Mortimer Taube

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Mortimer Taube
Mortimer Taube (cropped).tif
Born6 December 1910 Edit this on Wikidata
Died3 September 1965 Edit this on Wikidata (aged 54)
Annapolis Edit this on Wikidata
Alma mater
OccupationLibrarian edit this on wikidata

Mortimer Taube (December 6, 1910 – September 3, 1965)[1] was an American librarian. He is on the list of the 100 most important leaders in Library and Information Science of the 20th century.[2] He was important to the Library Science field because he invented Coordinate Indexing, which uses “uniterms” in the context of cataloging. It is the forerunner to computer based searches. In the early 1950s he started his own company, Documentation, Inc. with Gerald J. Sophar. Previously he worked at such institutions as the Library of Congress, the Department of Defense, and the Atomic Energy Commission. American Libraries calls him “an innovator and inventor, as well as scholar and savvy businessman.”[2] Current Biography called him the “Dewey of mid-twentieth Librarianship.”[3] Mortimer Taube was a very active man with varying interests such as tennis, philosophy, sailing, music, and collecting paintings.

Education and early career[edit]

Mortimer Taube was born in Jersey City, New Jersey[1] on December 6, 1910. Taube received his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from the University of Chicago in 1933. He then pursued a Ph.D in the same field from the University of California at Berkeley in 1935. The following year, 1936, he received a certificate in librarianship from Berkeley.[3] For some time after this, he worked at various libraries and was a lecturer at Mills College, Harvard University, Duke University, University of Chicago, and Columbia University.[4]

Innovation after the war[edit]

In 1944, Mortimer Taube left academia behind to become a true innovator in the field of science, especially Information Science. After the war, there was a huge boom of scientific invention, and the literature to go with it. The contemporary indexing and retrieval methods simply could not handle the inflow.[3] New technology was needed to meet this high demand and Mortimer Taube delivered.He dabbled in many projects during and after the war. In 1944 he joined the Library of Congress as the Assistant Chief of the General Reference and Bibliographical Division.[5] He was then head of the Science and Technology project from 1947-1949.[3] He worked for the Atomic Energy Commission, which was established after “the Manhattan District Project wanted to evaluate and publish the scientific and engineering records showing the advancements made during the war.”[3] Their goal was also to make the material more readily available to the public and to open up business with countries abroad.[3] He was Deputy Chief of the Technical Information Service.[5] He also presented on the subject of Information Storage and Retrieval at a Symposium held by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research in 1958 in Washington D.C..[6]

Documentation, Inc.[edit]

Mortimer Taube also worked heavily with documentation, the literature pertaining to the new scientific innovation.[3] He was a consultant and Lecturer on Scientific Documentation and was even the editor of American Documentation in the years 1952-1953.[3] In 1952, Taube founded his own company, Documentation, Inc. with Gerald J. Sophar and two others.[5] Documentation, Inc. was the “largest aerospace information center” and did work for NASA.[5] Here Taube developed Coordinate Indexing, and important innovation in the field of Library Science. Taube defines Coordinate Indexing as, “the analysis of any field of information into a set of terms and the combination of these terms in any order to achieve any desired degree of detail in either indexing or selection."[7] Coordinate Indexing used “uniterms” to make storing and retrieving information easier and faster.[3] Uniterms “constitute a special set of rules and requirements which makes both the analysis into terms and the combination of the terms in order to specify items of information a remarkably simple and efficient process.”[7] Taube had split coordinate indexing into two categories, item and term indexing.[8] It used punch cards and a machine reader to search for specific items or documents by terms or keywords.[8] Documentation, Inc. also brought forth the IBM 9900 Special Index Analyzer, also known as COMAC.[3][9] COMAC stood for “continuous multiple access controller.” This machine handled data punch cards, used for information storage and retrieval.[3] It made “logical relationships among terms.”[3] Even though Documentation Inc. started as a small company, it soon grew to well over 700 members.[5]


Mortimer Taube died suddenly at the age of 54 of a heart attack after sailing on his ship.[5] His friends and colleagues fondly remember him as an active fellow “with so many interests that he often slept only two or three hours a night.”[5] Even though his technology seems to be the forerunner of OPACs and computer cataloging systems, Taube himself personally didn’t like the idea of computers taking over modern life.[5] He believed that “computers didn’t think.”[5] Even though he is an important figure in Information Science, he also seemed to remain interested in philosophy. He was writing a book on the subject before he died.[5] He had a varied personal life including sports and the humanities.[5] He was married to Bernice Taube and they had three children together; a son named Donald, and two daughters, Deborah and Mrs. George Schwelling.[5]

Selected works[edit]

  • Computers and Common Sense, the Myth of Thinking Machines. 1961.[3]
  • Studies in Coordinate Indexing. Washington, D.C.: 1953-1959.[3]
  • Information Storage and Retrieval: Theory, Systems, and Devices. 1958.[3]


  • First recipient of the Distinguished Contributions to Special Librarianship by the SLA-1952.[3]


  1. ^ a b Shera, Jesse H. (1978). "Mortimer Taube". In Wynar, Bohdan S. Dictionary of American Library Biography. Littleton, CO: Libraries Unlimited. pp. 512–13.
  2. ^ a b Leonard Kniffel; Peggy Sullivan; Edith McCormick (1999). 100 of the Most Important Leaders We had in the 20th Century. American Libraries. p. 38.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Mortimer Taube". 1998. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "MTWEB" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  4. ^ "Mortimer Taube Obituary". Bulletin of the Medical Library Association. 53 (4): 686. PMC 198347.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Mortimer Taube Dies; Founded Data Service. The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973). 1965. pp. A24. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "WPART" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  6. ^ Mortimer Taube; Harold Wooster (1958). Information Storage and Retrieval. Columbia University Press. pp. viii.
  7. ^ a b Mortimer Taube, Associates (1953). Coordinate Indexing. Documentation Incorporated. pp. 5–6. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "CITA" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  8. ^ a b Elizabeth S. Smith (1993). "On the Shoulder of Giants: from Boole to Shannon to Taube: the Origins of Computerized Information from the Mid-19th Century to the Present". Information Technology and Libraries.
  9. ^ Taube Mortimer. "Experiments with the IBM-9900 and a Discussion of an Improved COMAC as Suggested by These Experiments". Journal of Chemical Documentation. 2 (1): 22–26. doi:10.1021/c160004a007.


Kniffel, Leonard, Peggy Sullivan, Edith McCormick, “100 of the Most Important Leaders We had in the 20th Century,” American Libraries 30 (1999): 38.
Library Science. “Mortimer Taube,” last modified January 14, 1998,
“Mortimer Taube Dies; Founded Data Service,” Washington Post, times Herald (1959–1973),September 5, 1965.
"MORTIMER TAUBE". Bulletin of the Medical Library Association. 53 (4): 686. PMC 198347..
Smith, Elizabeth S., “On the Shoulder of Giants: from Boole to Shannon to Taube: the Origins of Computerized Information from the Mid-19th Century to the Present,” Information Technology and Libraries (1993):
Taube, Mortimer, and Associates. Coordinate Indexing. Documentation, Incorporated, 1953.
Taube, Mortimer, and Harold Wooster. Information Storage and Retrieval. New York: Columbia University Press, 1958.