AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume 41, No. 1, Spring 2009
 

Change and Continuity: The Niels Bohr Library
& Archives and the Center for History of Physics

Greg Good’s article in this issue of the newsletter describes transition and change. I want to tell you about another side of the equation—the Niels Bohr Library & Archives’ ongoing programs (along with some new projects) and invite your feedback. Creating successful research programs requires a balancing act, building on existing resources and collections while taking advantage of new opportunities and technologies. Maintaining the right mix is one of our critical concerns as the Library and the Center continue to reinforce and support one another in a new era.

When I arrived at AIP’s newly completed College Park headquarters in November of 1993, the Library was a much different place. The book catalog was still on cards, our International Catalog of Sources contained records for only about 2,500 archival collections, and every photo request was handled manually. Now, 15 years later, all that and much more has changed. However, our philosophy—doing what we can do best in a single location while helping other organizations preserve the archival papers and records of their physicists and allied scientists—hasn’t changed and our mission remains the same: to preserve and make known the history of physics and allied sciences.

In fact, in some ways we haven’t changed at all. If you call the Library (301-209-3177) 8:30am–5:00pm, Monday through Friday, the phone will still be answered by a librarian or archivist instead of a recording, and the reading room remains a quiet, friendly place to do research. In other ways, however, things are completely different. All of our catalogs are online and accessible through commercial search engines, ICOS contains about 9,000 records for collections from over 900 repositories worldwide, and over half of our 30,000 photos can be viewed and ordered on the Web. We’ve done many other things—for example, conducting major projects to preserve our unique and often-fragile book collection; creating a consortial, cross-searchable database that contains over 370 finding aids from 49 different repositories; and developing a grants program that helps other archives preserve the papers of important physicists/allied scientists and report them to our ICOS catalog—that we couldn’t imagine 15 years ago.

Image of Niels Bohr Library & Archives staff
Niels Bohr Library & Archives staff members.

At the same time, the Library and Center have pioneered a new approach to identifying hard-to-document areas of physics through two long-term studies of the records of Multi-Institutional Collaborations and Industrial Physicists. Both studies have produced reports (the industry study, published in November 2008, is online at www.aip.org/history/pubs/HOPI_Final_report.pdf) that provide detailed advice and recommendations on how to preserve historical records essential to documenting these once largely unexplored areas.

Today, some of our newest initiatives include:

  • An NEH-funded project to put 500 of our oral history transcripts online, along with photographs and audio clips for some of the interviews. Over 300 are already on the Web at www.aip.org/history/ohilist/transcripts.html.
  • An NHPRC-funded project to put the full text of the 30 linear feet of Samuel Goudsmit’s papers on the Web, including his Project Alsos files and correspondence as APS editor-in-chief.
  • A new archival/historical documentation project, the NSF-funded three-year study of Physics Entrepreneurship.
  • And perhaps most important of all, a redesign of our Website to make all of the Library’s resources more intuitive and easier to use.

We welcome your feedback, and we’ve launched an online survey to get responses from those of you who use our Web resources. Please feel free to email or call me (janderso@aip.org; 301-209-3183) with ideas, suggestions, and questions.

Joe Anderson
Director, Niels Bohr Library & Archives
Associate Director, Center for History of Physics
American Institute of Physics


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AIP History CenterCenter for History of Physics
E-mail: chp@aip.org
Phone: 301-209-3165
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