Birkbeck Open Access in numbers: BIROn visualised

Photograph of the exterior of Birkbeck Library

Each year, thousands of items are deposited by our academics on BIROn (Birkbeck Institutional Repository Online). The Library hosts these items and tracks the number of downloads each receives. We also have data on the proportion of items which are Open Access.

To help you understand the numbers, we’ve created this visualisation. (You can also find the data behind this listed at the bottom of the post).

 

As can be seen, deposits of articles are increasing and so the number of Open Access outputs by Birkbeck authors is also increasing. With the coming implementation of Plan-S and new initiatives such as the UK Scholarly Communications Licence, we might see the proportion of OA articles going up even more in the future.

Follow @BIROnbbk on Twitter to keep up to date with the latest deposits.

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The data contained in the above infographic is listed below.

Items:

Total Items: 22,199

Full-text files: 8,736

Total Downloads: 2,130,722

Full text by Department:

Applied Linguistics – 50.31%

Biological Sciences – 42%

Computer Science – 44.95%

Cultures & Languages – 19%

Geography – 43.72%

Earth & Planetary Sciences – 34.67%

Economics, Mathematics & Statistics – 73.88%

English, Theatre & Creative Writing – 56.97%

Film, Media and Cultural Studies – 30.42%

History of Art – 23.54%

History, Classics & Archaeology – 23.79%

Iberian & Latin American Studies – 100%

Law – 28.58%

Management – 47.78%

Organizational Psychology – 37.54%

Philosophy – 29.05%

Politics – 25.85%

Psychological Sciences – 38.3%

Psychosocial Studies – 29.5%

Note: Iberian & Latin American Studies have 3 deposits, which helps account for their 100% full-text.

Download history:

2007 – 3,158

2008 – 36,567

2009 – 39,941

2010 – 51,897

2011 – 67,358

2012 – 83,482

2013 – 42,042

2014 – 146,037

2015 – 152,715

2016 – 296,085

2017 – 233,463

2018 – 338,037

2019 – 639,940

Top authors:

  1. Dewaele, Jean-Marc – Applied Linguistics and Communication
  2. Eve, Martin Paul – English, Theatre and Creative Writing
  3. Fuhs, Carsten – Computer Science and Information Systems         
  4. Johnson, Mark H. – Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development
  5. Kidd, Jennifer M.  – Organizational Psychology

Surfing the free resource wave: managing temporary access to online resources during the COVID-19 pandemic

The image shows a hand holding up a smartphone with a photograph of library bookshelves on the screen. In the background, out of focus, is a desk with an open book on it.

Access to ejournals and ebooks is a massive part of the service that the Library provides. In this post, one of our E-Resources librarians, Karen, talks about how they managed the temporary access to additional online resources when publishers and platforms made their content open during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes the guidance provided to staff and students to help them make best use of the temporary access to the additional content.

Back in March when Birkbeck, and therefore our library, had to close due to the rise of COVID-19 I don’t think I was alone in hoping that this was something that was going to be over within a few weeks at most and that normality would return. For me, this was only a blip; we all would be back in no time to support our students.

Obviously, things changed very quickly and at the forefront the e-resources team was making sure our students knew what resources were accessible and available to them. Our library website overflows with information that explains what databases can be accessed. Our ejournals can be searched, ebook titles are available on the catalogue, and our ‘LibGuides’ match specific resources to the various subjects offered – and so much more. However, not only did COVID-19 bring a lockdown but for the library world it also brought an enormous tidal wave of ‘free’ information. Publishers big and small, various educational institutions and specialist schools opened their virtual doors and invited us all in to access what would normally be password- or paywall-protected information.

There has always been free information out there, ‘Open Access’ demand is continually growing and gaining more prominence each year. It is a topic hotly discussed and debated but when suddenly there is no restriction on vital information that supports students in an online academic world, what do you do? The obvious answer is you take everything you can.

It is an understatement to say we were bombarded with a lot of information. The offers that were coming through had to be checked, queried, understood and – most importantly of all – shared when established as valid. Some e-resources that were being offered seemed too good to be true and, when investigated further, were indeed discovered to be too good to be true and, therefore, notably ‘dodgy.’

Us librarians are a sturdy bunch and are not put off by a bit of sifting and sorting and that is what was done. By wading through the ocean of information of what resources where available the ‘Free Access to Online Resources’ library guide was born. The guide promoted publisher offers such as those by Oxford University Press who opened their specialist Collections, and by Science Direct who made their 326 textbooks available. JSTOR made over 30,000 ebooks available, while De Gruyter had 75,000 ebooks for use. Different university presses – Chicago, California, Project MUSE, to name a few – made their online journals freely accessible. Free publisher trials to resources were also a major offer and from March until July we participated in over 30 trials covering everything from Law and Business to Science, Art and History.

The ‘Free Access to Online Resources’ guide needed to be updated daily. The guide explained what could be accessed and how, when and where. It also indicated the resources that where not limited to Birkbeck students and staff only – resources that anyone could access. Specific COVID-19 resources made freely available by publishers and health institutions were highlighted as well as open online digital collections from museums around the world. Information on wellbeing was also provided in the guide, due to isolation being a cause for concern in this COVID-19 world. Being able to highlight free resources for support was extremely important.

Since this LibGuide was created it has had over 10,000 views and it is still available. What is being made freely available by publishers or organisations has reduced, but the guide is still here to highlight places to check for freely available ebooks, journal articles and other research outputs.

Sharing is caring and there are very good resources freely available out there: make use of our ‘Free Access to Online Resources’ guide especially this Open Access week – perhaps you’ll find that bit of ‘surprise’ research that is of value to you!

Karen Harrad, E-Resources Support Assistant

Lockdown research: how COVID-19 and Open Access shaped a new project

A digital art image showing five arms and hands holding up hearts in different colours. The middle heart is rainbow-coloured.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected teaching, it has also had a major impact on research at Birkbeck. We spoke to Dr Fiona Tasker about her work, and how COVID-19 and Open Access have influenced it. Fiona is a Reader in Psychology at the College, and took time out of her busy start to the academic year to discuss with us her research in the time of a pandemic. 

A photograph of Dr Fiona Tasker
Dr Fiona Tasker

What were your main research topics before the COVID-19 lockdown? 

My research interests typically lie in social developmental psychology, family psychology, and LGBTQ psychology. I’m interested in family relationships, identity development of adults and children, and children’s social and emotional development in both non-traditional and new family forms. For example, much of my research has been on LGBTQ-parented families, post-divorce families, and families formed by adopting children or through assisted reproduction.

How has this changed since COVID-19?  

There were BBC reports suggesting that COVID-19 and the lockdown placed more young people back in family environments, often closed off from their usual support networks, and that this might particularly affect vulnerable young people who were unsupported in their families. Around May reports from community organizations began to be released on the web on how lockdown was affecting LGBTQ young people, such as the LGBT Foundation’s Hidden Figures report.  

So, at the beginning of lockdown, we started the LGBTQ* UK COVID-19 Lockdown Experiences Project together with colleagues, led by Jorge Gato, at the University of Porto similarly concerned about the pandemic and the LGBTQ community in Portugal. This took the form of a short anonymous survey, aimed at LGBTQ* people between 18 and 35. We sought to find out about their experiences during this Coronavirus pandemic. We received over 400 responses to this first survey. Since then the international project has grown to include Italy, Sweden, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Israel too. 

So there was certainly a clear path from the pre-COVID work to this project. 

What inspired this change?  

Seeing the community need for action during the pandemic, I wanted to be doing something useful during the lockdown. While others have volunteered doing things like mutual aid, I wasn’t in a position to do that. But I realised could put some research in motion and contribute to the greater good in that way.  

It’s about being responsive as a researcher to situations that arise, and about what you can do to highlight a problem and contextualize it within a particular field.   

Existing research helped us see how LGBTQ young people could be vulnerable, but we also know that LGBTQ communities are often efficient at networking within online communities and good at mobilising quickly. So our research questions examining the psychological well-being of LGBTQ people consider both vulnerability processes and also the strengths and resilience people have built up too. 

What was your experience of Open Access and preprints before this pandemic started? 

I would usually use Research Gate to access preprints, either asking other researchers for private copies of their work or, if they had uploaded it, the public version. However, preprints are not peer reviewed, so there is a reliance on researcher integrity and you have to be aware of this.  

I don’t share anything that hasn’t yet been peer reviewed. When publishing, there is often a lot of small print about what an author is allowed to do with a preprint version of a paper. I usually use the Library’s publication repository BIROn. I like that the Library has the expertise to understand the small print and ensure that I’m not breaking the rules the publisher set out. I do often mirror the BIROn papers on ResearchGate, which increase the exposure of my work.  

Have you used preprints during this lockdown period?  

I’ve not released any preprints, but we do have a paper under currently under review for a special pandemic issue of the Journal of Homosexuality which cites many preprints. These preprints account for 10 out of the 29 references in the paper. Which is a little higher than I’d usually expect.  

At the beginning of lockdown, when we were looking to apply for funding for this current project, we knew there was very little out there on the topic. Our funder, The British Academy, require that we undertake a literature review to show that the project is grounded and would contribute to the academic field. So we had to use preprints in the literature review as that was where the relevant literature was.  

Another example of using what was out there were the BBC News reports, reports by the EC and UN, and by community organizations that I mentioned earlier. This was again more evidence that this research would be important and deserved funding.  

So the preprints, and the reports, went into the application to build the case that this was timely and relevant research.  

Can you tell us about the expanded survey you are running now?  

It’s been expanded in response to LGBTQ* community feedback. We were being approached by those over 35 with a desire to be represented. We also wanted to ask more on the pandemic experience, so there are more targeted questions on challenges and opportunities due to the pandemic. These questions were formed out of the first survey respondents’ written comments on the wider impact of the pandemic on their lives. 

Dr Fiona Tasker is currently running an expanded second survey for the UK LGBTQ* COVID-19 Lockdown 18-60 Experiences Research Project. 

For details on the survey, including how to take part, visit the project web page

Featured image: People vector created by rawpixel.com – www.freepik.com

Welcome to Open Access Week 2020

Open Access Week is a global event, now in its tenth year. It is an opportunity for the academic, library and research community to learn more about the benefits of Open Access and to share their experiences with colleagues, and to inspire wider participation in making Open Access a new norm in scholarship and research.

Banner advertising Open Access Week 2020

At Birkbeck we usually organise a range of online and in-person activities, such as panel discussions and workshops, as well as opportunities to share your thoughts on OA topics.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year we have opted for a series of blog posts written by our librarians. Through these we aim to highlight what Open Access means for the Library and the collections. We’ll focus on ebooks and ejournals, demonstrating the importance of making content available openly as well as offering some insight into the power of platforms and publishers. We’ll also provide an overview of the barriers we face as a library service in being able to truly participate and contribute to the Open Access movement.

We invite you to start the week by watching and listening to a short screencast from Professor Martin Eve on The Ethos of Open Access.

Other posts published so far this week include:

Lockdown research: how COVID-19 and Open Access shaped a new project: Dr Fiona Tasker, a Reader in Psychology at Birkbeck, discusses her research during the pandemic.

Surfing the free resource wave: managing temporary access to online resources during the COVID-19 pandemic: Karen Attar, our E-Resources Support Assistant, describes how she managed access to the online resources made temporarily free after the lockdown.

Birkbeck Open Access in numbers: BIROn visualised: a graphical illustration of the research deposited and available in Birkbeck’s institutional repository.

The road to open access: from journal subscriptions to transformative agreements: Emma Illingworth, Subject Librarian for the School of Science, explains how the move from traditional journal subscription models to transformative agreements could lead to more content being open access.

You’re welcome to comment on and share our blog posts. You can also tweet using the hashtag #OAweek.

Bound to read: collecting Victorian texts in 20th-century bindings

Photograph showing the spines of the eight books discussed in the blog post. The spines feature gilt lettering and decorative patterns.

This guest blog by Birkbeck MA Victorian Studies student Imogen Grubin discusses her collection of early twentieth-century editions of Victorian literature. Imogen was a finalist for this year’s Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize, organised by UCL Special Collections. To our delight, several Birkbeck students submitted entries for the prize, and we are happy to be able to feature Imogen’s runner-up entry and to have her share her thoughts on book collecting with the readers of Bookish.

I have been collecting books for a while, but never considered myself a ‘collector’, or even that my books could be called a collection. When I saw the Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize hosted by UCL, however, I started looking at my books in a new way and realised that some of them told an interesting story about publishers in the early twentieth century. Even though they were all cheap and have never been considered rare, they actually show a lot about reading habits and publishers’ traditions.

The collection I put together for the Prize consists of mostly Victorian novels published in the twentieth century: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, Romola and Silas Marner by George Eliot, Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley, Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis, and three collections of short stories: The Toys of Peace and Other Papers by Saki (pen name of H. H. Munro), The Author of Beltraffio, The Middle Years, Greville Fane and Other Tales by Henry James and Island Nights’ Entertainments by Robert Louis Stevenson.

A photograph of the title page spread of Robert Louis Stevenson's Island Nights' Entertainments. On the left-hand page there is an illustration which depicts a girl sitting among some very large leaves, holding up one of them. She looks a little lost, or perhaps fearful.

I bought these for no more than £3 each, partly because, for me, reading an old novel in an old book adds to the charm of the story being told. The mystery of where they were before, and sometimes of when they were published, adds to my enjoyment.

Photo of the dedication inside the copy of Silas Marner. It says: 'To Con, with love from Steph. Xmas 1911.'

The first four books, by Collins, Eliot and Kingsley, were published as part of the Collins Clear-Type Press, cheap reprints of popular novels. Probably because they were cheap editions, they have no date of publication in them, although similar editions online most commonly put them between 1910 and 1920, with some as early as 1902 or as late as 1960. They are similar in colour and size but do differ slightly. Romola and The Moonstone have a decorative pattern directly above and below the novel’s title and author on the spine whilst Westward Ho! and Silas Marner have a decorative leaf pattern all the way down the spine and the author’s autograph on the front cover.

After collecting these, I started to look for books from other publishers around the same period to see how they compared or differed. Elmer Gantry, published in 1930, is the book most like the Collins editions. It is the same shade of red as the Collins books, has Sinclair Lewis’s signature on the cover and has a decoration all the way down the spine, although not of leaves, but is a slightly larger size. It was published as part of a ‘Collected Edition’, so may have been purposefully adopting similar traditions to the Collins Clear-Type Press to try and appeal to a certain readership. It was published by Jonathan Cape, a London publisher and one of the first British publishers to seek out American novels, and so may have been trying to appear more ‘English’.

Photo of the front covers of Imogen's books, taken from above.

The other three books differ greatly. The collection of Saki stories is a blue volume with a decorated spine and the author’s signature on the front. The spine, however, lists the author both as Saki and H. H. Munro, making it appear more formal and perhaps marking it as more expensive. Both Island Night’s Entertainment and the collection of Henry James’s stories have their titles rather than their authors’ signatures embossed on the front covers, possibly signifying greater expense at the time of publication.

I collected these books because I was interested in how different publishers tried to make their books stand out or fit in. I find it wonderful that even cheap editions were made to look beautiful. I bought them because I wanted to read them, but in doing so began, unknowingly, to build a collection. Competing for the prize made me realise that any group of books can be a collection, and that anyone can be a collector just from buying the books that interest you.

Photo of the illustrated title page spread of Westward Ho! The left-hand page depicts a scene from the book. The title page shows a man sitting in an arm chair by the fire, reading a book.

LGBT+ History Month/Love Data Week

At the heart of the university, an academic library space offers fertile possibilities for interdisciplinary research, cross-department discussion and serendipitous discovery. At Birkbeck we offer a variety of study spaces, diverse print and electronic resources, and specialist staff to support researchers. Since our refurbishment last summer, we’ve also been able to provide a space for teaching and events – something that had been lacking before.

This February, we utilised this new space to run a series of events celebrating both LGBT+ History Month and Love Data Week.

Slide advertising the Evening of Queer Poetry event. It reads, "An evening of queer poetry at Birkbeck Library. Valentine Carter, Keith Jarrett, Fran Lock, Golnoosh Nour. Thursday 20 February, 10:00 to 20:00 in the Library training room. Search 'Birkbeck events' to book a place.
Slide advertising the Researching LGBT+ Communities event. It reads, "Researching LGBT+ communities. Love data week event at Birkbeck Library. Dr Fiona Tasker and Ralph Day will discuss their potentially sensitive data. When: Wednesday 12 February, 10:30 to 20:00. Where: Library training room. Search 'Birkbeck events' to book a place."

Founded in 2005, in the wake of the abolition of Section 28, LGBT+ History Month is well embedded in the UK library world, particularly in public libraries. At Birkbeck, we’ve celebrated the month with displays of LGBT+ books from across disciplines.

Love Data Week is an annual celebration of research data. It’s an international event, which has been hosted in the College by the Library for the last three years. Previous events have included interdisciplinary panels, workshops, and cross institution collaborations.

Library staff were able to draw from the wealth of experience of our academic staff and students to produce some enjoyable and thought-provoking events, culminating in a cross-over LGBT+ History Month/Love Data Week event.

The LGBT+ History Month events celebrated Birkbeck’s poets and writers from our Creative Writing department. Course Director for the MA in Creative Writing, Julia Bell, read extracts from her new book of essays Radical Attention. This was followed by a lively conversation with fellow lecturer Richard Hamblyn. Later in the month, we hosted an Evening of Queer Poetry with poets Fran Lock, Valentine Carter, Golnoosh Nour and Keith Jarrett. We hold many of the collections by these writers, as well as the full run of the Mechanics’ Institute Review, an annual literary review published by Birkbeck’s Creative Writing department.

Keith Jarrett's performance at an Evening of Queer Poetry. He is dressed in black and wearing a black trilby.

For Love Data Week 2020, we ran two training sessions: An Introduction to Research Data Management, and Data Management Plans for Postgraduate Students. Both were organised in collaboration with the Birkbeck Graduate Research School.  

The LGBT+ History month/Love Data Week cross-over event was titled Researching LGBTQ+ Communities: openness, ethics and consent, and explored the interplay between open research and participant groups who may require anonymity. Two Birkbeck researchers, Fiona Tasker, an academic in the Department of Psychological Sciences and Ralph Day, a doctoral researcher in contemporary history, presented their work.

Image of a presentation slide: Birkbeck Library. Researching LBGTQ+ Communities. Openness, ethics and consent. Dr Fiona Tasker. Ralph Day. Hash tag Love Data Week, hash tag LGBT History Month.

Fiona talked about her work with LGBT+ parents. She took us through the three ‘waves’ of research on same sex parenting mothers, then presented some ideas from her work on a fourth wave. She also showed very interesting data from the Empowering Adoptive Families survey on adoption for non-traditional parents, and alternative data from the family mapping exercise. A copy of Fiona’s slides are available at the bottom of this post .

Ralph provided insight into the early years of the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard. He presented data from the log books, described the challenges faces by the operators, and the sort of information they would record while facing these challenges.

Despite Ralph and Fiona drawing from different disciplines and consequently using a different set of methodologies and research assumptions, it was a useful discussion, in part due to these very differences. The audience was made up of students, academics and library staff with differing interests and research backgrounds, and our new teaching room provided an inclusive space for exploration and sharing of experiences.

Fiona is currently running a LGBTQ* UK COVID-19 Lockdown 18-35 Experiences Online Survey. This is a short survey for those in the 18-35 age group, which looks at experiences during the current pandemic and lockdown. If you are interested in taking part in this timely research, you can follow this link to the survey and information sheet.

Flyer promoting Fiona's lockdown survey. It reads: LGBTQ+ UK Covid-19 Lockdown. 18 to 35 Experiences Online Survey. We want to hear about your experiences - good or bad or both! We have a short, anonymous online survey which we'd really appreciate you taking a look at. The survey is designed for LGBTQ+ people aged 18 to 35 years, especially to find out about your experiences with the virus pandemic and lockdown measures.

Our UK data will also be added to an international study on LGBTQ+ responses to the pandemic.

You can find out more information and access the survey at https://bit.ly/LGBTQ-c19lockdown

Or please email the research team for more details: Fiona Tasker and Marie Houghton. f.tasker@bbk.ac.uk and mhough01@mail.bbk.ac.uk.

Both Love Data Week and LGBT+ History Month will return in 2021, as well as many other exciting events hosted in Birkbeck Library. Look out for updates on our News and Updates page.

Walking through Birkbeck history

Tim Spring, Senior Library Assistant (Acquisitions and Metadata), writes:

Birkbeck Library has an amazing image collection and I’ve always been intrigued by the people and places in these photos. Within the ‘Birkbeck History’ collection there is a set of photos taken of the family mausoleum of George Birkbeck, located in Kensal Green Cemetery. I don’t live too far from there, so a few months ago I decided to go explore and see if I could find it myself.

Photo of the Birkbeck mausoleum. A grand stone building with greek style pillars wither side and a pitched roof, also in stone.

Discovering the Birkbeck mausoleum made me wonder how many other places in London have a link to the College. I started off with some notable Birkbeckians, and very quickly found out that most of them have a blue plaque somewhere in London. I also started to learn about the history of the College, and it turns out that Birkbeck’s influence can be seen all over London.

This year Birkbeck is celebrating 100 years as a member of the University of London. In the Library we have a small group working on projects for this occasion and it was here that we came up with the idea of creating walking tours of Birkbeck history in London.

The first tour is an exploration of Birkbeck buildings, from the site the College was founded at through to our current location. This walk takes you all over central London, starting at the Strand, then heading towards the Barbican, and eventually ends up at the main Birkbeck building on Torrington Square.

Hand drawn image of the original location of the London Mechanics Institute.

The other two walks will take you past the homes of notable Birkbeckians. Some of the more famous figures on these walks include Rosalind Franklin and T. S. Eliot, but there are many other interesting people that passed through Birkbeck’s door over the years, such as Professor Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan, pictured below. My hope is that these tours will get you to enjoy going for a walk in London whilst also discovering more about the history of Birkbeck. We are a unique institution with a rich past and I think a lot of people would be surprised by what they learn about the College and all the interesting people who have helped make it what it is.

Image of Professor Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan teaching in her Botany laboratory in 1923.

Infinite Potential: an update

More than 13,000 people from across the globe came together on Saturday 20th June to watch the online world premiere of Infinite Potential: The Life and Ideas of David Bohm. The recording of this screening is now freely available to watch online, any time. This new feature-length documentary sheds light on the life, ideas and work of the groundbreaking Birkbeck scientist David Bohm, Einstein’s “spiritual son”, whose archive is held here at the Library.

Image of the poster for the film. It shows David Bohm against a mixed background of blue, orange and red swirls overlaid with equations. The text reads, "Mystics have known about it for millennia. Modern Science is catching up. A Paul Howard Film. Infinite Potential. The life and ideas of David Bohm.

Who is David Bohm? Discover more in our previous blog.

A lively Q&A panel session with Paul Howard, the film’s director and producer, Professor Basil Hiley, quantum physicist and longtime collaborator of Bohm, and Dr Jan Walleczek, Director of Phenoscience Laboratories (Berlin), chaired by Susan Bauer–Wu, followed the premiere and is also available to watch online: Q&A panel session

There’s another opportunity to watch the film online with a different Q&A panel which has been organised to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 85th birthday as well as his lifelong love of science. Since the mid-1980s the Dalai Lama has engaged in dialogue with scientists, including David Bohm, around the broad topics of psychology, neurobiology, quantum physics and cosmology. Register for this screening and Q&A panel.

Image of the film poster on a laptop set on a table together with a cup of tea, a lemon and a slice of custard pie.

Infinite Potential: the life and ideas of David Bohm

World premiere. Saturday 20th June at 8pm BST

This Saturday sees the world premiere – now taking place online – of a new feature-length documentary which sheds light on the life, ideas and work of the influential Birkbeck scientist David Bohm whose archive is held here at the Library.

The film, titled Infinite Potential, draws together contributions from a host of eminent guests from different fields, demonstrating the depth and breadth of Bohm’s mind. Those featured include not only long-time collaborators quantum physicist Professor Basil Hiley and theoretical physicist Yakir Aharanov, but also H.H. the Dalai Lama and sculptor Sir Antony Gormley.

Hiley describes Bohm as a “radical independent thinker”. Bohm had a unique way of looking at physics and his philosophical views were inseparably intertwined with the science. This holistic approach meant that he actively worked also with people from outside the subject area. Bohm’s ground-breaking work remains relevant today and informs current research which has the potential to radically change our world view in the future.

The online world premiere screening of Infinite Potential is free: you only need to sign up via the film’s website in order to attend.

Image of the poster for the film. It shows David Bohm against a mixed background of blue, orange and red swirls overlaid with equations.

The screening will be followed by a live panel discussion and Q&A session with director Paul Howard and other special guests, including Professor Basil Hiley.

Who is David Bohm? 

David Bohm (1917–1992) had an interesting and varied life, a significant part of which was spent as Professor of Theoretical Physics at Birkbeck, from 1961 until his retirement in 1983.  

Black and white photo showing a smiling David Bohm in suit jacket, shirt, tie and jumper.

Born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Bohm went on to study at Pennsylvania State University, graduating in 1939. He then moved to the California Institute of Technology for post-graduate work, going on to complete his PhD in 1943 at the University of California at Berkeley under J. R. Oppenheimer. He subsequently worked on the Manhattan Project at the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory. You can listen to David Bohm talk about J. R. Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project in an interview from 1979 as part of the Voices of the Manhattan Project oral history. 
 
In 1947 he was appointed Assistant Professor at Princeton University. He worked there until 1950, when Princeton refused to renew his contract after he had fallen foul of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). While working at the Radiation Laboratory during the war, Bohm had been active in the Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists and Technicians (FAECT) trade union.  

In 1949, as Cold War tensions increased, the Committee on Un-American Activities had begun investigating staff who had worked at the Radiation Laboratory. As a member of FAECT and as a former member of the Communist Party, Bohm came under suspicion. He was called upon to testify before the Committee but pleaded the Fifth Amendment, refusing to give evidence against colleagues, including J. R. Oppenheimer. After the USSR tested its first atomic device in September 1949 it was thought that atomic bomb secrets must have been passed to the USSR. It was alleged that members of the FAECT had been in a Communist cell working at Berkeley during the war.  

In 1950 Bohm was charged with Contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions before the Committee and arrested. He was acquitted in May 1951, but Princeton had already suspended Bohm and after his acquittal refused to renew his contract. Bohm left for Brazil in 1951 to take up a Chair in Physics at the University of São Paulo. In 1955 he moved to Israel where he spent two years at the Technion at Haifa. Here he met his wife Saral, who was an important figure in the development of his ideas. In 1957 Bohm moved to the UK. He held a research fellowship at the University of Bristol until 1961, when he was made Professor of Theoretical Physics at Birkbeck in London. He retired in 1983 but continued to play an active role. 

Black and white photo of David Bohm, again in suit jacket, jumper, shirt and tie, this time looking serious and wearing glasses.

Bohm made several significant contributions to physics, particularly in the area of quantum mechanics. As a post-graduate at Berkeley he discovered the electron phenomenon now known as ‘Bohm-diffusion‘. His first book, Quantum Theory, published in 1951, was well received by Einstein among others. However, Bohm wasn’t satisfied with the orthodox approach to quantum theory and began to develop his own, expressed in his second book, Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, published in 1957.  

In 1959, with his student Yakir Aharonov, he discovered the ‘Aharonov-Bohm effect‘, showing how a vacuum could produce striking physical effects. His third book, The Special Theory of Relativity, was published in 1965.  

During his 20 plus years at Birkbeck, Bohm and Professor Basil Hiley were colleagues, discussing a wide range of topics and writing many papers together. In his biographical memoir of Bohm, Hiley recounts: “our original investigations had as their focus the need to develop a new conceptual order in which to accommodate both quantum mechanics and relativity in a more coherent way, hopefully without their present conceptual problems and their mathematical infinities. This involved excursions into other disciplines like philosophy, biology, language and even art.” At the time Bohm died, he and Hiley were putting together the final details of the book that they had been working on, The Undivided Universe. 

Bohm’s scientific and philosophical views were inseparable. After reading a book by the Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti in 1959, he was struck with how his own ideas on quantum mechanics meshed with the philosophy of Krishnamurti. The two first met in 1961 and over the following years had many conversations or dialogues. Bohm’s approach to philosophy and physics is expressed in his 1980 book Wholeness and the Implicate Order, and in the book Science, Order and Creativity, written with F. D. Peat and published in 1987. F. D. Peat also appears in the new documentary.

In his later years, partly through his connection with Krishnamurti, Bohm developed the technique of Dialogue, in which a group of individuals engaged in constructive verbal interaction with each other. He believed that if carried out on a sufficiently wide scale these Dialogues could help overcome fragmentation in society. Bohm led a number of Dialogues in the 1980s and early 1990s, the most well-known being those held at the Ojai Grove School in California.  

Bohm was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1990. He died in 1992.  

Black and white photo showing David and his wife. He wears his suit jacket, jumper, shirt and tie. They both smile at the camera.
David and Saral

Read more about Bohm’s life and work in the following: 
B. J. Hiley, ‘David Joseph Bohm’, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 43, 105–131 (1997). 

The David Bohm Archive at Birkbeck Library

Following Bohm’s death, Birkbeck took the first deposit of his papers and correspondence in 1997: this was the start of the David Bohm Archive at Birkbeck. You can find out more about what is held in the David Bohm Archive at Birkbeck on the Archives Hub, along with links out to other organisations holding related material.  

If you have any questions about the Bohm Archive at Birkbeck please contact Emma Illingworth, Subject Librarian (School of Science), Birkbeck Library.