Niels Bohr Library
Will Microfilm Brittle Books
The AIP History Center's Niels Bohr Library has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to microfilm and preserve approximately 2,000 brittle volumes from its collection of 18,000 books. The publications to be filmed are seminal works on the ideas and discoveries that created modern physics and astronomy, including the discovery of the electron, relativity, quantum physics and the expanding universe; successive editions of the standard textbooks that introduced these ideas to generations of students; and a variety of related works. The project will begin in January 2002 and will take about a year and a half to complete. The NEH is providing $120,850, which the American Institute of Physics and the Friends of the Center for History of Physics will match with $50,872 in staff time and overhead costs.
In addition to comprehensive coverage of the major figures and concepts in the physical science revolution in Europe and America, the library has extensive pamphlet holdings on important scientific controversies (for example, a premier collection on the relativity/anti-relativity disputes of the 1920s) and a variety of equipment catalogs, lab manuals, popularizations of science and other ephemeral publications. About two-thirds of the Library's book collection, and all of the titles selected for this project, were printed between 1850 and 1950a time when even textbook publishers often used paper with a high acid content, so that the pages oxidize and eventually fall apart. Some of the publications to be microfilmed can no longer be handled even gently without risk of breaking into fragments.
Microfilming remains the accepted standard for long-term preservation of written materials. There are many problems with digitization, including unresolved questions about the longevity of magnetic media and of the software to read it. The materials that will be microfilmed as part of the project will not be destroyed, but will be returned to the shelf as filming is completed. We will continue our program of safeguarding such materials in buffering boxes or envelopes (see this Newsletter, Fall 1998, www.aip.org/history/newsletter/fall98/preserv.htm), but that will not guarantee longevity as well as microfilm. Furthermore, the Library does not loan its printed materials, whereas the microfilms will be readily available to all by simple mail loan.
The volumes to be filmed were selected for their historical importance and their need to be reformatted because of advanced brittle decay. The project also contributes to a nationwide effort to preserve the country's most significant research materials and to make history of science sources more readily available. The Niels Bohr Library's project represents the first systematic effort to microfilm a historical collection of physics books and pamphlets. The Library's book catalog is also available online.