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History of Medicine

General Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • General information about NLM's historical collections

    • What materials are in historical collections?

      NLM historical collections include books printed before 1914, pre-1871 journals, historical pamphlets, dissertations, and government reports, early medical manuscripts dating from the 11th century, modern manuscripts (1601-present), historical videos and films, and historical prints and photographs.

    • Where are historical collections located?

      Historical collections are housed in the NLM History of Medicine Division (HMD) and accessed in the History of Medicine Reading Room.

    • May anyone use the collections?

      Historical collections are open to the public Monday-Friday, 8:30-5:00, except on Federal holidays.

    • Do I need an appointment or letter of introduction to use the collections?

      Appointments and letters of introduction are not necessary. To use the collections, first get a Library card and register in the History of Medicine Reading Room.

    • Are historical collections online?

      The full texts of NLM historical material are not online; however, selected material from historical collections can be viewed in Online Exhibitions, Related NLM Web Sites, and digitized books, manuscripts, and pictures. For a complete list of digitized historical material, see Digital Collections.

    • Will you give me copyright permission to use an image, film, book, or manuscript from the collections?

      NLM does not own the copyright to the images, films, or books in its collections. For more information, see Historical Collections Copyright Information.

    • How can I donate to historical collections?

      For information on donating to historical collections, see How to Donate.

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  • Getting and using material from historical collections

    • How do I get a Library card?

      On your first visit to the Library, register in the Main Reading Room. You will be issued a Library card with a Patron ID, which allows you to use both the current collection and historical collections.

    • How do I use the Library catalog (LocatorPlus)?

      At the LocatorPlus search page, click the Help button or How to do a Simple Search. See also FAQ NLM LocatorPlus.

    • How do I request material?

      Submit requests through the Library catalog (LocatorPlus). Requests can only be made in the Library, not offsite.

    • How many books may I request?

      Patrons are limited to a total of 16 requests per day, whether from historical collections, the current collection, or both.

    • How often is historical material retrieved from the stacks?

      Requests for historical material from the stacks are filled on the hour, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. When planning your visit the Library, leave enough time to register, search, and submit requests in time for hourly retrieval.

    • How long does it take for material to come up from the stacks?

      Depending on how many requests have been submitted for that hour, retrievals take from 15 to 45 minutes.

    • Where do I pick up material I requested?

      Patrons pick up historical material in the History of Medicine Reading Room. Historical material may not be taken out of the History of Medicine Reading Room. Books published after 1913 and journals after 1870 are retrieved in the Main Reading Room.

    • Will you retrieve material for out-of-town visitors before they arrive?

      No. Before material can be retrieved from the stacks, patrons must submit requests through LocatorPlus. Requests can only be made onsite.

    • May I check out books from historical collections?

      Material from historical collections does not circulate in its original format; however, items on microfilm or other photocopy format may be borrowed through Interlibrary Loan. Microfilmed material may be purchased through the NLM's Microfilm Sales Program. For more information see How do I borrow material from historical collections below.

    • How do I borrow material from historical collections?

      The Library does not lend historical material in its original format; however, we do lend copies of journal articles; copies of selected manuscripts; books and manuscripts on microfilm (when available); and copies of films and videos. The Library’s interlibrary loan services are available only to libraries, not to individuals. Individuals who want to borrow NLM material should make a request through a local library. For more information see Interlibrary Loan Fact Sheet and Microfilm Sales Program Fact Sheet.

    • How can I get copies of material in historical collections?

      For information on photocopying, photography, microfilm purchases, and duplication of historical pictures and film, see How do I request copies?

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  • How do I look for...

    • Books, journals, historical images, and films?

      Search for books, journals, images and films in the Library catalog (LocatorPlus). Historical images can also be searched in the Image database (IHM). See also Using the Collections.

    • Islamic and Western manuscripts?

      Search Islamic manuscripts in LocatorPlus. Many but not all Western manuscripts are in LocatorPlus. See a complete list of Western manuscripts in Early Western Manuscripts in the NLM: A Short Title List.

    • A person or organization's papers?

      The Archives and Modern Manuscripts Collection can be searched in the Library catalog (LocatorPlus). Manuscript collections are identified by an "MS" call number. Oral histories have an "OH" call number.

      For more information see Archives and Modern Manuscripts Program.

    • Sources for genealogical and biographical research?

      Historical collections include medical biographies, medical directories, and obituary indexes, primarily from the 19th century. See Selected Sources for Biographical Information about 17th-Early 20th Century American Physicians (pdf). An especially useful source is the Directory of Deceased American Physicians, 1804-1929, published by the American Medical Association. This directory is available in the History of Medicine Reading Room, and at many large research and medical school libraries.

    • Information on the history of NIH?

      See Historical Resources at the DeWitt Stetten, Jr., Museum of Medical Research web site.

    • Information on the history of NLM?

      See A Brief History of NLM, The Story of NLM's Historical Collections, and NLM Archives.

    • Journal articles in the history of medicine?

      To find journal articles in the history of medicine, use the following online and print resources:

      MEDLINE/PubMed (Online) - To find journal articles in the history of medicine that were published after 1964, click Limits on the PubMed homepage and select Subset History of Medicine.
      For articles published from 1958-1965, select Subset OLDMEDLINE for Pre1966.
      For information about PubMed, see FAQ MEDLINE/PubMed and Other Databases.

      Bibliography of the History of Medicine (Print) - Includes journal articles, book chapters, and conference papers and proceedings published from 1965-1993. The Bibliography is a print version of the discontinued HISTLINE database.

      Index-Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-General’s Office (Print) or IndexCat (Online) - Includes journal articles in the history of medicine published from the 17th-20th century.

      Index-Medicus (Print) - Index to journal articles in biomedical journals worldwide published from 1879-1927.

    • Primary source material in the history of medicine?

      The printed Index-Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-General's Office (online version IndexCat), U.S. Army (61 volumes in 5 series, 1880-1961) is a valuable resource, especially for pamphlets, dissertations, and journal articles from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

      Index Medicus (1879- ), which indexes articles in the medical journal literature, is another useful resource that is widely available.

      The Bibliography of the History of Medicine, a printed version of the discontinued HISTLINE database, was published in six cumulative volumes (1964-1993), and is useful for pre-1993 material.

      For more information, see Printed Catalogs and Guides.

    • NLM historical material that is online?

      Selected material from historical collections can be viewed in Online Exhibitions, Related NLM Web Sites, and digitized books, manuscripts, and pictures. For a complete list of digitized historical material, see Digital Collections.

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  • Using the IndexCat

  • Using the History of Medicine Reading Room

    • What are the History of Medicine Reading Room hours?

      Historical collections are open to the public Monday-Friday, 8:30-5:00, except on Federal holidays.

    • May I bring coats, bags, pens, highlighters, and refreshments into the History of Medicine Reading Room?

      Coats and bags, including computer bags, must be left in the History of Medicine cloakroom, which has secure lockers. Only pencils may be used in the History of Medicine Reading Room, no pens or highlighters. Food and drink are not allowed in the Reading Rooms. There are vending machines on the lower level and a cafeteria and food court nearby.

    • May I use my laptop?

      Yes. There are a limited number of power points at desks in the History of Medicine Reading Room.

    • Do I have to register in the History of Medicine Reading Room?

      Yes. After registering in the Main Reading Room and getting a Library card, patrons using material from historical collections, register in the History of Medicine Reading Room.

    • Are there computer stations with printers in the History of Medicine Reading Room?

      Yes, there are LocatorPlus terminals in the Main Reading Room and the History of Medicine Reading Room.

    • How much does it cost to use the printers?

      Printers require a cash card. The cost is 11¢ per page. Patrons can add money to their Library card and use it as a cash card.

    • How can I most efficiently use my time in historical collections?

      Requests for books from historical collections are filled on the hour, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Plan to arrive about 30 minutes before the hour, so you can get your Library card, register, search, and submit requests in time for the hourly retrieval.

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