AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXVII , No. 2, Fall 2005


Title page to: ... Hydrodynamica ..., by Daniel Bernoulli, 1700-1782. Published in 1738. From the NOAA Photo Library.

Click on photo to see a larger image.

The NOAA Central Library: A Resource for Historians and Scientists
by Albert E. Theberge, Jr.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Library System is a federation of over thirty libraries dedicated to earth, atmospheric, and environmental sciences. Total collections encompass over 3 million documents spanning five centuries, all continents and oceanic regions, and subject matter ranging from the surface of the sun to the bottom of the sea. The flagship library of this system is the NOAA Central Library in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The Central Library dates to 1811, when Ferdinand Hassler, founder of the Coast Survey, traveled to Europe to procure books and instruments for America's first physical science agency. The Coast Survey Library grew around a nucleus of geodetic, mathematical, oceanographic and geophysical works. In 1870 the forerunner of today's National Weather Service was formed, followed the next year by the Office of Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries, the forerunner of the National Marine Fisheries Service. The libraries of these organizations joined to become the NOAA Central Library upon the formation of NOAA in 1970.

Housed within the NOAA Central Library are over 2500 science and engineering journals, including runs dating from the eighteenth century. Although most journal titles are English, there are many German, French, Eastern European, and Asiatic journals dating from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The library also holds approximately 500,000 stand-alone volumes dating from 1485 forward. Included in these are annual reports and documents published by the ancestor agencies of NOAA, oceanic and terrestrial expedition reports for many agencies and governments since the late eighteenth Century, a large number of polar science and exploration documents, and a number of old atlases, maps, and diagrams of various instruments and scientific concepts.

The NOAA Library website at hosts not only the Library catalog but also WINDandSEA, the Library guide to the oceanic and atmospheric sciences; the NOAA Browser pointing to NOAA offices and programs; the NOAA Photo Library which has 30,000 public domain images on-line; the NOAA History Web site which contains a vast amount of historical information relevant to NOAA and its ancestor agencies; and the library imaging project with over 2,000,000 pages online, including Coast Survey Annual Reports 1852-1950, National Marine Fisheries Service Annual Reports 1871-1940, and a broad array of weather and climate data, reports, maps and other information from the US and many other countries going back to 1861.

For questions concerning the Library and its collections or to arrange a tour for individuals or groups, call the reference desk at 301-713-2600 ext.124 or e-mail

Left: Paraselena, November 30, North Umberland Sound. In: "The Last of the Arctic Voyages...", by Sir Edward Belcher, 1855, vol. I. P. 169. From the NOAA Photo Library .

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Above: The Russian Hydrographical Expedition to the Arctic 1911-15. In: Geographical Review, Vol. 15, 1925. Page 398. Accompanies the article "The Siberian Sea Road," by N. A. Transehe. Pages 367-398. From the NOAA Photo Library . Click on photo to see a larger image.

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AIP History CenterCenter for History of Physics
Phone: 301-209-3165
American Institute of Physics 2005 American Institute of Physics,
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