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A Project for Knowledge Engineering


As a part of the new CNRS strategy concerning scientific and technical information (IST), the Institute for scientific and technical information (Inist) is beginning again on a new basis. With a project entitled "Knowledge Engineering" (« Ingénierie des connaissances »), which was approved by the CNRS Management Board on the 10th of June, the Inist proposes new services to researchers and public research. The Unit is strongly anchored in Lorraine, and thus reinforces its national role: a position very much in tune with the global strategy of the CNRS. Raymond Bérard, the head of the Inist, answered questions from the CNRS weekly.

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The Institute of scientific and technical information in Vandoeuvre-lès-Nancy (Meurthe-et-Moselle) is housed in a building designed by Jean Nouvel, architect.

CNRS weekly: In what context was the 2014-2018 Inist project elaborated?

Raymond Bérard: The Inist is a service Unit affiliated to the CNRS and attached to the Department of scientific and technical information (DIST). Created at the end of the 1980s, it became known because of Francis and Pascal, the multidiscipline bibliographic databases, and Refdoc, the document supply service that was mainly destined for, and sold to, the private sector, for example the pharmaceutical industry. For several years, this model has been brought into question, both inside and outside of the Inist. Besides the legal decision that led to Refdoc being suspended in December 2013 [1], the Inist’s offer of services had not been sufficiently updated to take into account digital development.

Upon my arrival in July 2013, we undertook an inventory of the situation and took part in the drawing up of the CNRS’s scientific and technical Information (IST) strategic Schema "A Better Sharing of Knowledge", which was carried out at the instigation of the DIST and validated in December 2013. This strategic schema is the pedestal on which we have based our own project entitled "Knowledge Engineering". On the 10th of June it was ratified by the CNRS’s Management Board. This approach of renewal allowed the association of numerous people within the Inist, but also the federation with our partners who are specialised in IST.

CNRS Weekly: What is the new strategic position of the Inist?

R. B.: The Inist is positioning itself as a CNRS Unit at the service of public research. This is rather a radical turnabout. In other terms, we have changed from a reasoning of industrial production –that consisted of selling documents–to a service strategy, which presumes that we will answer the needs of the CNRS Institutes, and more widely of Higher Education and Research, in terms of IST. The private sector will no longer have access to Refdoc but, for example, will still be able to order monitoring studies. In other words, our policy will no longer be guided by the desire to generate income.
Being at the service of all researchers implies that the Inist will carry out its missions in the framework of partnerships. At the national level, we already contribute actively to the work of the digital scientific library (BSN), and we want to approach more closely the establishments of higher education and other research organisations. Within the CNRS, the partnership with the Institutes and all IST operators will also be reinforced. To favour this open governance, an observation and direction committee will be set up in the Inist in the autumn of 2014.

CNRS Weekly: What specific changes are planned?

R. B.: The Inist project is centred on the development of 14 activities with added value. These are grouped into three axes: analysis of information; access to publications; diffusion of information (see the schema). Generally, we will ensure the development of services and skills that already exist in the Inist, but which have been somewhat overshadowed to date. This concerns activities such as training, translation, digital publishing, digitalization, as well as bibliometric studies, terminology, documentary engineering, but also services that were started more recently, such as the promotion of research data.
Concerning access to the literature, the researchers expect major changes. The current CNRS portals need to be modernised, made more flexible to allow interdisciplinary research and open to resources by free access. They must also be able to integrate with the University interfaces. Concerning the supply of documents, Refdoc was re-opened for consultation last February and should be re-installed in service between now and Autumn 2014-but only for establishments of higher education and research, with a free service for CNRS Units.
These changes will induce a new economic model for the Inist. A techno-commercial study will shortly be launched to define the division between free and paying services. This will concern all the IST services of the CNRS. We will be careful to ensure that differential tariffs are applied, depending on the users.

CNRS Weekly: How will the Inist staff evolve?

R. B.: The Inist’s swing towards these new digital activities requires that some 70 staff members will evolve professionally. A plan for the redeployment and re-skilling of this part of the workforce began this month (July). It comprises a lengthy phase of individual interviews; activities to raise awareness and periods of immersion so that the staff can choose which activities attract them the most. A new organisation chart will be prepared in the autumn, along with a training plan. The staff are due to take up their new posts on the 1st of January 2015. Concerning the size of the Inist, which is currently at 217 staff [2], we have been assured that it will be stabilised at 200 by the year 2016.

CNRS Weekly: How is the Inist positioned within the Lorraine pole?

R. B.: Lorraine disposes of recognised assets in terms of IST centred on language engineering: the Inist, the presence of high-quality laboratories in the domain, and two programs of investment for the future (Istex, ORTOLANG) attest to this. In this context, the Inist supplies a material infrastructure, data corpus and the expertise of IST engineers. The ongoing partnerships relate to the development of innovative technologies: data processing, metadata expertise, terminology, web semantics, etc. The current synergies are so fruitful that we plan to associate ourselves with a project of investment for the future with the University of Lorraine and other regional partners: "knowledge engineering".

Interviewed with Claire Debôves for CNRS-Weekly.

The INIST in figures

  • 217 members of staff (ETPT)
  • 11 million euros annual budget in 2013 (of which 10 million euros were for acquisitions)
  • 46 000 researchers registered
  • 54 web sites
  • 7 bibliographic portals (BiblioSHS, BiblioPlanets, BiblioVie, etc.)
  • 6 561 journals accessible
  • 4 395 305 articles exported during 2013
  • 591 385 words translated

The 14 services proposed by the Inist to higher education and research

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[1Decision of the Supreme Court, 11th of December, 2013

[2Calculated in equivalent full-time worked (ETPT) i.e. the measurement of the activity of staff members as a function of their time worked and annual presence