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At the beginning of this year, the papers of Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of fractal geometry, were given to SUL’s Dept. of Special Collections. Funding for the first year has been set to begin processing this complex collection. We are happy to announce that Laura Williams has been hired as the project archivist and Christy Smith as the processing assistant. Laura, who has been with the Manuscript’s Division since 2009, is just wrapping up the processing of the Stop AIDS Project Records – another large processing and digitization project. Christy Smith has been in the department since 2000, staring as an assistant to the previous University Archivist, Maggie Kimball. In 2009 she moved to the manuscripts division as a processing assistant on the R. Stuart Hummel Family Papers processing and digitization project.

Benoit Mandelbrot

Benoit Mandelbrot was born in 1924 in Warsaw, Poland. The family moved to Paris in 1936 and, after studies in the United States and France, he completed a Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Paris in 1952. Mandelbrot spent most of his professional research career at IBM, beginning in 1958; with his appointment as an IBM Fellow in 1974, he was free to investigate problems of his and was able to follow his personal inclination towards interdisciplinary research founded on applied mathematics.

Mandelbrot had begun to focus his attention on fractal mathematics during the 1960s, beginning with his article, “How Long is the Coast of Britain? Statistical Self-Similarity and Fractional Dimension,” published in Science (1967). In this article he introduced fractals as part of the solution to a problem that had occupied his attention for some time: How to measure a curve as complex as a geographic coastline? He discussed two salient characteristics of fractals that applied to this problem: self-similarity and “fractional” dimensionality. Self-similarity referred to the persistence of patterns as an observer zoomed in or out of the visualization of a fractal set. Fractional geometry described the quality these sets had mathematically of being “fuzzier” than a line but never completely filling a plane. A few years later, in 1975, Mandelbrot introduced the term “fractal” to describe such mathematical sets. Over the course of his career, until his death in 2010, Mandelbrot tracked down or encouraged myriad applications of fractal geometry as the study of “fuzziness” to fields ranging from engineering and medicine to finance and climate … and to art.

Mandelbrot first rendered a computer-generated image of the set that would be named after him at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center in 1980. The computer plot produced by a software program revealed the distinctive image of a large vaguely heart-shaped object connected to a smaller spherical object and having a rough, fuzzy border. While this was neither the first mathematical study of this particular mathematical set nor the first visualization of it, Mandelbrot had developed an algorithm that would be the basis of subsequent computer programs used to study and visualize fractals.

Mandelbrot’s work was introduced to a wider readership with the publication of an article about the Mandelbrot Set in Scientific American (1985). Like many other results from applied and recreational mathematics, it appeared in A.K. Dewdney’s “Computer Recreations” column. Dewdney opened by describing the Mandelbrot’s visualization of the set, announcing to his readers that “here is an infinite regress of detail that astonishes us with its variety, its complexity and its strange beauty.” He described Mandelbrot’s work in fractal geometry and how the boundary of the Mandelbrot Set was a fractal exhibiting fractional dimensionality and the recursive quality of self-similarity. The article went on to describe how a computer program could function essentially as a microscope for this geometrical object, allowing the observer to examine its properties in exquisite detail, “like a tourist in a land of infinite beauty.”[A. K. Dewdney, “Computer Recreations: A Computer Microscope Zooms in for a Look at the Most Complex Object in Mathematics,” Scientific American, 253, Aug. 1985: 16-24.]

His memoirs, The Fractalist: Memoir of a Scientific Maverick, was published in 2012.

The Collection

The Benoit Mandelbrot papers (ca. 380 linear feet and 80 gigabytes) include a wide array of materials ranging from the 1930s till his death in 2010. Mandelbrot wrote everything long hand and edited typed drafts in long hand as well. The collection contains manuscripts of his articles and books as well as other publishing states and drafts including notebooks and papers from his school days in France to various versions of his memoirs; correspondence including that with prominent mathematicians; off-prints, original papers and occasional notes by others; hundreds of original renderings and print outs of early fractals and geometric diagrams; posters and other fractal art; audio, video, and still images; artifacts, and computer media including a hard drive received from IBM.

Speed? Poster


Stanford University Libraries Department of Special Collections and University Archives is excited to announce the completion of the processing of the STOP AIDS Project records. This effort was made possible by a detailed processing grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

Established in 1985, a year in which an estimated 8,000 gay and bisexual men became infected with HIV in San Francisco, the STOP AIDS Project works to prevent HIV transmission among all gay and bisexual men through multicultural, community-based organizing. The grant allowed the project team to process over 370 linear feet of organizational records including textual, photographic, audiovisual and computer media between October 2011 and September 2012. For more information on the background and scope of the project please see this previous blog post.

The collection offers researchers a rich set of material documenting the groundbreaking HIV prevention efforts of the STOP AIDS Project. Included are files related to the wide range of topical workshops, meetings, community forums and other educational events offered by the STOP AIDS Project. A vast collection of anonymous behavioral risk assessment surveys conducted during street outreach as well as during events such as workshops, community forums and street fairs provide unique insight into the demographic and behavioral characteristics of gay and bisexual men in San Francisco from the 1980s to the 2000s. Also included are program planning and execution files related to STOP AIDS Project’s wide-ranging programs geared towards the needs of specific groups within the communities they serve, including QAction, Positive Force/PLUS, Chico Chats, FLIQ, Our Love, BOY+BOY and In Our Prime. The STOP AIDS Project’s active media and communications activities are also well documented, and include flyers, brochures, cards, and other material promoting programs and events, press releases, magazine and newspaper clippings, newsletters and social marketing campaign materials.

The administrative activities of the STOP AIDS Project are chronicled in the collection, and include financial records, annual reports, Board of Directors meeting minutes and agendas, fund development records, grant writing and administration files (both through government and private funding entities), and human resources, training and volunteer services files. The records of STOP AIDS Project staff members, subject and referral files, and artwork and visual aids are also included.

A large set of posters created by the STOP AIDS Project to promote its events, programs and social media campaigns are present in the collection, as are safe sex and HIV awareness posters from other AIDS organizations in the United States and from around the world. The grant allowed the project team to catalog the posters to the item level, and during the course of the grant period, 187 posters were digitized by Digital Library Systems and Services (DLSS). The digital images are in the process of being accessioned into the Stanford Digital Repository (SDR) for long-term preservation. Once accessioned, a link to the digitized posters will be provided from the collection finding aid.

The STOP AIDS Project records also contain a large set of audiovisual materials. The project team worked closely with the donor to select 67 audio and video recordings as high priority for digital reformatting and preservation. This work was completed during the grant period by the Stanford Media Preservation Lab (SMPL). Video footage includes interviews, public service announcements and materials used to produce FLIQs - stylish topical films about sex and relationships. Materials that have been digitally reformatted may be accessed in the Special Collections reading room.

This project marked the department’s first large-scale project to capture and process born-digital files in production mode. Born-digital collection material consists of documents, graphics, spreadsheets, databases and presentations created and/or stored on computers by STOP AIDS Project staff and volunteers. Forensic software was used in order to capture disk images of floppy disks, CD-ROMs, zip disks, and other computer media in the STOP AIDS Project collection and 27,607 files totaling 5,925 MB are available for research. The materials have been screened for private/confidential information, but have not been arranged beyond file type. This material is available for use in the Special Collections reading room by scheduling an appointment with the Digital Archivist, Peter Chan.

The STOP AIDS Project records represent one of the largest collections available to researchers documenting the activities of an HIV/AIDS prevention organization. It also provides a unique lens through which to view the history and culture of the San Francisco Bay Area Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community, including the experiences of marginalized ethnic minorities and subcultures. The STOP AIDS Project records finding aid contains a detailed listing of the collection’s contents. The finding aid has been posted on the Online Archive of California and can also be found via the collection’s Searchworks catalog record.

Tomorrow evening filmmaker Oliver Stone and historian Peter Kuznick will be participating in a panel discussion and showing their new documentary about the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. In the film — entitled The Bomb— Stone and Kuznick suggest that the bombing of Hiroshima was not necessary to end World War II. The panel discussion will be moderated by History Professor Emeritus Barton Bernstein, and will also include Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst who in 1971 provided the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times.

The Bomb is an episode of Stone's Showtime series The Untold History of the United States, based on the book of the same name by Stone and Kuznick.

The event takes place Friday, February 22, at 6:00 p.m. in the Lane History Corner, Room 02.

Bernstein will be giving a follow-up lecture on Friday, March 1, at 6:00 p.m. in the Lane History Corner, Room 205.


Pope? Nope.

Pope Benedict XVI announced today that as of 28 February 2013, he would be resigning from his position as leader of the Roman Catholic Church. This is the first papal resignation since 1415, when Gregory XII stepped down to bring about an end to the Western Schism.

Take a look at SearchWorks for material about Benedict XVI and the papacy.

We are excited to announce that 187 posters from the STOP AIDS Project records have been digitized, accessioned into the Stanford Digital Repository and are now available online via the collection's finding aid.


Come take a look at the beautiful new Istanbul poster exhibition in the lobby of Green Library's East Wing. The posters feature photographs and text by students who went to Istanbul last August for a three-week Bing Overseas Seminar with Professor Ali Yaycioğlu of the History Department. There's a corresponding book display highlighting materials about Istanbul from our collection.

The Istanbul poster exhibition will be on display in the lobby of Green East until March 15, 2013.

Today's the birthday of Bay Area resident and writer Michael Pollan, born on this date in 1955. Pollan is the author of four New York Times bestsellers: The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World (2001); The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006); In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (2008); and Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (2010). In his In Defense of Food, Pollan sums up his approach to nutrition with the following seven words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Take a look at SearchWorks for further titles by Michael Pollan available in the libraries.

Shelves of books at Chemistry & Chemical Engineering Library

In late December, we surveyed Stanford faculty in the Schools of Humanities & Sciences, Engineering, Education, and Earth Sciences about the “many kinds of resources that might be important to your research”. We are still working on a full analysis of all the data generated by the survey, but wanted to go ahead and start sharing some initial results.

The first set of questions asked faculty “How important are the following types of scholarly materials for your research?”, following by a list of various types of resources. Response choices were: Very Important, Important, Somewhat Important, Not Important. Below are some general results from those questions, broken down by Humanities & Arts faculty, Social Sciences faculty (including Graduate School of Education), and Science & Engineering faculty (including School of Earth Sciences).

  • 90% of faculty say Print Books are Important or Very Important to their research. Faculty in the Humanities and Arts are most enamored of Print Books, with 96% rating them as Important or Very Important. Large majorities of Social Scientists (90%) and Science & Engineering (79%) faculty also rate Print Books as Important or Very Important.
  • E-Books are also Important or Very Important to a majority of faculty in all disciplines: 75% in Humanities & Arts, 65% in Social Sciences, 68% in Science & Engineering. 
  • Nearly all faculty (over 94% across all disciplines) say E-Journals are Important or Very Important; but Print Journals are Important or Very Important primarly to those in Humanities and the Arts (76%). Only 36% of Science and Engineering faculty, and only 28% of Social Sciences faculty rate Print Journals as Important or Very Important.
  • Textual Data are important to many Humanities (44%) and Social Science (38%) faculty, but much less so to Science & Engineering faculty (9%). Maps and Geospatial data are important to 25% of faculty overall, with slightly more interest from Social Scientists than from Humanists or Science & Engineering faculty.
  • For all the other kinds of resources we asked about, the differences between disciplines are large and not particularly surprising. Numeric data is important to more Social Science (62%) and Science & Engineering faculty (55%) than Humanities faculty (19%). Archival materials, non-English language materials, reference works, images, film, video and audio are all important to much larger percentages of Humanists than to Social Scientists and Science & Engineering faculty.
  • Response rates: Our overall response rate was 17%, with Humanities & Arts faculty twice as likely (N=68, 29%) as Social Sciences (N=32, 15%) or Science & Engineering faculty (N=57, 13%) to respond. A total of 157 faculty members took the time to respond, and we are very grateful to them.

We also asked several open-ended questions about how faculty accessed resources and what might improve their access to resources that are important to them. We asked similar questions about a variety of tools (e.g. the library website, SearchWorks, bibliographic management software), and expertise (e.g. subject librarians, data specialists). We will post results from those questions soon, as we continue to work on a full analysis of the data.