AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XL , No. 1, Spring 2008
An image from the booklet Hiroshima and Nagasaki compiled by the Manhattan Engineer District
An image from the booklet Hiroshima and Nagasaki compiled by the Manhattan Engineer District, donated recently to the Niels Bohr Library—one of the many rare items received in the past year, courtesy AIP Emilio Segrč Visual Archives.

Donations Fill Gaps in Niels Bohr Library’s Collections

Donations of books to the AIP’s Niels Bohr Library have been pouring in at an ever-increasing rate. The volume has occasionally overwhelmed Library staff—one 2007 gift came in 28 cartons—as they work to identify those titles that fill gaps in our collection, catalog them according to international bibliographic standards, and add them to our own online database (searchable on Google and other commercial Websites) and to the OCLC international bibliographic database. Today, however, we’ve caught up with the processing backlog and are ready for more accessions. Donors have provided an invaluable service in making the book collection perhaps the world’s best for its subject areas. At times we have been contacted by researchers who say we have the only copy of a book in the United States, or even the only copy that they can locate anywhere at all.

The collection covers the history of the fields represented by AIP’s Member Societies, ranging from physics, astronomy and geophysics to specialized fields like vacuum technology and medical physics. The bulk of the collection is 19th- and 20th-century scientific monographs and textbooks. Unlike nearly every other library in the world, we preserve different editions of translations of textbooks, which scholars have used to trace the evolution of both scientific ideas and how the ideas were taught. Also exceptional are the collections of laboratory manuals, instrument catalogs, and ephemeral pamphlets (for example, many from the 1920s explaining, or attacking, the theory of relativity). Scholars visiting the Library also welcome the published collections of papers and correspondence as well as secondary works such as biographies and historical studies. The breadth of the collection is largely due to the awareness of physicists and their heirs, as well as college and university librarians, of the Niels Bohr Library’s unique status as a repository for historical materials.

Some of our friends have made special efforts to help us. For example, John Layman, Professor Emeritus of Physics and Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Maryland, working closely with AAPT, conducted a project to recruit donations to fill gaps in our collection of the Science Studies Series. (This series of popular paperbacks was published in the 1960s at the initiative of the Physical Science Study Committee as part of their effort to improve the physics high school curriculum.)

Our astronomy collection has been augmented consistently over the years by David DeVorkin, Curator at the National Air and Space Museum and a bibliophile since his graduate student days. Stephen G. Brush, Distinguished University Professor of the History of Science at the University of Maryland, for many years has contributed to many sections of our collection and has also provided advice on collecting policy. Brush inaugurated the annual listing of new books published in this Newsletter, now maintained as a much-appreciated volunteer contribution by Per and Eleanor Dahl.

As we go through a donated collection, we often find we not only have a particular book but every edition of it as well. The duplicate can be returned to the donor, but most donors let us keep it: we retain whichever copy is in the best condition, and sell the other to a dealer in old science books. The copy thus has a chance of finding an appropriate home, and the money we receive (averaging $3 a book) is used to purchase additional books.

All purchases are supported entirely by the Friends of the Center for History of Physics through their annual donations and endowments. We have had special help from an endowment established by the Brodsky Family and from individuals making a donation and asking that a book be purchased "in honor of " or "in memory of " another individual.

Donated books are not "free," for adding them to our collection and making sure they are well-preserved takes considerable staff time and resources. When we receive a donation we must sort through the books, check them against our holdings, examine each copy to see if it must be scheduled for physical conservation measures, and create catalog records. For most books a catalog record can be copied from the U.S. National Library database, but not infrequently we find no record and must catalog the item from scratch, uploading the new record to the national database.

At present we are focusing on adding to our collection of geophysics books, an area where we are not as strong as we would like it to be. We look forward to building this, like our other areas, chiefly through the generosity of donors. We anticipate that donations in all areas will increase even more. We speak for many scholars in thanking all who have helped us to preserve these collections.

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