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Keeper of the 'Base

by Lisa Frattare

January 1998


When I was a freshman in college, I remember our dorm leader asking for help with sorting mail in our
hi-rise dormitory. With 10 floors, 50 rooms per floor, 2 persons per room, maybe 1000 people receiving
mail,I was quick to jump at this chance to make a whopping $3.00/hour. It was pretty simple work and
the time went by quickly. I did this for one hour every day, so by the end of the week I had pizza money,
and a job that my folks could be proud of.

What surprised me most during that semester was the number of dorm neighbors that I met and remembered.
Our initial conversations were always quite similar,"Hi- I'm Barbara Johnson" and I would reply "Hi,
Barbara Johnson, I'm Lisa Frattare, and I know that you live at 608 Seneca Hall, and your roommate is
Terry Broadhurst, and you are both from the Albany area..."I may be exaggerating a tiny bit, but more
than a few times, I found that I knew just a little more about people than I realized. We would usually
laugh about it, and it would be an ice breaker. Most of all, as this scenario repeated itself, I remember
feeling that my little corner of the world was actually not so big. It made a good first impression on
me that semester and, needless to say, the world wasn't such a scary place for that college freshman, because at the time I knew at least 800 other people that weren't so different than me.

I find it interesting that pleasant experiences tend to repeat themselves in life. I am currently the `keeper'
of the AAS CSWA Women in Astronomy Database. It started as a harmless desire for me to practice web
skills and get involved with volunteer work. Once I paired up with Meg Urry at Space Telescope, we
discussed a need to revise and update previous information from female astronomers gathered in
response to the "Women in Astronomy" conference at STScI, [Baltimore MD 1992].

I realize that this astronomy world isn't quite so big and intimidating as I once imagined it.

I created a question form and a way to store and search the information. A small group of
collaborators helped to refine items, and much of the way it was structured came from the desire to know
specifics about women that share our field. We wanted to know if they were tenured; we opened it up
to grad and undergraduate astronomy students; we included amateurs in the field. We wanted to know
what their interests were and gave them a place to promote lecture topics. With the portability of web
links, we could include professional information about these women in astronomy and their host institutions.
And with all the work that went into painting the picture of a typical female astronomer, and making
sure we covered what others wanted to know, we didn't realize that we began painting the picture of
what astronomy looks like: where do people work, what types of positions do they serve, what are
prominent Ph.D. universities and current research interests, and at what point do people deviate from
the norm and go off and study their own thing?

My duties involved with maintaining this database have helped me to gain a unique perspective
regarding my field. There is a calm and familiar feeling that comes over me, much like when I met
people in my old dorm. I realize that this astronomy world isn't quite so big and intimidating as I once
imagined it. There are names and places and fields that I am now familiar with. People may be physically far away, but they are not out of reach. They are much like me and are microseconds away from my world. On the grand scheme of things, I like this, for it is really a comforting thing to know.

More often than not when I meet someone face to face, I keep to myself that I know them from one of
hundreds in a database of women astronomers. However, I am impressed with those that know me
and know the database. I can tell when they tell others about it, because one lone submission from a
very obscure place is followed by half a dozen more from the same institution. Perhaps it is something
they shared over colloquia tea. Perhaps in looking for a future speaker, a department colloquia
coordinator is told of the web database and others on the faculty decide to promote their own talks. However it is happening, I am glad that the word is spreading.

The continued success of this site rests in part on the participation of every woman in astronomy,
astrophysics, or related fields. If you have not already done so, please visit the site to enter personal information or to use the information provided by other women in astronomy. Also, please
share knowledge of this site with other female colleagues, grad students, undergraduates and
postdocs. Comments are, of course, welcome and appreciated.

Thanks to those who visit the site and use the information, thanks to those who helped to develop
and test the site, and most of all thank you to those women who, one by one, are making this world a much
smaller, friendlier place.

[The WIAD was established in June 1997. Co-founders were Lisa Frattare, Meg Urry, Debbie Elmegreen and Kathy Mead. In November 1997, the CSWA WiAD included information on over 130 women working in the US, and 30 women outside the US. After 6 months of being active, the complete web site currently
averages on the order of 500 hits per week. URL: http://www.stsci.edu/stsci/service/cswa]

Lisa Frattare, Space Telescope Science Institute (frattare@stsci.edu) Web maintainer for the CSWA
web site and the Women in Astronomy Database

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