AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXIV , No. 2, Fall 2002


Brittle Books Microfilming Project Gets Underway

Carl Friedrick Gauss and Wilhelm Weber
Carl Friedrick Gauss and Wilhelm Weber, from The History of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (1871-1931) by Rollo Appleyard, (Electrical Engineers, London 1939). Photo courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives.

The Niels Bohr Library's project to preserve brittle books through microfilming (see this Newsletter, Fall 2001) is now in full swing. In July, we shipped our first test batch of books to the microfilm vendor, Preservation Resources, located in Pennsylvania. The project, supported by the Friends of the Center for History of Physics and a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, is the culmination of a nine-year effort to insure the long-term preservation of the Library's most precious and irreplaceable books. The effort began with the move to a state-of-the-art, climate-controlled facility in 1993, and the development of an in-house book repair program two years later. In preparation for the project we checked every book in the collection and identified 2,875 volumes whose paper is too brittle, because of age and other factors, to repair or preserve by means other than filming.

We are conducting the Brittle Books Project in compliance with national bibliographic conservation standards. This means the final product will be a permanent copy of some of our most important books, available not only to visitors to the Niels Bohr Library but also to other libraries. It means a great deal of painstaking work for the Library staff in selecting and inspecting the books before filming, and inspecting the film frame-by-frame afterwards. We have nearly completed the first step—checking all of our brittle books in the national online catalog of the Research Libraries Information Network (RLIN)—to identify those that have been microfilmed by other libraries. Less than one in ten had been filmed according to modern preservation standards. After eliminating these, we select the most valuable titles for microfilming, since the funds in hand will only suffice to film about two-thirds of our brittle books.
D.O.  Mills Observatory
The D.O. Mills Observatory, Cerro San Cristóbal, Santiago, Chile. From Stellar Motions: with special reference to motions determined by means of the spectrograph, by Willam Wallace Campbell, Yale University Press, 1913. Photo courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives.
Fortunately many items are different editions or translations of the same bookthe Niels Bohr Library prides itself on maintaining a very complete collection, to allow detailed historical study of changes from one edition to another. Thus essentially all of the important books can be filmed in at least one edition. Once a book is selected, we collate it, checking page-by-page for missing or mutilated pages, as well as other irregularities that have to be noted on the microfilm. Where a page is missing, we obtain a duplication from a copy in another library. We are also taking advantage of the collating process to identify prints and photographs in many of the books that we are adding to our Emilio Segrè Visual Archives.

When the project is completed at the end of 2003 we expect to have microfilmed about 1,700 books, representing all of our most historically valuable brittle volumes that are not already on microfilm elsewhere. After the books are filmed, they will be returned to the Library and maintained in their original format, as well as on microfilm.

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AIP History CenterCenter for History of Physics
Phone: 301-209-3165
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