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Reference Support

Reference staff respond to inquiries about the historical collections of the National Library of Medicine from across the U. S. and abroad.

About Digital Collections

Digital Collections is the National Library of Medicine’s free online resource of biomedical books, still images, and videos. All of the content in Digital Collections is freely available worldwide and, unless otherwise indicated, in the public domain. Digital Collections provides unique access to NLM’s rich resources.

Selected archival collections are also available in digital format, including Profiles in Science, the FDA Notices of Judgement Collection, the Medicine on Screen, and selected speeches and articles by former NLM director Dr. Martin M. Cummings.

The Library’s website also contains a wide variety of guides, thematic sites, exhibitions, and other resources containing digitized materials, which can be explored through the research tools page or searching the NLM website.

Doing Historical Research Onsite at NLM

Doing research in the historical collections of the National Library of Medicine is free and open to the public by appointment during business hours. While considerable research can be done at a distance, due to the rarity, format, condition, and vast scope of the historical collections some items can only be viewed onsite. In the case of manuscript and audiovisual collections, some materials may be stored offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval and viewing. Learn more about our Reading Room.

Privacy and Access to Health Information of Individuals

Some historical collections, particularly recent archival and manuscript collections, at the National Library of Medicine contain sensitive information and require special application prior to public access. Please review information about policy, application requirements, and access in the PDF document Access to Health Information of Individuals or contact the reference staff or the manuscripts curator of the NLM History of Medicine Division to learn more.

This policy was motivated by the implementation in April 2003 of the Privacy Rule [45 CFR 160; 140] of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). While the Library is not a covered entity under HIPAA and therefore not subject to its regulations, the Library nonetheless wishes to establish a policy that reflects the principles of HIPAA’s Privacy Rule.

Choosing an Online Catalog

LocatorPlus Catalog is best for:

  • Filtering by collection or format
  • Holdings
  • Item availability
  • Onsite requests
  • MARC 2 data format

NLM Catalog is best for:

  • Subject searching
  • Author searching
  • Contemporary Journals

Borrowing and Requesting Copies

The Library does not lend historical material in its original format; however, we do lend, through interlibrary loan, copies, microfilm, and viewing copies of audiovisuals when they are available. For some materials limited copies or scans can be made available to individual researchers on request, fees may apply.

Interlibrary Loan

The Library’s interlibrary loan services are available only to libraries, not to individuals. If you would like to borrow NLM material please make a request through a local library. For more information see Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery Services.


NLM provides a “scan-on-demand” program as part of its ongoing effort to make historical medical content more widely available to the public. If you request monograph material published before 1923 that is in the public domain, you will receive a fully digitized copy of the original, which is then also deposited in NLM’s Digital Collections repository for public access.


You are under obligation to determine and satisfy copyright restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing material from the historical collections. The Library reserves the right to refuse to accept a copying order if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the order would involve violation of the copyright law. See Historical Collections Copyright for more information.

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  • Offsite requests for copies of journal articles require an interlibrary loan request through a local library.

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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 contact the NLM Support Center.

    Audio and video reproduction

    We prefer that you listen and view audiovisual materials in the Reading Room. In special circumstances, copying of manuscript collection audiovisual materials is allowed. Patrons make billing and shipping arrangements directly with an approved audio or film reproduction company.

    See Ordering Copies of Historical Films and Videos below for more options.

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  • Access Audiovisuals Onsite

    We prefer that you listen and view historical audiovisual materials in the Reading Room.

    Offsite Collection Notice

    Be aware that some audiovisual and manuscript materials may be stored offsite and require advance notice for retrieval. The collections involved are marked by the indication "Location: HMD Collection-Offsite" in the LocatorPlus Catalog.

    Digital Preview of Selected Films

    Historical Audiovisuals (HAV) staff can upload low-resolution appraisal copies of up to five titles per month to our FTP site so that you may view content before making selections for the duplication process. For more information, please contact the NLM Support Center.

    Audio Description on Demand

    The National Library of Medicine has established an audio description on-demand workflow for moving image material, in keeping with NLM’s commitment to improved accessibility to collections for our patrons. Audio description can be helpful to those with visual impairments, as it describes action taking place in a film or video, supplementing existing dialogue and narration. If a patron requests audio description of a film or video, NLM will send the title to an experienced vendor who will develop and record a script and combine it with the original soundtrack, producing a new digital file. NLM will make the file available to the researcher through its file-sharing (FTP) service. Turn-around is a minimum of 14 days.

    Borrow Viewing Copies

    You may not borrow films directly from NLM, but may request a viewing copy via interlibrary loan through a local library. For more see information see Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery Services.

    Duplicate and Purchase Copies

    Films and videos may be duplicated if they are determined to be in the public domain, or if you obtain permission from the copyright holder. Useful information on copyright is available from our Patron Guide to Copyright and Historical Collections, the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress and from this guide to Copyright Term and the Public Domain, updated annually. You are responsible for carrying out this research, submitting the necessary forms, and making arrangements directly with approved vendors who specialize in film and video duplication.

    To digitize or otherwise have a copy made of a film/videotape, contact the vendor directly to make arrangements (see form with vendor contact information below). They will provide a price for the copying, which should include the cost for picking the film up at the National Library of Medicine and returning it once the copying is completed. The Library does not charge patrons a service fee for copying, but does require that if digital files are produced, a copy of each file is donated to NLM, usually via a portable hard drive provided by the Library. If a title has been previously digitized and NLM holds copies of the digital files, we reserve the right to provide these files to patrons (at no charge), rather than permit additional processing or re-duplication of an original film or tape.

    The following forms must be read, signed and returned via mail for EACH ITEM requested:

    Crediting the U.S. National Library of Medicine

    If using content obtained through NLM in any production or project, please include the phrase:
    Courtesy of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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  • High resolution images may be downloaded from the NLM Digital Collections website. Locate images in Digital Collections via the Images from the History of Medicine (IHM) collection or still image format.

    See Prints and Photographs for information about images not included in IHM or contact the Prints & Photographs Program.

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  • Some books and manuscripts in NLM historical collections have been microfilmed and are available for purchase. The item’s LocatorPlus record indicates if that item has been microfilmed. For information about purchasing microfilm, see the Microfilm Sales Program.

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Last Reviewed: October 25, 2022