Commemorating this milestone has prompted me to think about the role the National Security Research Center plays in the Lab’s national security mission, in particular as I assume my new position as the NSRC director.
Though new in this job, I can say with certainty that the NSRC is just as important today as it was when we began as J. Robert Oppenheimer’s technical library.
The NSRC was founded in 2019, but our legacy long precedes us. Our roots date back to the Lab’s beginning, when Oppenheimer and his team convened on the Pajarito Plateau as a part of the U.S. government’s top-secret efforts to help end World War II. In just 27 months, they developed the first atomic bombs, laying the groundwork for national security as we know it.
As the first of what would amount to millions of records today were produced, Oppenheimer recognized the importance of curating these materials. To ensure their preservation as well as the access and transfer of knowledge, Oppenheimer handpicked Charlotte Serber for the mission-critical role of overseeing his technical library (see page 18). She was the only woman on his senior-level staff. Serber built the collections while managing the top-secret materials being created in real time—information that is still used.
Oppenheimer’s classified library continues to fill a critical role in the national security landscape. Our highly trained, expert staff are leading the way for research libraries through innovative stewardship of the vital information in our collections, including the important work of restoring decades-old materials and expanding our digital, classified reading room.
We’ve evolved these past 80 years, both by growing our collections for the benefit of those working in national security and by fulfilling a commitment to educate broadly through numerous endeavors, like this annual magazine, podcasts, oral histories, articles, presentations, books, and a documentary on Oppie himself.
As the Lab commemorates this anniversary and as I execute my new role in the NSRC, I am reminded that an understanding of our past—be it the technical knowledge or the unique history—is an important part of carrying forward the work that our predecessors began.
That work was important then, and current headlines reinforce it’s no less important today. The NSRC is critical to the Lab’s national security mission success.
Oppenheimer once said, “It is a profound and necessary truth that the deep things in science are not found because they are useful; they are found because it was possible to find them.”
I think Oppenheimer would agree this is aptly descriptive of today’s NSRC. And I think he would be very proud.
Brye Ann Steeves
Director, National Security Research Center