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Visit: History of Medicine Division Reading Room

Reading Rooms Are Temporarily Closed

Due to COVID-19, the National Library of Medicine Reading Room remains closed to the public until further notice.

During this period, NLM online resources will remain available, including NLM Digital Collections and PubMed Central.

NLM will continue to provide interlibrary loan (ILL) services. For latest NLM ILL service information check this website:

NLM History of Medicine Division staff are working remotely to support YOU in your research
and can be reached through the NLM Support Center via the “Write to the Help Desk” blue button.

The NLM History of Medicine Division (HMD) Reading Room is open to the public free of charge. Here you have access to one of the world's richest collections of historical material related to human health and disease. You can save valuable research time by learning as much as possible about our holdings before you visit. We encourage you to plan your research and welcome you to contact us in advance.

At the NLM main entrance, pass through the Guard Station and immediately turn right to the History of Medicine Reading Room (Map of Reading Rooms).

Looking for the NLM General Collections? Go to NLM Main Reading Rooms and Services.

Using the HMD Reading Room

Researchers are required to register at the reference counter and sign the visitor's book. Papers and notebooks are permitted in the Reading Room. Coats and bags must be stored in secure lockers in the cloakroom. Pens and highlighters may not be used with collection material. We will supply pencils for note-taking on request. Electrical outlets and WiFi are available at all desks.

Materials requested onsite are retrieved from the stacks regularly throughout the day. The last retrieval from the stacks is at 3:00 p.m. Plan your time accordingly, so you can get your Library card, register, search, and submit requests for retrieval.

For more information about planning a trip to view the historical collections, review our Plan Onsite Research page.

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  • You will be asked to sign a copy of these regulations on-site to demonstrate your acceptance of the policies before using HMD Reading Room collection material.

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    Use of books, manuscripts, and other materials in the History of Medicine Reading Room is granted to the public under the following conditions:

    1. You must sign the register daily and fill out a new registration form each calendar year.
    2. You must leave coats, briefcases, bags, etc. in the provided coat room, located at the entrance to the History of Medicine Reading Room.
    3. You must exercise the greatest possible care in handling all collection materials noting in particular that:
      • Only pencils may be used for note-taking. Pens, markers, etc. are not permitted.
      • No marks are to be added to or erased from books or manuscripts; tracings may not be made without prior permission from staff.
      • No books, papers, or other objects (except weights provided at the Reference Desk) are to be placed on collection materials.
      • The order and arrangement of individual items in manuscript collections should not be altered.
    4. You may not remove collection materials from the History of Medicine Reading Room and are required to return all materials to the Reference Desk before leaving the Reading Room for the day or for an extended period. You may reserve materials to be used again in the immediate future.
    5. You may take books from the HMD Reading Room Reference Collection to a desk in the Reading Room for temporary use.
    6. Also note that:
      • A digital scanner is available for patron use at no charge. You must have materials you wish to scan approved by Reference Staff before scanning is permitted. Scanning must neither endanger the physical safety of the material nor violate copyright restrictions. You will need to provide your own USB drive to save scans. Printing out or e-mailing scans is not possible at this time.
      • The use of laptop computers and cameras without flash is encouraged, but the use of portable scanners is not permitted. To use a digital camera, inquire at the Reference Desk.
      • Food, beverages, and cell phone use are not permitted in the Reading Room.
      • Additional restrictions may apply to the use of specific manuscript or oral history collections. For further information, inquire at the Reference Desk.
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  • You will be asked to sign a copy of these regulations on-site to demonstrate your acceptance of the policies before pictures can be taken.

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    Use of personal digital photographic equipment will be permitted in the History of Medicine Reading Room under the following conditions:

    1. You must request permission and show the equipment you intend to use to Reference Desk Staff before photos may be taken.
    2. Pictures may be taken using available light only. The use of flash equipment or portable lighting units is not permitted. Tripods and other camera support devices may be used as long as they do not inconvenience other patrons and staff.
    3. Reference staff will determine on a case-by-case basis if material can be safely photographed without the risk of physical damage to the materials. Weights and supports may be obtained at the Reference Desk and used as needed.
    4. At no time can the photographic equipment come into direct contact with library materials. The use of hand-held or portable flatbed scanners is not permitted.
    5. If reference staff determine that photography is disruptive or harmful to the collection materials, the patron will be asked to stop.
    6. Permission to digitally photograph library material does not imply permission to publish or further reproduce the images. Determination of copyright is your responsibility. For more information about copyright and the collections, please see our Patron Guide to Copyright and Historical Materials
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History of Medicine Reading Room

About the History of Medicine Collections

Holdings include pre-1914 books, pre-1871 journals, archives and modern manuscripts, medieval and Islamic manuscripts, a collection of printed books, manuscripts, and visual material in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean; historical prints, photographs, films, and videos; pamphlets, dissertations, theses, college catalogs, and government documents. Find out more about the historical collections.

The Reference Collection in the History of Medicine Reading Room

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, card catalogs, and prepared bibliographies are used by patrons and by staff to answer reference questions.

Last Reviewed: May 25, 2021