garfield Associates which published Current Contents. Encouraged by my best friend Casimir Borkowski I signed up for my doctoral degree program in structural linguistics in 1958 and continued until 1961 when I got my doctorate in what is best described as chemical linguistics.

    I believe you will find that in the original patent granted to the inventors of Google, the patent examiner pointed to the connection between page ranking and what was then the journal citation reports. I had heard that William Arms had told them while at Stanford about the Science Citation Index, but if they (Larry Page and Sergei Brin) ever acknowledged that or not in writing I am not certain.

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