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Chemistry International
Vol. 24, No. 1
January 2002

 

Preserving Records of Modern Science


Scientific organizations are urged to preserve their historical records

by R. Joseph Anderson, Fabienne Meyers, and Giovanni Paoloni

Preserving historical records remains important for scientific organizations. Toward this end, the Commission on Bibliography and Documentation of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science (IUHPS) has discussed with other scientific unions, including IUPAC, the need to preserve permanently the historically valuable paper and electronic records of modern science and make them accessible to researchers. Based on a discussion held in December 2000, the Commission planned to formulate guidelines to assist scientific unions and to ensure that their records will be available to researchers. These guidelines, which are supported by IUHPS, are now being considered by the International Council for Science for recommendation to its members.

The recommended guidelines call for scientific organizations to make an effort to archive the papers of leading scientists as well as their own historical documentation, including electronic and inactive records that might be difficult to track down and organize. Among the details is a recommendation that budgets of all significant scientific projects include a small margin to cover the cost of such archiving. As well, the group suggested that the unpublished papers of scientists who have made significant contributions to modern science should be preserved at the institution with which they were most closely associated.

A number of scientific unions have already signed formal agreements with major science archives to maintain their records. IUPAC's records are held by the Beckman Center of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, PA, USA. The records of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics are held by the Center for History of Science, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden, and those of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics are held by the Center of History of Physics, at the American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD, USA.

Electronic records are proving to be a particular challenge to the archival process, and several national archives and international bodies are currently working to develop solutions to the preservation problems that these records present. It seems likely that effective long-term systems will be available within the next few years. In the meantime, it is recommended that electronic records along with their accompanying metadata be preserved on a server or, if storage space is a problem, downloaded to optical disk or magnetic tape. Saving only paper printouts of electronic records destroys contextual information and is not adequate for the historical record.

IUPAC has been working for some time with the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and like the Commission, CHF can offer advice. An excellent resource for those who embark on these efforts is the Othmer Library's web site <http://www.chemheritage.org/Publications/personal.htm>. It provides a brief and informative overview of the importance of archiving. Why save? Who should save? What, when, and where to save? are questions whose answers will help scientists to lay the groundwork for their own archival efforts.

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) has it own Center for History of Physics, whose goal, in its own words, is "to preserve and make known the history of modern physics and allied fields." In addition to keeping the records of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics, the Center's contributions to the field include the Emilio Segrè Visual Archive, (a collection of some 25000 historical photographs, slides, lithographs, engravings, and other visual materials) and the Niels Bohr Library. Additional information about the center and its documentation programs and archival efforts can be found at <http://www.aip.org/history>

Joseph Anderson is assistant director at the Center for History of Physics, College Park, Maryland, USA;
Fabienne Meyers is electronic publishing manager at the IUPAC Secretariat; and
Giovanni Paoloni is from the School for Archivists and Librarians of the Universita degli Studi de Roma 'La Sapienza', Roma, Italy.

The Chemical Heritage Foundation
http://www.chemheritage.org

 

 

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