Charlotte Serber: Nuclear Librarian

Charlotte SerberLibrary as a multi-purpose space is not a new idea.   In the remote town of Los Alamos, New Mexico during World War II, while Oppenheimer and his scientists were developing the nuclear bomb, for the wives of the scientists the library was “also .. a social hotspot. Los Alamos, barren as it was, had few communal spaces. For many residents, especially for the wives of the scientists, it became a venue to catch up, trade concerns, and exchange gossip.”

Atlas Obscura posted a piece on June 23 2017, “The Librarian Who Guarded the Manhattan Projects’ Secrets” by Michael Waters.   It tells the story of  Charlotte Serber who established and ran the library and document room.  In order to set up the library, she had to teach herself  the Library of Congress classification system.  Her all-female staff were composed of the Atomic wives and Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps officers.

Serber was the only female in a leadership position, although scientists like Leona Wood and Mary Lucy Miller were instrumental in the development of the bomb.  Serber was also the only group leader not invited to the  test  at Trinity Site in July 1945 because the site “did not have the proper ‘facilities’ for women”.


2 thoughts on “Charlotte Serber: Nuclear Librarian”

  1. I can identify with Charlotte Serber as an “accidental librarian”, having found myself in a few roles for which I had no formal training. We sometimes discover hidden talents in those situations, or at least end up inventing solutions to problems simply because no one had ever told us that they were unsolvable. It would be fascinating to know what unconventional solutions Charlotte and her staff came up with, and how many of them have since drifted into the mainstream. Professions, like biomes, are often most innovative at their margins or in isolated subcommunities.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cowbirds of the world unite!. From reading the article, I know that Charlotte was specifically selected because she had no library background. She seemed to have sought other academic library jobs after WWII, but the FBI pegged her as a communist during the McCarthy era witch-hunt and she was turned down for a job (perhaps at some UC or USC campus, if my memory is correct). It’s amazing what you can do if you were never told it couldn’t be done.


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