- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2006

What do books, compact discs, newspapers, maps and photographs have in common? They all deteriorate over time.

As the new chief of the Library of Congress’ preservation research and testing division, Nels Olson is responsible for maintaining the library’s vast collection. He began April 3.

Mr. Olson joins the library at a time of rapid change. From digitization to desktop publishing, technology is transforming the role of the preservationist.

“It’s an incredibly fascinating place to work,” he said.

Mr. Olson is in charge of a team that tests incoming materials to see if they meet the library’s standards of permanence. The team also performs research on rare objects to help the library’s conservators determine the best way to preserve them.

“Right now, honestly, I’m learning the ropes,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of studying to do.”

Mr. Olson was selected by a panel of three Library of Congress employees, including Dianne van der Reyden, director of preservation.

“He’s very innovative and we need a lot of innovation now,” Ms. van der Reyden said of Mr. Olson. “We have new problems, so we need … new thinking.”

Mr. Olson came to the library from Illumina Inc., a San Diego developer of genetic research tools. He began at Illumina in 2002 as a forensic failure analyst and later worked there as a project manager.

Before joining Illumina, Mr. Olson was a Fulbright fellow at the Institute for Surface Chemistry in Stockholm. At the same time, he worked as an assistant professor at the Royal Institute of Technology, also in Stockholm.

He left Sweden in 1999 to work for Molecular Dynamics Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif., where he was involved in the Human Genome Project before following the company’s executive team to Illumina.

Mr. Olson began his undergraduate studies in American literature at the University of Oregon. He transferred to Reed College in Portland, Ore., where he received a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry in 1989. In 1997, he earned a doctorate degree in organic synthesis and analytical chemistry from the University of Washington.

Mr. Olson had decided it would be difficult to make a living as a literature major. Now, he said, he knows better.

“Success is not measured by dollars and I should have known that,” said Mr. Olson, who maintains a large library of his own.

Mr. Olson, 45, lives in Vienna, Va., with his wife, Nataliya, and his son, Constantine.

— Walter Frick

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