AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXIX , No. 2, Fall 2007

Improvements in Web Access to Finding Aids in Physics and Allied Fields
By Jennifer S. Sullivan

The Niels Bohr Library of the American Institute of Physics has made major improvements in the usability of our Physics History Finding Aids Web site (PHFAWS), while adding some 150 new finding aids to collections, mostly from repositories in the United Kingdom.

This brings the total number of finding aids that can be cross-searched in one operation to 360 from 48 repositories. Among the major collections that can be searched in detail are the papers of Bohm, the Braggs (both father and son), Einstein, Fermi, Feynman, Mott, Oppenheimer and Peierls. Not only physics but astronomy and geophysics are increasingly well represented.

Each finding aid typically includes an introductory essay describing the main features and subjects of the collection and a listing of box and folder contents, sometimes running to hundreds of pages. Historians of science and other scholars can conduct a search on a name or subject term and know that every hit will point them to an item in a relevent archival collection. (Items in many of the finding aids could also be among the results turned up by a general search engine such as Google, but the archival hits would be buried deep among countless items of no use to the scholar.) PHFAWS is located on AIPís Web site at

PHFAWS has fulfilled our hope of becoming a major research tool in physics and allied fields. By including many finding aids in a single searchable index, it provides researchers with a whole new level of access to some of the most important collections. As a result, since the beginning of 2007, PHFAWS has received 25,092 visits with 75,685 page views of individual finding aids. This 3:1 ratio of views to hits means that a large number of users are spending time in the site and finding it worthwhile.

We have improved our software so we can easily add new finding aids and update existing ones. After staff have found an appropriate historical collection described in a finding aid and secured permission to index it, we can now incorporate the finding aid in PHFAWS with no more than some minor tweaking. (Standards for encoding finding aids are a moving target, so some customization is always needed when we add items from a new repository or consortium.)

The United Kingdom finding aids were added with the permission and assistance of the National Archives UK, which hosts A2A (, a database of finding aids describing collections held at local archives in England and Wales. Other significant additions this year include new finding aids from the University of Chicago, the University of Minnesota and the University of Maryland.

PHFAWS is now a significant international resource for historians of physics and allied fields. It is the culmination of work provided by a rapidly growing consortium of archival institutions. Initially funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the original consortium consisted of the AIP Center for History of Physics and nine other leading archival institutions and placed 60 finding aids online (see the Fall 2000 Newsletter at,

As a pioneer in giving access to online finding aids, PHFAWS has been a shared platform consortium for finding aids in our field in a variety of electronic formats. Originally all the finding aids were located as copies on AIPís own server, but in its revised form PHFAWS points to the website of the repository that owns the collection, so the searcher will be using the most recently updated form of the finding aid.

For additional information, or if you know of finding aids on the web that should be included in PHFAWS, please visit the PHFAWS Web site at or contact Archivist, Jennifer Sullivan (jsulliva@aip. org, 301 209-3172), or Library Director, Joe Anderson (, 301 209-3183).

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