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Rare Books and Journals

The NLM historical collection of more than 600,000 printed works includes pre-1914 books and serials, thousands of pamphlets and dissertations, and pre-1871 journals.

Material in the collection covers every area of the history of medicine and the health sciences in the United States and Europe, and substantial collections of Latin American and Asian publications.

  • Books Published before 1914

    The historical book collection provides a rich resource for studying every aspect of medicine and health in the past, including related areas of social, economic, and intellectual history.

    • What the collection includes

      The collection includes over 580 incunabula (books printed before 1501), some 57,000 16th-18th century books, and 95,000 items published between 1801 and 1913. Nearly every European language and many Asian languages are represented. The book collection includes monographs, serials, pamphlets, medical school dissertations and catalogs, hospital, health department and other government reports.

    • Popular and ephemeral items

      Among works of popular and ephemeral interest are home health guides, pharmaceutical almanacs, patent medicine catalogs, medical equipment catalogs, personal narratives, first-hand accounts, broadsides, pharmacopoeias, illustrated herbals, and botanical name indexes (materia medica).

    • Treasures

      Medical history landmarks in the collection include Andreas Vesalius' De humani corporis fabrica (1543), William Harvey's Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis (1628), William Withering's An Account of the Foxglove (1785), and Edward Jenner's An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccinae (1798), as well as comprehensive holdings of the works of major medical figures such as Hippocrates, Galen, Paracelsus, Boerhaave, and Osler.

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  • Journals Published before 1871

    The journal collection includes bound and unbound medical journals dating from the 17th century through 1870.

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  • Incunabula (books printed before 1501)

    NLM holds approximately 500 incunabula titles. The word incunabula comes from the Latin word cuna (cradle) and refers to books printed during the infancy of printing, which dates from the invention of moveable type (c. 1455) until 1500.

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  • East Asian Collection (15th-20th century)

    The East Asian collection holds approximately 3,000 books, manuscripts, prints, photographs, and pieces of ephemera from Japan, China, and Korea dating from the 15th-20th century. Nearly 1,000 items date from before 1850.

    The Library has recently begun a project to catalog the East Asian collection online using vernacular characters. We are also undertaking a project to microfilm the collection in order to make the texts available to other libraries in the U.S. and Asia.

    See also Classics of Traditional Chinese Medicine (online exhibition)

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  • Pamphlets (16th-20th century)

    The pamphlet collection includes over 100,000 pamphlets (short essays, treatises, articles, etc., often unbound) dating from the 16th-20th century, covering a wide range of medically-related topics. The majority of items in the pamphlet collection have records in LocatorPlus. Pamphlets without LocatorPlus records may be found by searching NLM’s Index Catalogue online.

    All the pre-1801 and about 50,000 19th and 20th century pamphlets do not yet have records in LocatorPlus. Many of them can be found by searching NLM’s Index Catalogue online.

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  • Dissertations (16th-20th century)

    The collection of dissertations and theses on medical subjects are primarily from American and European universities and date from the 16th-20th century. Some 20,000 dissertations in the collection were printed before 1801 and about 180,000 since 1800.

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  • Reports (19th-20th Century)

    The collection includes published reports of hospitals, medical schools, and organizations, as well as reports of state, local, and federal health-related agencies, mostly dealing with such matters as disease prevention, hygiene, and safety. Most of this material dates from the 19th and 20th century.

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  • History of Medicine Reading Room Collection

    The History of Medicine Reading Room collection includes the major bibliographic resources necessary for historical research, as well as standard works in the history of medicine.

    The collection includes general histories of medicine, histories of diseases, medical directories, encyclopedias, biographies and collective biographies, and reprints of medical classics. Reference sources, such as directories, handbooks, regulations, abstract tools, statistical sources, and prepared bibliographies, are used by patrons and by staff to answer reference questions

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  • How to Search Books and Journals

    • Search for Books Published before 1914

      Library catalog (LocatorPlus )

      Printed Catalogs and Guides
      While not as current as LocatorPlus, the following printed catalogs are useful.

      • Index-Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-General's Office (U.S. Army, 61 volumes in 5 series, 1880-1961)
      • Richard J. Durling, A Catalogue of Sixteenth Century Printed Books in the National Library of Medicine (1967)
      • Peter A. Krivatsy, A Catalogue of Sixteenth Century Printed Books in the National Library of Medicine. First Supplement (1971)
      • Peter A. Krivatsy, A Catalogue of Seventeenth Century Printed Books in the National Library of Medicine (1989)
      • John B. Blake, A Short Title Catalogue of Eighteenth Century Printed Books in the National Library of Medicine (1979)
      • Dorothy M. Schullian, A Catalogue of Incunabula and Manuscripts in the Army Medical Library (1950)
      • Peter A. Krivatsy, A Catalogue of Incunabula and Sixteenth Century Printed Books in the National Library of Medicine, First Supplement (1971)
    • Search for Journals Published before 1871

      Library catalog (LocatorPlus)

    • Search for Articles in Journals

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

    • Search for Incunabula (books printed before 1501)

      Library catalog (LocatorPlus)

      For additional descriptive information about the incunabula collection, the following are useful:

      • Dorothy M. Schullian, A Catalogue of Incunabula and Manuscripts in the Army Medical Library (1950)
      • Peter A. Krivatsy, A Catalogue of Incunabula and Sixteenth Century Printed Books in the National Library of Medicine, First Supplement (1971)
    • Search the East Asian Collection (15th-20th century)

      Library catalog (LocatorPlus)

      Texts of the online records have been transliterated to show romanized author and title information. The Library has recently begun a project to catalog the records using vernacular characters. The Japanese collection can be searched with keyword HMDJPN.

      See also Classics of Traditional Chinese Medicine (online exhibition)

    • Search for Pamphlets, Dissertations and Reports (16th-20th century)

      • Pamphlets (16th-20th century)
        Search Library catalog (LocatorPlus) for pre-1801 pamphlets and some post-1800 pamphlets.

        For uncataloged 1801-1913 pamphlets, see How to Find Uncataloged Material.

      • Dissertations (16th-20th century)
        Search Library catalog (LocatorPlus) for pre-1801 dissertations and theses.

        For post-1800 dissertations and theses, see How to Find Uncataloged Material.

      • Imperial Russian Era (pre - 1917)
        Reports of health departments, medical schools, hospitals, government and other health-related agencies (19th-20th century)
        Search Library catalog (LocatorPlus) for cataloged Reports.
        For uncataloged Reports, see How to Find Uncataloged Material.
        Collection of 5,000 pamphlets and dissertations for degrees in medicine, pharmacy, and veterinary science. Search Library Catalog (LocatorPlus) using keyword HMDRUS.
    • Search for the History of Medicine Reading Room Collection

      Library catalog (LocatorPlus)

      The LocatorPlus location designation for History of Medicine Reading Room is HMD Reading Room. The History of Medicine Reading Room shelves are open for patron browsing and retrieval.

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  • How to Find Uncataloged Material

    Uncataloged dissertations, pamphlets, and unbound reports are not in the Library catalog (LocatorPlus). This material can be searched in the Index-Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-General’s Office (Print) or IndexCat (Online), and in the Library's old card catalog. Patrons can use the old card catalog in the History of Medicine Reading Room, or Ask a Reference Librarian for assistance with a particular title.

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  • How to Access and Use Books and Journals

    Historical material is consulted in the History of Medicine Reading Room between 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for Federal holidays. The last retrieval from the stacks is at 4:00 p.m.

    • How to register and request material

      Requests are made onsite through the Library catalog (LocatorPlus) and require a Patron ID number. Register at the Registration Desk in the Main Reading Room to obtain a Library card with a Patron ID.

      Patrons using historical material also register in the History of Medicine Reading Room.

      To request an item, select its LocatorPlus record, and then click the Request button on upper right of the screen. For details on requesting materials onsite see Request and Pick Up Library Materials

      Requests can only be made within the Library, not from outside.

    • Where to pick up requested material

      History of Medicine staff retrieves material from the stacks on the hour from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. 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 published after 1870 are retrieved in the Main Reading Room

    • How to copy historical material

      Researchers are permitted to use a digital camera (without flash) to reproduce historical material in the History of Medicine Reading Room.  History of Medicine staff will do limited photocopying for a fee of 20¢ per page, depending on the condition of the material.  Either hardcopy or PDFs will be provided for the same fee.

      Patrons may pick up completed photocopy orders at the History of Medicine Reading Room or have them mailed free of charge.

    • How to get copies of pictures from books and journals in NLM historical collections

      The Library has arrangements in place with an approved photographer, who, at the discretion of the History of Medicine Conservation Librarian, performs onsite photography of material from historical collections.

      The photographer visits History of Medicine at least once a month. Patrons make billing and shipping arrangements directly with the photographer. For more information, see How to get copies of pictures from books...

    • How to borrow (interlibrary loan)

      The Library does not lend historical material in its original format; however, we do lend copies of journal articles, copies of selected manuscripts, books 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.

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  • Contact Books and Journals

    Reference
    E-mail: hmdref@mail.nlm.nih.gov
    Phone: (301) 402-8878
    Fax: (301) 402-0872

    Michael North, Head
    Rare Books & Early Manuscripts
    E-mail: northm@mail.nlm.nih.gov
    Phone: (301) 496-9204
    Fax: (301) 402-0872

    History of Medicine Division, Bldg. 38, Rm. 1E-21
    National Library of Medicine
    8600 Rockville Pike
    Bethesda, MD 20894

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