||About Reading Room
|Reading Room Staff
Monday 8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Wednesday 8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Friday 8:00 am - 5:00 pm
UCLA Department of Mathematics
5379 Math Sciences Building
520 Portola Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1555
Reading Room History
An Interview with Professor John Garnett
"A mathematics library is what a laboratory is to a chemistry department. It's essential."
-UCLA Mathematics Professor John Garnett
How did the reading room originate?
In the late '40s and '50s, there was an Institute for Numerical Analysis (INA) supported by the federal government and situated at UCLA.* INA had a collection of books, but the institute closed down in the '60s and left the collection homeless. At that time, the Mathematical Sciences Building was being built under the supervision of chairman Lowell Paige. Paige added the 5th floor Reading Room to the building plans and put the old INA book collection in it. This was the start of the Mathematics Department Reading Room, which is a separate library for the Mathematics Department independent of the UCLA main library system.
What is the importance of a library collection dedicated solely to the mathematics department?
One of the main advantages of the Reading Room is its accessibility. You can look something up at any time of the day or night, while UCLA's Science and Engineering Library (SEL) on the 8th floor is closed nights and weekends and has many of its books checked out.
When you measure a mathematics department, and they're different throughout the country, and the world even, one of the things you measure is access to the library and how readily available books are. Right now, UCLA's Engineering and Mathematical Sciences collection in the SEL is doing pretty well; it's for engineering and mathematics. But it doesn't have 24-hour access.
I can see where over the last 30 or 40 years, the availability or the inaccessibility of books has focused people's careers. You can't change scientific fields readily if the books are not there, so people tend to get locked in to their own research area and not move. It's particularly important for the grad students to have this place where they can sit on Saturday afternoons or Sunday evenings and nights and read books. Now we're trying to buy more books and put the catalog online so people can tell whether something's in there or not and know how to find it.
What is unique about the collection and reading room?
Its immediate accessibility to the people in the department, including the graduate students. Some math people are like gym rats-people who are always playing basketball-but ours are always hanging around doing math. They're like mathematical gym rats and at midnight, they want to go look something up in a book. Say it's Sunday night and I'm trying to figure out something that's in a book from 1957. I can get in my car and drive to the reading room, and it'll be there, while the SEL library will be locked shut. I guess it's like being a junkie, you need your math fix. You want immediate access. So this is the main thing.
What makes a really good math book?
Math subjects evolve. A subject will be in a steady state and then
some bright people will come along and introduce new
ideas and change it so much that it influences other subjects.
It then becomes a very active research area with new
problems that people can solve, often because of its applications. For
example, Terry Tao and Ben Green have exciting new research about
that uses a lot of ideas from other
parts of mathematics, combinatorics mainly, some very abstract.
is now a new fertile area with a lot of new things
going to be able to do. There are old problems that have been
around for many years and now there's a new set of ideas that
people can try on these problems.
A really good book will make all this
accessible to students so that they get into this new area while it's
still blossoming. It's very hard to learn this kind of mathematics
because it's so new.
Another thing is that you sometimes have an area that's
semi-mature but in a confused state because it's being hit by many
different ways of thinking. Then someone comes along and organizes the
material and makes it accessible to beginners. This a great service to
people who are going to work on related areas of mathematics. If
you don't have
the books, then mathematics is going to be done by very, very few people
in very few places, because one needs to be on top of lots of new
material at the right time to contribute.
How is the reading room collection funded and supported?
Our main support comes from the departmental budget, and we have the Jerome J. Belzer, M.D, Reading Room Fund that was endowed in 1998. There is a plaque honoring Dr. Belzer on the Reading Room wall. He's an interesting story. Belzer had been one of these very smart kids from L.A. who by default became a math student at UCLA in the '50s. He had skipped two years in high school and graduated at age 19.
He became a successful medical doctor in Los
Angeles. Dr. Belzer died in his late 50's without a wife
His estate was managed by his cousin Michael Korney, a Culver City CPA.
Michael donated the Belzer Chair at the UCLA Medical School,
and through the
efforts of then Dean
Roberto Peccei, gave the remainder of the estate to the Reading Room.
We're also supported in part by a donation from the estate of Madeline Youll, who was the Reading Room librarian many years ago and who is long remembered for always leaving a dish of candy out for the students.
What are your goals for the future of the reading room?
Now things have evolved to the point where it's no longer useful to have a full collection of bound mathematics journals because many journals are available online. So we're going to change it so that we have fewer and fewer hard copy journals and many, many books. (Here we are continuing a policy initiated by Ricardo Perez-Marco.) Books are not really available online. The ideal situation is that the Reading Room is open to key-holders 24 hours a day and the books are inside because they cannot be removed from this room. This is an ideal that never works because people take books out to their offices. But we are looking for ways to resolve this retention problem.
For example, we may put in some kind of scanner/copier so that people won't walk away with the books. We would like more study tables for grad students. More shelves for the 350 books we buy a year. Ten books per foot. Thirty-six feet of shelf space. I have space for three more years of books. We'll see after that.
*INA's primary function was "to conduct research and training in the types of mathematics pertinent to the efficient exploitation and further development of high-speed automatic digital computing machinery" and attracted the involvement of prominent applied mathematicians. The formal establishment of the UCLA Computer Science Department eventually followed in 1968.