AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXVIII , No. 2, Fall 2006


New High in Book Donations to
Niels Bohr Library

by Orville R. Butler

Franco Rasetti at Lake Ross, British Columbia, from the book ‘Franco Rasetti, Physicien et Naturaliste’, by Danielle Ouellet with the collaboration of René Bureau and Marc-Aimé Guérin, Montreal, 2000. Credit: Photograph by Léo G. Morin, courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, René Bureau Collection. Donated by Hubert Lechevalier, 2006.

Click on photo to see a larger image

Give us your dirty old books! In the Winter/Spring of 2004, the History Center distributed an announcement
on the Physics Astronomy Mathematics division of the Special Libraries Association listserv and pamphlets at the Special Libraries Association Conference of that year asking librarians
for unwanted books. We hoped to generate interest and awareness among potential donors of books to the Niels Bohr Library. Although a number of historians and physicists make
valuable donations to our library each year, we realized that many universities and special libraries weeding their collections may not know about us, a library specializing in history of physics with a strong interest in the unused and outdated books
they routinely discard. This announcement proved to be very fruitful; a surprising number of people responded with donations, sometimes large and always valuable.

The Niels Bohr Library holds one of the world’s premier collections in the History of Physics and its allied sciences (Astronomy,Geophysics, etc.) for the 19th and 20th centuries. While textbooks and monographs form the backbone of the collection, there are also many conference proceedings, biographies, institutional histories, instrument catalogs, instructional materials, popular-science books, and works on social aspects
of the scientific community. While we buy some books from used-book dealers, we rely chiefly on the generosity of donors to fill in gaps.

The response to our advertisement has awarded us close to 300 books to add to the collection. Most significant was a group of 232 books that we accessioned, donated by the Goucher College library. They no longer taught history of science there and were weeding books to move to a new facility. The collection, which started in the 1880’s, had a large number of History of Physics and Astronomy books. Herbert and Frances Bernstein donated books from the New York University Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences Library. Our library accessioned 32 physics books, selecting from the long list they sent us items that we wanted but did not have. Lehigh University also responded to our announcement with an excellent donation, sending us one hundred books from their collection relating to Physics, Astronomy and Geophysics. We accessioned 42 that we did not already have in our collection. Following our usual practice, when we are given books that are duplicated in our collection, we retain the better copy and sell the other to a dealer; thus the duplicate has a chance of finding a home that wants it, and we get some income to use for book purchases.

Book donations to our library have increased overall, and we gladly accept efforts to help us in our endeavor to preserve these resources. In many cases we have the only copy of a particular edition of a book known to exist in this country, or even the only copy of a text known to exist anywhere. While our oral history interviews and other archival sources remain the main reason scholars come to the Niels Bohr Library, we have increasingly had visitors who have been chiefly interested in using the books.


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