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Collections: Archives & Modern Manuscripts

About the Archives & Modern Manuscripts Collection

Collection Description

The Archives and Modern Manuscripts Collection consists of personal papers and organizational records documenting predominantly American medical practitioners, biomedical scientists, health policy planners, and medical societies from about 1850 to the present. Formats vary and may include electronic files, oral histories, diaries, lecture notes, pharmacopoeias, herbals, treatises, dissertations and audiovisuals. Strengths of the collection include public health and health policy, mental health, child development, and molecular biology. Significant collections include personal papers of former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, and the papers of Nobel Prize-winning scientists, particularly those connected with NIH. Also included are the internal records of NLM and other organizations relating to medical librarianship and medical informatics. The collections have four distinct areas of emphasis: Archives and Modern Manuscripts Collection, Bound and Folio Manuscripts, Oral History Collections, and Medical Librarianship and Informatics.

While we selectively collect the papers of significant NIH scientists and some institutional records, most permanent records of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and its Institutes are found in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

What are Archives and Modern Manuscripts?

Archives and Modern Manuscripts, or "historical records," are the unpublished, primary source materials created or received and accumulated by a person, business, or organization in the normal course of conducting their affairs that contain information of enduring value. Generally we think of formats like correspondence, diaries, and photographs as personal papers and manuscripts. There are additional categories we collect specific to documenting science and medicine such as lab notebooks, patient records, speeches and lectures, professional meeting files, article drafts and reprints, subject files, and teaching materials.

Today we can add the wide variety of digital and electronic records like email, websites, digital photographs and video, and even computer hard drives to the list of the physical formats collected to document the history of medicine and science, and the constellation of people and institutions that make up our society and culture.

History of the Archives & Modern Manuscripts Collection

The NLM manuscripts collection began in the 19th century as a collection of incidental manuscript items, chiefly relating to American medicine and public health. By the middle of the 20th century, the collection had grown to include a significant number of Western and Islamic medical manuscripts. A distinct modern manuscripts collection, materials dating from the 1600s to the present, was established in 1962. By 1965 the Library had hired its first Curator of Modern Manuscripts and began actively soliciting donations of personal papers and society records. By 1976 holdings included 236 processed collections, which grew to over a thousand collections by 1999, comprising about 6,000 linear feet of cataloged materials. As information technology proliferated archivists began both expanding the formats of materials they collected and preserved and began to improve access to existing collections by digitizing physical original materials and making them available on the web. Since 1998, the Digital Manuscripts Program, a team of archivists, digital archivists, and historians, has been digitizing and making available online selected archival and manuscript material through the Profiles in Science website. In 2011 archivists began to systematically collect born digital materials from the web and social media and to build capacity to capture this content, which will likely be as important to future researchers as their analog counterparts of the past.

Using the Archives & Modern Manuscripts Collection

The NLM Archives and Modern Manuscripts Program oversees the collection and administration of archives and modern manuscripts that relate to the history of medicine.

Offsite Collection Retrieval Notice

Retrieval of collections that are held off-site will be limited to once per month. The collections involved are marked by the indication "Location: HMD Collection-Offsite" in the Holdings View in LocatorPlus. To obtain access to materials in collections held off-site, please place an order with the History of Medicine Archives and Modern Manuscripts staff by the last Thursday of the month. The materials will be available through the HMD reading room on the first Monday of the month.

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Contact Archives and Modern Manuscripts Program


National Library of Medicine
Building 38, Room 1E-21
8600 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, Maryland 20894-3819


(301) 402-0872

John Rees, Archivist and Digital Resource Manager


(301) 827-4510



James Labosier, Associate Curator


(301) 827-4504



Last Reviewed: April 30, 2018