Print to Digital

By Julie Miller | October 10, 2023

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Collections management staff from the National Security Research Center (NSRC) recently digitized more than 10,000 McKibbin cards to make them available on the Lab’s unclassified network, according to former NSRC collections manager Patricia Cote. The cards, named after their issuer Dorothy McKibbin, who was known as the gatekeeper of Los Alamos because she was often the first point of contact for new hires, have become symbolic of the Manhattan Project era at the Lab, when the world’s greatest minds secretly gathered to create the first atomic bomb and end World War II. McKibbin cards are index cards that were used between 1943 and 1952 to document information such as an employee’s name, marital status, and dates of arrival and departure. Many cards include more details such as salary, address, work location, and family information. McKibbin created each index card with a mechanical typewriter.

McKibbin worked as a secretary to J. Robert Oppenheimer in an office in Santa Fe. “We hear a lot about the scientific history of the people of the Manhattan Project era,” said Cote. “The McKibbin cards provide a personal, more human perspective on these individuals. Plus, they are among the Lab’s oldest unclassified records. Preserving these relics means preserving our history.”

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Dorothy McKibbin at work in her Santa Fe office. She was employed at the Lab from 1943 until her retirement in 1963.

Why digitize the McKibbin Cards?

Digitization provides access to the information on the cards while minimizing handling of the fragile and valuable original documents, which could be damaged by exposure to light, humidity, and contact with human hands and germs. Every direct interaction with archival records reduces their life span. Because digitization is such a specialized and labor-intensive process, most of the NSRC’s tens of millions of materials exist in physical form only; materials are prioritized for digitization as staff rediscover valuable information, such as the McKibbin cards, while searching the physical collections.

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NSRC historian Nic Lewis works to preserve the Lab’s legacy through its unique collections, which include McKibbin cards from the 1940s.

Who uses these?

NSRC staff routinely reference the McKibbin cards as primary source material to obtain background information for research and publications. For example, approximately 50 McKibbin cards were accessed by researchers for an NSRC book on the Lab’s Manhattan Project–era Nobel laureates, published in 2023.

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NSRC archivist Angie Piccolo, librarian Laura McGuiness, and director Brye Steeves review legacy materials from the Lab’s collections. Curation and accessibility of these items ensures history is preserved.

How was the digitization project completed?

Diego Corral-Ramos, a collections management contractor, conducted the digitization project, and Miranda Vigil, collections management staff, cataloged the collection. The NSRC’s then-lead archivist Hadley Hershey provided technical support.

How can I access this information?

Right now, there isn’t a plan to release the entire collection; the digitized McKibbin cards are available to the NSRC staff, who can access them for research requests as needed.

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J. Robert Oppenheimer’s McKibbin card and badge photo. Oppenheimer was the Lab’s first director.
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