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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 in all formats which document predominantly 20th and 21st century American medical practitioners, biomedical scientists, public health practitioners and researchers and health policy planners. Subject strengths of the Collection include public health and health policy, mental health, child development, and molecular biology. Notable collections include personal papers of former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, and the papers of Nobel Prize-winning scientists, particularly those connected with NIH. The Collection also contains significant holdings of bound and folio manuscripts dating between the 17th-19th centuries, largely of European origin, that include student lecture notes, recipe books, diaries, physician's ledgers, pharmacist formularies and account books, and medical treatises and commentaries. The Collection also manages selected internal records of NLM and other organizations relating to medical librarianship and medical 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Archives and Modern Manuscripts, or "historical records," are the unpublished, primary source materials created or received and accumulated by a person, business, or organization in the normal course of conducting their affairs that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

Offsite collections are retrieved the last Friday of each month; please contact the Archivist or Associate Curator about scheduling by the last Thursday of the month. Offsite collections are identified in a Finding Aid's Location field and by the indication "Location: HMD Collection-Offsite" in the Holdings View in the LocatorPlus Catalog. The materials will be available through the reading room on the first Monday of the month.

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  • Finding aids for processed collections and accessions:

    Search for processed Archives and Modern Manuscripts collections in the Library catalog LocatorPlus Catalog. See also Guides to Collections.

    LocatorPlus Search Tips

    Advanced Search:
    1. Select "Material Type" from the Search filters menu list
    2. Choose "Archival materials" or "Manuscripts"
    3. Enter search terms
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  • Request material onsite from the Archives and Modern Manuscripts Collection through the Library catalog LocatorPlus Catalog. Items are retrieved regularly and are consulted in the Reading Room. Many collections are stored offsite, and must be requested in advance. Offsite materials are retrieved on the last Friday of every month. Information about whether a collections is stored off site is available in the Finding Aid summary view and the Holdings Information in the LocatorPlus Catalog.

    Original material from the Archives and Modern Manuscripts Collection cannot be borrowed through interlibrary loan. Limited photocopying and digitization by Staff is possible.

    Digitized Archives & Modern Manuscripts

    View selections of Archives and Modern Manuscript collections digitized as part of the Library's ongoing work to provide greater public access to the historical collections.

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  • Reproduction of collection materials is performed by Staff at no charge; please email the Archivist or Associate Curator regarding remote requests if you are unable to visit the library in person. Staff reserve the right to make decisions regarding the appropriateness of any individual request, based on an item's condition, amount of copying requested, and restriction or copyright status.

    Archival collections often contain mixed copyrights; while NLM is the owner of the physical items, permission to examine or reproduce collection materials is not an authorization to publish. These materials are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. It is the user's responsibility to research and understand any applicable copyright and re-publication rights not allowed by fair use. NLM does not grant permissions to publish.

    For more information about general reading room policies and other customer services please visit the Ask A Librarian page.

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Archives & Modern Manuscripts Program

John Rees, Archivist and Digital Resource Manager
James Labosier, Associate Curator


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

NLM Support Center

Last Reviewed: January 9, 2023