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Meet Our Faculty: Stephen Bensman

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Steve Bensman

Steve Bensman has worked at LSU Libraries since 1978 and since 1997 he has been an original cataloger. As original cataloger, Steve catalogs monographs (books) and other types of materials and provides access to them through the library catalog.

Two special responsibilities of Steve’s include cataloging foreign-language materials and establishing NACO entry headings. NACO headings are headings in the National Authority File, used by all libraries, and Steve has special responsibility for establishing those that concern Louisiana.

Bensman’s Research

Steve is perhaps the Libraries’ most prolific researcher. Over the years, his major research interest has been the probability structure of human knowledge, particularly as it pertains to the production, dissemination, evaluation, and use of information. In this, his emphasis has been on scientific information, with a focus on three major areas:

  1. probability and statistics;
  2. the sociology of science; and
  3. the usage of scientific information as measured by citations and library circulation.

Bensman has been particularly interested in the relationship between the citation and library use of scientific information, because citations are the measure through which it is possible to connect the library use of scientific information to the social stratification system of science. Writes Bensman,

My primary aim has been the integration of the above three areas of interest. In doing so, I have come to see modern information science as a further development of a probabilistic and statistical revolution that occurred from the 17th century forward to the present day. This revolution entered a crucial phase in period 1850-1950 with the creation of Lexian statistics in Germany and biometric statistics in Britain. The latter statistics resulted from an attempt to quantify Darwin’s theory of evolution and laid the bases for modern inferential statistics. It was the amalgamation of Lexian and biometric statistics that led to the creation of the Poisson models that best describe the stochastic processes underlying scientific social stratification and information use.

His recent research concentrates on the two main historical developments that laid the quantitative foundation for modern library and information science:

  1. the establishment of a national science library in Britain; and
  2. the creation of the citation indexing of science in the US.

Concerning the first, Bensman notes that Britain was the country not only where modern inferential statistics were pioneered but also where bibliometrics—an offshoot of these statistics—initially arose. The main locus for the creation of bibliometrics was the Science Museum Library in London, where S. C. Bradford and D. J. Urquhart did research on the classification and utilization of scientific information. Both these men summarized their results in bibliometric laws, and their efforts led to the establishment of the present-day British Library Document Supply Centre (BLDSC).

As for the second, writes Bensman, citation indexing was developed in Philadelphia by Eugene Garfield, who in the 1960s established the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) that published the Science Citation Index together with other citation products. Bensman’s recent articles on Garfield have concentrated on a citation measure called the “impact factor,” which he created to evaluate scientific journals. This measure has been the one most utilized not only to evaluate scientific journals but also scientists and scientific programs.

Scientometrics

Because of his expertise on the subject, Bensman was invited by the editor of Scientometrics to write an article for a special issue dedicated to this measure to appear in mid-2012, and it has been already been published online under the title, “The Impact Factor: Its Place in Garfield’s Thought, in Science Evaluation, and in Library Collection Management.” (http://www.akademiai.com/content/4hm70w0617167547/)

Bensman has written many other articles on the impact factor, one demonstrated that the probability distributions of the impact factor in the sciences tend to differ from those in the social sciences, with the latter ones manifesting much more randomness. It analyzed the reasons for this difference, showing how one could utilize it to distinguish a discipline following the scientific model of information from one following the social science model. Another article, which was done in collaboration with Loet Leydesdorff of the University of Amsterdam, analyzed how ISI’s methods of defining journals as bibliographic and subject entities deviate greatly from those methods practiced by American research libraries, showing that this causes what can be considered extreme distortions of citation measures such as the impact factor. It was for this article that Bensman was given the 2009 Scholar Librarian of the Year Award by the Louisiana Chapter of the Association of College & Research Libraries.

Over the past year, Bensman has extended his probabilistic analyses of scientific information to the new field of Webology. He is currently working on two companion papers related to that topic. The first is with two LSU Libraries colleagues, Alice Daugherty and Hillary Veeder, and second is by Lawrence Smolinsky and Daniel Sage on Fields medalists in mathematics. In addition, Lawrence Smolinsky, Daniel Sage, and Bensman were granted a contract with MIT Press to write a chapter on the place of chemistry and mathematics in the probability structure of virtual science for a book entitled Bibliometrics and Beyond: Metrics-Based Evaluation of Scholarly Research, edited by Blaise Cronin and Cassidy Sugimoto, two professors at the Indiana University School of Library and Information Science.

At present, Bensman also has a contract with Emerald Books to write a book summing up his life’s research. The book is about half done.

Bensman writes that his greatest accomplishment—and the one he is most proud of—is that fact that Eugene Garfield, the inventor of science citation indexing, has posted many of Bensman’s writings on his authoritative Web site at http://www.garfield.library.upenn.edu/bensman/bensman.html. Bensman writes that, “I may look somewhat out of place with all his [Garfield's] friends who have won the Nobel Prize but there I am.” Bensman has also received recognition locally by being granted the Scholar Librarian of the Year Award for 2009 by the Louisiana Chapter of the Association of College & Research Libraries.

As for the future of the LSU Libraries, Bensman writes, “The information revolution is moving forward at warp speed, and I hope that LSU Libraries will be able to navigate it.”

Sigrid Kelsey is the Director of Library Communications and Publications at the LSU Libraries.

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One comment on “Meet Our Faculty: Stephen Bensman
  1. Don Kraft says:

    Great comment on a fine scholar and gentleman.

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    Today's the day! Join us for cake and a great exhibit, and more! LSU Libraries Special Collections - Hill Memorial Library from 5:30-7:30 pm.
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