AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXI, No. 1, Spring 1999


International Catalog of Sources Survey Completed and Online

We have just reached another milestone in the development of the International Catalog of Sources for the History of Physics and Allied Sciences (ICOS). During the 1990s the AIP Center for History of Physics conducted a world survey of archives that brought in large amounts of new information, mostly in a variety of handwritten or typed formats. Center staff have now completed cataloging all this information and migrated it to our database, bringing the online ICOS up-to-date with all the collection information we have in hand. The ICOS now contains over 7,000 records, an addition of 2,000 collection descriptions since we last reported on progress in the Spring 1998 issue of this Newsletter. Researchers can access the ICOS online via our Website at /history.

As long-time Newsletter readers are aware, the International Catalog of Sources database contains summary descriptions of source materials that document 20th (and some 19th) century physics and allied fields such as astronomy, geophysics and optics. The materials described include the papers (notebooks, correspondence, etc.) of scientists, records of major institutions such as academic departments and research labs, and oral history interviews. These materials are preserved in the Center s Niels Bohr Library and over six hundred other repositories around the world. Countries represented include Australia, Austria, Czechoslovakia, China, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and, of course, the United States -- approximately 2,300 of the 7,000 records are descriptions from non-U.S. repositories.

The record descriptions in the ICOS have been gathered over many years, thanks to the cooperation of many archivists and historians and to the support of various grant funding agencies. The catalog began as a cardfile in the early 1960s -- one outcome of the AIP s first history documentation initiative, the NSF-supported Project for the History of Recent Physics in the United States. The cardfile/catalog was expanded substantially after 1988 when a series of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation allowed us to conduct extensive surveys to identify collections in archival repositories in the United States, and also to work with non-U.S. centers (such as the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Science in England) to conduct surveys of repositories internationally. We also gathered information for the ICOS through a systematic survey of published sources such as the Library of Congress s National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections. Online catalogs are another important resource for the ICOS, particularly the Research Library Information Network (RLIN), the Research Libraries Group s national online database, which includes descriptions of manuscript collections. A comprehensive subject search of RLIN identified many records of collections documenting physics and allied fields which have now been downloaded into our ICOS database. All of these sources of information contributed to the cataloging backlog, now completed, which had existed (in degrees) since the late 1980s as we began to rapidly expand and upgrade the ICOS.

Advances in computer applications and standardization of cataloging formats used by archivists have played significant roles in the development of the ICOS. We started automating the cardfile/ catalog and creating a database with the information in 1982. This was the first of three successive databases used for the ICOS, for we upgraded as software grew obsolete and as national standards improved. Since 1992 we have been using the MARC format -- the Library of Congress (LC) Standard -- in all our cataloging, and also following LC authority rules for names and subjects. For cataloging we use Minaret, a MARC format database designed for the archives community. By following standards established by the library and archives communities we are able to share our catalog records with MARC systems such as RLIN, and thus make the ICOS more widely available.

At first, the primary way we provided outside research access to the ICOS was by sharing our records with RLIN (along with mediated searches conducted by library staff). Better access to our most current information came with the development of the Center s Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC). e are currently using Web catalog software (pdi Web) designed to interface with Minaret (see announcement on new Integrated Library System on p. 2 for planned changes). The OPAC has dramatically improved access to the ICOS for researchers with Web access. Users can search across all fields in the catalog record or by entering the name of the person, institution, topic, or repository holding the collection, or they can enter the country of the repository. Since we have provided index terms for all the records, a search can also turn up collections in which a person figured prominently as a correspondent, interviews with significant information on a given topic, etc.

We know that users from abroad as well as from the U.S. have consulted the Web ICOS to look for information on archival resources which might be useful in their research. The database receives a few hundred search requests per month from locations all over the world -- the Netherlands, Germany, Britain, Spain, and Australia among others. We also hear from researchers about their use of ICOS when they come to us to request access to our collections or ask follow-up questions relating to online searches.

With the cataloging backlog completed, we are starting to pursue other projects to expand and improve the ICOS. We are planning for a new survey of European repositories and have begun to discuss strategies for the survey with CASE (Cooperation on the Archives of Science in Europe). We also continue to add information to the ICOS on an ongoing basis. This includes records of new archival accessions and oral history interviews added to the Niels Bohr Library s collections, and any new reports on deposits of papers and records in archives received through our twice-yearly surveys, documentation work, and our many contacts in science and archives. Additions are printed in this Newsletter (which also appears on our Website), but note that the online ICOS sometimes contains additional information.

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AIP History Center Center for History of Physics
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