Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Medical Library Movement

From: medicalantiques.com

Not until the 1890s did American medical schools realize that their own well stocked and well maintained medical libraries would be essential components of the rapid modernizing of medical pedagogy which had begun in the 1870s with the shift from proprietary schools to graded instruction.

The lack of attention to medical libraries which had been the prevailing attitude not only in medical schools but throughout the entire medical community gradually evolved into a "medical library movement," a unity of the aims of both the "Old Guard" and the younger physicians in a third generation of physicians who saw the need both to protect and venerate the tradition, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, to make readily and freely available to all practitioners the widest possible sampling of the published results of current research. Gould (b. 1848), Osler (b. 1849), Frank William Marlow (b. 1858), and Spivak (b. 1861) were among this third generation that rediscovered and reinvented the medical library. They resembled their grandfathers rather than their fathers insofar as they attached importance to the contents of medical libraries; but unlike their grandfathers, and indeed more like their fathers, they regarded these contents not as curiosities, historical documents, or the hallmarks of medical tradition, but as fundamental tools of current clinical practice.

The ultimate impetus for the rebirth and growth of medical libraries in the 1890s was not the veneration of tradition, as Purple, Horner, and their cohorts had imagined, but rather the discovery that libraries are excellent means for current research. This latter view is what predominates in the medical world today. The attitude that medical libraries are research libraries rather than repositories has proved fundamental in the design, construction, and funding of medical libraries in the twentieth century.

Although there had been some pockets of American medical culture from as early as the 1870s which were enlightened about the proper role and importance of modern medical libraries, one analyst who surveyed 120 American medical schools in 1898 received reports of only 24 libraries affiliated with those schools. Clearly a crusade was needed.

Directly addressing this perceived need, Gould, Osler, and a few others in the 1890s launched a vigorous effort to encourage physicians to take seriously the published heritage of medicine as useful, not only for purposes of learning history, but even for current clinical practice, and in that spirit to bequeath their personal collections of books to medical schools and other health care institutions, especially since these institutions had few other means of acquiring books.

They and, even as early as the late 1890s, most other advocates of institutional medical libraries were making similar claims for the current practical value of "old books" and encouraging the private owners of these medical journals and books not to throw them away when they retired from clinical practice, and not to let their heirs decide what to do with them, but rather to donate them to institutions which would preserve them, not only for the use of current practitioners, but also for posterity.

Image: A doctor in his office: library, stethoscope, skull, amputation set on top of the cabinet


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