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Who is Robert Saxton Taylor?

Library curator, professor and accomplished author. He is considered as a visionary who took bold and calculated risks that led librarianship into the information age… Here is the biography of Robert Saxton Taylor.

Native of Ithaca, New York, Robert S. Taylor graduated from Cornell University in 1940 with a B.A. in history, before being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942. He served in Germany as a counterintelligence officer. He became a member of the Army Counter Intelligence Corps until his return to the United States in 1947.

He then enrolled in the library science program at Columbia University and graduated with a master’s degree in 1950. From 1950 to 1956, Robert S. Taylor worked as a library curator at Lehigh University, where he later became professor and Director of Information Science. Following this, from 1967 to 1972, he became Director of the Library Center and Professor of the Language and Communications Program at Hampshire College. He eventually joined the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University in 1972, first as a professor and then as dean from 1972 to 1981. He is still considered an outstanding dean who left his mark on the history of the school, especially as he was responsible for changing the name of it. In the hope of creating a new type of school, specialising in information, and to better represent its activities, courses and desired orientation, he renamed it « Information Studies ». He will also be the first in the country to create a master’s degree in information resources management.

Despite the fact that his life is shaped by his role as a teacher, Robert S. Taylor is one of the key players in reference services. His main contributions are his various published articles on question negotiation, including « The Process of Asking Questions », published in 1962. In this paper, he outlines what informational need is and the different levels that make it up.

The informational need arises from a lack of knowledge on a specific subject and leads to an individual’s questioning. Therefore, Robert S. Taylor looks for a way of meeting this need by organising the available information and devices in the best possible manner.

1: The real, but unspoken, need for information. This is the initial need that the user has. This need will change as additional information is added.

2: The conscious description is in the mind of need. At this level, the user has an ambiguous mental description of what he/she is looking for, but may need help from a third party to focus on the topic.

3: The formal statement of need. The user may have a question and wonder whether or not the information system can answer the question

4: The question as it has been submitted to the information system. This is the level to which the question is formalised. It is at this stage that the user can get in touch with the reference librarian or take into account the set-up of the informational files that the library has (books, brochures, tables, etc.)

To understand and respond to the informational need, Robert Taylor suggests using five filters. These filters are questions that will help to fine-tune the understanding of the informational need. These five filters are: the identification of the subject, the purpose and motivation, the personal attributes of the requester, the relationship between the request and the file set-up, and finally, the anticipated or acceptable answers.

Among his many awards, Robert S. Taylor was awarded the Best Book Award by the American Society for Information Science for his book « The Making of Library » in 1972, and the Award of Merit in 1992.

He passed away in 2009 at the age of 90 after a long illness. He made a significant contribution to the area of information studies through his ideas, articles and scientific achievements. His work is still quoted nowadays and considered as structuring.


Translated by par N.PIQUERO. 
Nicolas Piquero is a seasoned SEO with 6 years experience. He worked as an in-house, agency and freelance SEO, with various major european companies. Being both a yourtext.guru and babbar.tech power user, it was obvious that he could be an ambassador for babbar’s tools. So, being based in London, he is the first babbar ambassador for the UK.


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