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Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory celebrates re-opening of its historic Library

An "experimental station" on Darwinian evolution has been transformed over a century into a world-class repository of molecular biology's history

Cold Spring Harbor, NY - An historic North Shore building that symbolically connects contemporary leading-edge biological research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) with the first efforts by American scientists, over a century ago, to prove Darwin's theory of evolution was reopened here this past Tuesday, May 18th, after undergoing a major two-year expansion and renovation.

The newly renovated Carnegie Building.

At the core of the expansion is the Carnegie Building, a two-story stucco-and-brick structure erected in 1905 as a “Station for Experimental Evolution” by the then newly formed Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C.  The “station” was subsequently absorbed, along with the Long Island Biological Association, into the institution today called Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.  Converted in 1953 from a working lab to CSHL's main library, the Carnegie Building “connects each of us at the Laboratory to a rich history that has given rise to molecular biology - a science that has enabled us over the last half-century to unravel some of the most profound secrets of life,” said CSHL President Bruce Stillman, Ph.D., in remarks at the celebration ceremony.

James D. Watson, Ph.D., CSHL's Chancellor Emeritus, also helped mark the occasion, noting that in its new and significantly expanded form, the Carnegie Building would enable the Library & Archives staff at CSHL to more effectively than ever preserve and share with the world an ever-growing repository of unique historic materials that document the rise of the genome age.  Those materials include the books and papers of Dr. Watson himself, who, along with Dr. Francis Crick, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962 for their discovery nine years earlier of the double-helical structure of DNA, the genetic material of all living things on earth.

Chancellor Emeritus and Nobel laureate James D. Watson (at podium) and CSHL President Bruce Stillman toast the re-opening of the Carnegie Building at ceremony May 18th.

The Watson Papers are part of the institutional archives of CSHL, which also document the careers of Nobel laureates Barbara McClintock, Alfred D. Hershey and other important CSHL scientists.  The archives, as well as a collection of over 100,000 rare photographs that provide a chronicle of molecular biology's rise over a span of decades following World War Two, is only a fraction of what the CSHL Library now offers in its expanded facilities.

“We have an incredibly valuable treasure trove here,” said Mila Pollock, M.L.S., the executive director of the CSHL Library & Archives department. “With the opening of our beautifully renovated and expanded building, once again we make available thousands and thousands of unseen treasures -- letters, pictures, lab notebooks, all kinds of primary documents and artifacts -- which tell one of the most exciting and important stories in modern science.”

A new wing of the Carnegie Building, designed and constructed in the same Second Renaissance Revival style as the “Main Building” - as the original 1905 Carnegie Building was often called – is named the Szybalski Annex, after the distinguished cancer researcher Dr. Waclaw Szybalski, who spent some of his early years at CSHL and ever since has championed the Library, on annual visits that have coincided with the famous CSHL Symposia on Quantitative Biology.  On its main floor, the Annex's most spectacular feature is the spacious and light-filled Szybalski Room, a reading area whose high ceilings, large windows and long central table also make it an idea spot for impromptu scientific meetings.

Dr. Waclaw Szybalski, a long-time CSHL and Library supporter, in the spectacular new room in the Szybalski Annex that is named for him.  His portrait can be seen on the rear wall.

A state-of-the-art Archives Room is located directly beneath the magnificent reading room, on the lower level.  Its temperature-controlled vault “assures the integrity of the precious documents within, which tell so much of the history of molecular biology,” according to Pollock.

Prominent among her responsibilities, Pollock heads the Genentech Center for the History of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology.  “Genentech has been one of the  pioneering companies that have changed the face of modern medicine by introducing the first commercially marketed biotech drugs,” said Pollock.  “We're very fortunate that Genentech has made generous contributions that have brought this new Center to life.  With our re-opening today, we will continue with our mission of preserving the past using 21st century technology.”

Pollock has been a staunch advocate and adopter of digital technologies that have enabled the capture of key historical documents so that they might be shared with a worldwide audience -- both scholars and lay people -- via the internet.  At the same time, she stresses, the newly renovated ‘bricks-and-mortar' Library is also a fabulous place for scholars (and the public, by appointment) to visit in the flesh, with several new rooms, in addition to the Szybalski Room, dedicated to scholarly study.  Two of these, on the first floor, are named for scientists -- Norton Zinder and Sydney Brenner -- who have enjoyed a close relationship with CSHL and took part in some of the historic scientific work and scientific meetings for which the Laboratory is world-famous. 

Dr. Brenner, a 2002 Nobel laureate who currently is affiliated with the Salk Institute, delighted the crowd at Tuesday's celebration, regaling them with stories about his early experiences at the Laboratory in the 1950s, and about the process by which he donated his scientific papers to CSHL.  Another figure of great achievement in molecular biology offered remarks at the re-opening celebration ceremony: Dr. Evelyn Witkin, Barbara McClintock Professor Emerita at Rutgers University.  Dr. Witkin is among the pioneers in DNA science who spent early years in a CSHL laboratory and who took part in annual meetings about viruses called bacteriophages, or “phages,” that served to incubate the protean field now known as molecular biology.  Harry Anand, mayor of the village of Laurel Hollow, was among the dignitaries who represented the local community at the Library celebration.

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Dr. Sydney Brenner, a Nobel laureate and Library supporter, delivering remarks at the celebration.Â
Mila Pollock, Executive Director of Library & Archives, spoke at the celebration.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) is a private, not-for-profit research and education institution at the forefront of efforts in molecular biology and genetics to generate knowledge that will yield better diagnostics and treatments for cancer, neurological diseases and other major causes of human suffering.

For more information, visit To view historic documents from the CSHL Library & Archives and the Genentech Center for the History of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, visit

Written by: Peter Tarr, Senior Science Writer | | 516-367-8455

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