As We May Evolve, Backstory

Thanks to the wonderful folks over at ACRL; they published my short post today: As We May Evolve. This is the backstory. Last year, in the Spring, I got to take a great History of Science class from Dr. Cyrus Mody. His class was fantastic, and introduced me to several great history of science writers, including David Kaiser. We had to write a 15 page paper, and I found myself wanting to do a history of science librarianship, focusing on the importance of physics librarians. But, that wasn’t what happened. Early on in the process, I found the great paper by Mark Bowles, and David Kaiser sent me a chapter of his forthcoming book: American Physics and the Cold War Bubble. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press.) And, I learned about the chemists. Also, I learned about Dr. Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development. He had issued a report in 1945 to President Roosevelt, entitled “Science – The Endless Frontier.” His views also appeared in a paper called “As We May Think” in the July 1945 Atlantic Monthly. He called for scientists to make more accessible the vast store of knowledge and thus extend man’s physical and mental powers. Reading between the lines, you can hear his call: libraries, and librarianship, is overwhelmed; scientists, move to action! From his experience working with some six thousand leading American scientists in the application of science to warfare, he observed their information and communication needs. He saw great potential for focusing their knowledge in a new direction and developing instruments to give command over information. Dr. Bush called for a new relationship between thinking man and our knowledge.

The legacy of Bush lingered in the air for many years. In 1965, J.C.R. Linklider had been sponsored by the Council on Library Resources, Inc to write a book, Libraries of the Future.  He admits in his forward that he had hoped that this book would be a small step in the direction to which Bush had pointed in his pioneer article, but that he had not actually read the article until he finished the book. His omission of Vannevar Bush’s “As We May Think” from his bibliography was noticed, and when he was advised to read it, he added to the forward, “Now that I have read it, I should like to dedicate this book, however unworthy it may be, to Dr. Bush.   (Linklider, viii).  Future Libraries details much about a future of libraries where access is easy, and computer systems enable greater information storage, organization and retrieval.  In the years after World War II, science and technology prospered, and the era of big science grew exponentially.

I didn’t learn any library history in grad school, so I have to say I am forever grateful to Dr. Mody. I still am looking for stories about early physics library history too!

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About effervescentlibrarian

UX Librarian at Rice University, Houston, Texas.
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