NLM divides its manuscript collections into early Western (pre-1601) manuscripts, Oriental (primarily Arabic and Persian) manuscripts, and modern manuscripts. Early Western and Oriental manuscripts are collected selectively, taking into account their historical significance, their value for scholarship, and the price of the work.
Modern manuscripts are collected selectively with an emphasis on twentieth-century U.S. medicine, public health, and health care advocacy. Manuscripts and collections of papers written by or about individuals who have contributed significantly to the health sciences, and those that contain other information important to the history of medicine receive priority. Materials selected for the modern manuscript collection include unique handwritten or typed documents and papers, associated printed or near print materials, and oral history transcripts and tapes. Areas of special collecting interest include: molecular biology and cellular regulation; surgery, transplantation, and artificial organs; biotechnology; fraud and quackery; human psychosocial development, especially child development; medical informatics; international and global health; health services research; marginalized groups in health and medicine; and the history of medicine.