Skip Navigation Bar

NLM Announces New Online Exhibition

"Building a National Medical Library on a Shoestring: 1872, the First Year"


 A young John Shaw Billings

"John Shaw Billings, c.1870s" 


The National Library of Medicine, a component of the National Institutes of Health, celebrates a crucial turning point in its history with a new Web exhibition, "Building a National Medical Library on a Shoestring: 1872, the First Year." The exhibition may be found at: //

The exhibition focuses on the dramatic 1872 change in the library's mission.  Founded in 1836 as the office library for the Army Surgeon General, the Library came under the stewardship of Army Major John Shaw Billings in 1865.  Seven years later, the Library embarked on a venture to acquire the most complete set possible of medical books and journals. Billings and his work set the course for the Library's identity today as the world's largest medical library.

The core of the exhibition is found in the stories, difficulties, and situations that Billings encountered as he began building a comprehensive collection as quickly and frugally as possible. The exhibition also shows the Library's early years, exploring the practical uses that the limited collection then supported.

Included is a full bibliography of published materials by and about John Shaw Billings, including articles and pamphlets, reports, books and monographs, and speeches.

During 2011, the Library is celebrating its 175th year with a variety of activities , events, and publications.  The Library's 175th anniversary Web site is found at //