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American Library Association honors Louise Addis as first library webmaster in U.S.

The American Library Association (ALA) has honored Louise Addis, whose innovations in information technology spawned the world's first virtual library and made her America's first library webmaster. Addis, associate head librarian at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) until her retirement in 1994, received the 2001 Gaylord Award from the Library and Information Technology Association, a division of the ALA, for "outstanding achievement in the creative use of information technology for improving or enhancing library services."

"Louise saw the web as a godsend -- a way to make SLAC's substantial internal catalog of online documents available to physicists worldwide," web inventor Tim Berners-Lee wrote in his book Weaving the Web.

Addis is credited with organizing the team that developed the first website in the United States. In 1991, physicist Paul Kunz returned to SLAC, bringing back from European physics organization CERN Berners-Lee's concept of the World Wide Web, in which web pages hosted on a website could be read from any computer in the world. Addis immediately recognized the potential benefit for remote-user access to information. Working with Kunz and computer systems specialist George Crane and physicist Tony Johnson, she coordinated the first U.S. website in December 1991. It featured access to the SLAC Library particle physics bibliographic database, SPIRES-HEP (for Stanford Public Information REtrieval System­High-Energy Physics) that was made possible by a web search interface she created. Berners-Lee called this accomplishment the "killer application" that brought the web to the attention of the particle physics community.

Her web innovation was only one milestone in a career characterized by a relentless drive to automate scientific information management. In the late sixties she recognized the need to automate bibliographic control and started using the newly developed SPIRES database management system for the task. Her brainchild was the SPIRES-HEP database, which she built from 1973 to 1974 to organize the diverse literature of particle physics. Users began remotely accessing the SPIRES-HEP database in 1974. Once the web was in place in 1991, use skyrocketed from 5,000 remote online searches a month to 5,000 per day. Currently, the database averages 20,000 searches per day ­ from a global physics community that only approaches 20,000. Now managed by an international collaboration of libraries, SPIRES-HEP has for three decades been the most important resource tool in the field.

Addis's groundbreaking innovations in scientific bibliographic database management were recognized in 1983 when she and former Stanford professor and SPIRES inventor Edwin Parker shared an award for excellence in scientific bibliography from the Physics-Astronomy-Mathematics Division of the Special Library Association. It was the first year that an online computer database rather than a book was the basis of the award.

Addis's web innovation set the stage for a further first. When Paul Ginsparg, a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, created an online repository of full-text preprints of physics journal articles in 1991, Addis encouraged him to provide a web interface to it. As soon as he installed the interface, SLAC librarians began linking the bibliographic records in SPIRES-HEP to the full text of the papers in his "E-Print Archives." The world's first virtual library was born.

A Stanford graduate with a bachelor's degree in international relations and an interest in science, Addis began working at SLAC in 1962, when the center was still known as Project M despite its official naming in 1960. Since her retirement, Addis has worked intermittently on the SPIRES-HEP database project when not pursuing her other passions -- gardening, traveling and murder mysteries.


By Roxanne Jones

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