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Bookplate courtesy of the Department of the Navy.

The bookplate (7.5 by 12.5 mm) used by the Ruth H. Hooker Research Library from at least 1946 until around 1990 was commissioned by our first librarian and library namesake, Ruth Hooker. The rich symbolism included on the bookplate captures the essence of the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) Research Library. Specifically, the owl symbolizes the owl of Minerva, who carried wisdom back to the Roman goddess Minerva, while the anchor that the owl is standing on symbolizes both the U.S. Navy and the library's role of [End Page 176] anchoring science in a changing environment. The microscope the owl is looking through signifies the basic research mission of the NRL. The book that the microscope rests on is titled Maxwell's Theory, symbolizing the historical collection of knowledge contained within the library's collection as well as paying tribute to the foundation of science created by James Clerk Maxwell (1831-79). As the title of his biography, The Man Who Changed Everything (Basil Mahon, 2003), declares, Maxwell was a nineteenth-century scientific giant who played an essential role in nearly every physical science accomplishment known today, including electromagnetic waves, heat, matter, motion, color photography, and thought experiments that influenced Albert Einstein.

Early History of the NRL and the NRL Research Library

The first steps toward the creation of the NRL started with a 1915 New York Times interview with Thomas Edison. Americans at the time were worried about the great European war, and Thomas Edison proposed that the nation should look to science in response, specifically stating, "The Government should maintain a great research laboratory. . . . In this could be developed . . . all the technique of military and naval progression without any vast expense." Josephus Daniels, then secretary of the navy, seized the opportunity and appointed Edison chairman of the Naval Consulting Board of the United States, the purpose of which was to study the navy's needs in this field and recommend ways to meet the need. Out of the deliberations of this board came the recommendation that there be a naval laboratory, with appropriations. The first appropriation for the constitution of the laboratory was authorized in 1916, but World War I delayed its completion until 2 July 1923. Because of Edison's influence, he is considered the "father" of the NRL and is remembered with a bust at the entrance to the library.

During the early years of the NRL, access to scientific literature was obtained and managed individually. In 1926 R. M. Langer, a scientist with leanings toward literature, was asked to survey the NRL's information needs, particularly in regard to periodicals. The "library" at that time was composed of two bookcases, and Alice Olney, secretary of the Heat & Light Division, spent part of her workday charging out books. It was then determined that in order to extract maximum benefit from the literature someone should be assigned to the library full-time. Captain Oberlin, director of the NRL, chose to employ a junior physicist, Ruth Hutchison, for this purpose, believing that someone with an understanding of the science was [End Page 177] more important to NRL than someone with formal library training. The assignment given to Hutchison was to "keep in touch with all research in progress and see that none of the scientists should miss related information in the literature." Hutchison started working as what was originally called a "bibliochretic" (user of books) in December 1927, personally reviewing journal articles and hand carrying them to researchers. She graduated in 1930 from George Washington University with a library science degree and was married in 1931, becoming Ruth Hutchison Hooker.

After years of focusing on the scientific literature for the direct benefit of NRL researchers, Hooker published an article in the Review of Scientific Instruments entitled "A Study of Scientific Periodicals," in which she examined periodical references to identify those periodicals that were most used in the fields of physics and radio.1 Her seminal work continues to be cited today by experts in the field of bibliometrics such as Eugene Garfield, the...


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