Materials designed for short term use are considered ephemera. They vary greatly in size (from broadsides to patent medicine cards), sophistication (from finely designed posters to comic book illustrations), and format (from pamphlets to matchbooks).
Ephemeral materials provide a glimpse into the everyday life of a certain time period. By capturing information not available in the formal written record, ephemera allow the scholar to reconstruct the past with a precision of detail not otherwise possible. Medical ephemera may deal with conventional medicine or alternative medicine. Examples of both are desirable in the collection.
NLM collects selected examples of ephemera of particular interest such as posters, pamphlets and fact sheets. Other types of ephemera are collected more selectively based on their relevance to health care and historical value.