Bletchley Park

I was very excited for our visit to Bletchley Park. During my undergraduate studies I completed a minor in mathematics, and I have a keen interest in cryptography, probability and statistics – the methods used by Bletchley codebreakers in WWII. I also opted to read Sinclair McKay’s excellent The Secret Life of Bletchley Park (also published under the title The Secret Lives of Codebreakers) for the book review assignment for this course, so it was really wonderful to see the places I had read about in person.

I was very excited to see Bletchley Mansion, and its distinctive architecture, up close.

I was very excited to see Bletchley Mansion, and its distinctive architecture, up close.

We started the day at the National Museum of Computing, where in just under two hours we explored the machines and theory of computing, from the time of WWII Bletchley codebreaking and the Lorenz and Colossus machines to present day, with the sophisticated programming used to coordinate arrivals and departures at Heathrow Airport. Although I do not think I was the only one who found some of the computer engineering and programming principles to be a bit beyond my level of understanding, this particular tour was not out of place among the other places we have been visiting, as aspiring information professionals. After all, I have seen a number of job listings for information professionals that involve the management of digital assets. This duty might be one of many that the individual is responsible for, or it could account for the majority of that person’s work time. I have often wondered if perhaps my lack of programming and computer science background might disqualify me for these kinds of positions. But my concerns about this were alleviated somewhat when I had the opportunity to meet with Jessica Green, a British Studies alumni now working as the Digital Curator at the Wiener Library here in London. (British Studies students had the option to meet with Jessica and tour the Wiener Library on July 10.) Jessica explained that librarians working in digital content-related roles are typically required to serve as more of a go-between, between the IT and computer specialists and other library staff. Due to the fact that computers are so essential to the dissemination, collection, organization, preservation and access of information, I think a basic understanding of how such systems work is essential for any information professional, regardless of their job title.

Bletchley's Cottage 3: The building where cryptanalyst Dilly Knox worked with his team, and also the site where the first German cipher was broken in January 1940.

Bletchley’s Cottage 3: The building where cryptanalyst Dilly Knox worked with his team, and also the site where the first German cipher was broken in January 1940.

Our second half of the day consisted of a highly entertaining and informative tour of the Bletchley Park grounds, where I found myself very excited to be walking in the footsteps of the I individuals I had read about in McKay’s book. I was reminded of something that had occurred to me while reading the book. Although when most people think of Bletchley they would probably think of mathematics, there was a highly complex system of information organization which was equally important for the success of Bletchley’s codebreaking operations. Being able to organize and systematically work through large amounts of information (i.e. the many, sometimes infinitely many, possible ways to go about solving a problem) actually forms am important component of solving math problems, which is a skill that is also essential to work as an information professional. For this reason I feel very satisfied with my choice of profession, as it will allow me to draw upon and continue to use the skills that I most enjoy from my time as a math student.

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