Who's Using the NCI at Frederick Scientific Library?

Written by Paul Stokely, Environmental Protection & Waste Management
Spring 2017

Paul Stokely

“If the internet was an actual place... I mean, you would never go there…” – Dave Chappelle

I’m not a scientist. The NCI at Frederick Scientific Library is an excellent resource, staffed by genuinely helpful people, and you should use it more often than you do now. Here’s why.

You look up the phrase “what is life?” at the Scientific Library and you get the record for the classic 1944 book by physicist Erwin Schrodinger. When you Yahoo the same phrase, you get 6 billion results -- the first page of which are links to Philosophynow.com, the Khan Academy, and a YouTube video of George Harrison. That’s not bad, actually. If you scroll down the results to Google books, you’ll find a pdf scan of Schrodinger’s book for free. The reproduced text includes both internal hyperlinks to other sections of the book as well as external links to works that are mentioned by Schrodinger.

Still, when you go the Scientific Library, you find, next to Schrodinger, Ernst Mayr, Sydney Brenner and Naomi Oreskes. That’s not anything Google’s PageRank algorithm would concoct. You can check out an old-school Kindle e-book -- the kind where the screen looks like ink on a page -- which has over 140 titles loaded on it. Nearby is a “Reading Diversions” section that includes popular books by Vincent & Elizabeth DeVita and Daniel Kahneman, which I read regularly. Adjacent to that is a shelf of audio books such as “Life at the Speed of Light” by J. Craig Venter -- an account of synthetic biology that starts out with a review of professor Schrodinger’s 1943 Trinity lecture series “What is Life?”.

I’m not a scientist, but we all are obliged to keep abreast of issues that are unhappily thorny and technical. Scientists are obliged to explain their conclusions clearly. Both things are done more thoroughly at the Scientific Library than on the internet. Besides, you probably ought to take a walk.