November 24, 2017


Video Archivist Makes Scientific History

Ludmila (Mila) Pollock


Executive Director, Library and Archives, Genentech Center for the History of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, NY


MLS, St. John’s University, 1995


Photo by Constance Brukin

At her core, LJ Mover & Shaker Ludmila (Mila) Pollock is an archivist. As the executive director, library and archives at the Genentech Center for the History of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, she has been at the forefront of preserving the annals of scientific breakthroughs—through the stories of the people who made them.

Her oral history project, question and answer sessions preserved on video, presents first-hand accounts of scientific discovery.

“It’s different than reading a biography,” says Pollock, who received her MLS from St. John’s University in 1995 after working for a dozen years in the reference department at the State Central Scientific Medical Library in Moscow. “When you see that person’s facial expression, how they tell the story of their own journey, of their [scientific] discovery, it helps the millions of people who are watching in the audience have more informed opinions.”

Pollock began the project in 2000 when, during a gathering of scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, she inquired about their work. Their candid replies, and their engaging personalities, prompted the idea. She sent a staff member out that day to buy a video camera.

To date, nearly 160 scientists have been interviewed. To help potential interview subjects prepare, typically Pollock will send an email describing the project. “There are many interviews that can be seen on our website and I recommend that they look at them,” she says, adding that since the scientists are also professors, they’re accustomed to public speaking. “So they are comfortable with the conversational style of our interview.”

When we asked Pollock what she’s learned through these interviews, she says that the public perception of scientists is quite different from the reality. “They are not narrow or boring, they’re very curious about all sorts of things. In fact, you do need a personality to be a scientist.”

A subsequent project, a comprehensive website and ebook on the Human Genome Project (HGP), and her upcoming project, a video history of cancer conversations among scientists who made breakthroughs, both underscore a central tenet of Pollock’s—and all librarian’s—work: access to information.

“Cancer medicine starts from basic research,” she says. “To show where science and medicine meet, and to show how basic science is to the process, is important.”

Pollock feels fortunate to have gotten grants in the past, and hopes funding for “cancer conversations” will be similarly received.

“Some projects originate with my staff in the library and archives,” she says, describing her fund-raising, “and I check if my ideas are interesting for future targeted groups and then I apply for support to continue that work. Here at CSHL I have a unique opportunity to check my ideas about new projects with a large scientific community of scientists, professors, post-docs, and students who attend our scientific research meetings.”

With approximately 10,000 attendees coming to the meetings yearly, Pollock has what is the envy of any archivist, in any medium: a rich source of potential material.

Sage PublishingSponsored by SAGE Publishing