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Aug. 01, 2012

Stacks of History

by Annette Heist

Click to enlarge images
Click on icon in upper right corner of slideshow to enlarge images.

{"input":{"width":"200","photo":"book","row":"4306","table":"DOCUMENT"}}
While many of us might think of PubMed or MEDLINE as the raison d'être for the National Library of Medicine, the repository of medical information was around long before online search engines.

The NLM began in 1836 with "a small collection of medical books on a single shelf in the Office of the Surgeon General of the Army," writes the library's current director, Donald A.B. Lindberg, MD, in the new book Hidden Treasure: The National Library of Medicine.
 
After the Civil War, then director John Shaw Billings set out to collect "all of the world's medical knowledge in one place."  Over the years, the library's name changed from the Army Medical Library, to the Armed Forces Medical Library, to its present-day name, and its collection has grown to some 17 million items, including films (see below), propaganda posters and advertisements.
 
{"input":{"width":"200","photo":"film","row":"4306","table":"DOCUMENT"}}
Although the library was conceived as a place for doctors to find information on treating patients and curing disease, the collection now serves a record of the history of medicine. It's a "history of cities, race, factory production, sexuality, print technology, photography, feminism, motion pictures, the railroad, colonization, war, aesthetics...," according to the book's introduction.
 
The book highlights a handful of the eclectic items in the collection, from 16th-century anatomical texts by Andreas Vesalius, to 20th-century Army training films warning soldiers about venereal disease, to photographs documenting what nurses were wearing in Hong Kong, circa 1950. (See above, second row, left.)
 
Click on the slide show above for more images from the book. 

 

 

About Annette Heist

Annette Heist is a former senior producer for Science Friday.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Science Friday® and SciFri® are registered service marks of Science Friday, Inc. Site design by Pentagram; engineering by Mediapolis.

 

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