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Archives Spotlight: The New Mathematical Library Records

The New Mathematical Library Records

By Robin Howard and Kristy Sorensen

The following article, featured as part of the Archives of American Mathematics Spotlight, was published in the August/September 2005 issue of MAA FOCUS. The full issue is available here (pdf).

The Archives of American Mathematics is pleased to make an online inventory of the New Mathematical Library (NML) Records available to researchers. This collection documents the work of editor Anneli Lax to bring engaging mathematical texts to young mathematics students and provides an inside look into the work of mathematical publishing.

Handwritten note by Anneli Lax

A handwritten note by Anneli Lax describing a September 18, 1974, meeting at which the transfer of the NML from Random House to the Mathematical Association of America was discussed. (Click to enlarge.)
Source: The New Mathematical Library Records at the Archives of American Mathematics.

The NML is a series of monographs on various mathematical topics. They are meant as supplements, not textbooks, for the interested high school or early college student. The monographs are written by individual mathematicians. At the NML's beginning, most of the authors had not written for the high school level prior to their work in the series.

The first monographs appeared in 1961 and were originally published for the School Mathematics Study Group Monograph Project, begun in 1958 to remedy the perceived shortage of well-written mathematical materials for young people. Initially published by Random House and the L.W. Singer Company in conjunction with Yale University, the Mathematical Association of America took over publication in 1975.

The NML was intended as a temporary project, set to come to an end after the publication of approximately 30 monographs or after commercial American publishers began to produce similar books for high school students. Instead, books are still being published in the NML series as of 2003, though at a slower pace than during its height in the 1960s.

Letter from Ivan Niven

A letter from Ivan Niven to Anneli Lax regarding the publication of his book, Numbers: Rational and Irrational, the first book in the NML series. (Click to enlarge.)
Source: The New Mathematical Library Records at the Archives of American Mathematics.

Anneli Lax, the NML's longtime technical editor, was born Anneli Cahn on February 23, 1922, in Katowice, part of Germany at the time, but part of Poland soon after. Her family left Katowice for Berlin in 1929 to escape discrimination against Germans, but in 1933, to escape discrimination against Jews, they moved to Paris, Palestine, and finally, in 1935, to the United States.

She studied mathematics at Adelphi College, and following her graduation in 1942, she became an assistant researcher in the New York University (NYU) Aeronautics Department and joined NYU's Courant Institute as a graduate student in 1943. While at NYU, Lax met and married mathematician Peter Lax. In 1955, Lax received her Ph.D., and in 1961, NYU appointed her to the faculty of the Department of Mathematics, where she stayed until her retirement in 1992.

Lax accepted the position of technical editor of the NML series at its inception in 1958 and remained editor until her death in 1999. The MAA renamed the series the Anneli Lax New Mathematical Library in her honor in 2000.

This collection reflects the progress of the NML, specifically under the editorship of Anneli Lax. It includes correspondence with authors and publishers, outlines and drafts of monographs, and various production records.

Kristy Sorensen served as the archivist at the Archives of American Mathematics until November 2006.

The Archives of American Mathematics (AAM) is a unit of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. Individuals interested in conducting research or donating materials or who have general questions about the AAM should contact Carol Mead, Archivist:, (512) 495-4539.

Revised on July 12, 2010.