Guide to the Research Collections





Approximately 34,000 volumes relating to medicine are held by the library. Works on the therapeutic aspects of medicine or those intended for the professional or specialist have not usually been collected. In view of the strong emphasis upon social history in the library's collections, however, materials that contribute to history and sociology, such as the reports of institutions, are actively collected.

Medicine, like law, requires the special administration of experts, both for the selection of materials and for reference assistance. The New York Academy of Medicine Library at 2 East 103rd Street, noted as the second largest medical library in the United States, is the local library which serves the general public. Readers seeking less specialized information and reference services will find the necessarily smaller medical collections of the Research Libraries of use. There is good coverage of such topics as exercise, the maintenance of health, diets, and the like; it should be stressed that the library makes no distinction between practical plans and fads, and that both aspects are represented in the holdings. Associated with these topics are the publications issued by various departments of public health in the government documents collections of the library, which offers up-to-date information useful to the layman. There are also monographs and periodicals relating to the Red Cross.

Only the most extensive bibliographies of medicine are collected, on a representative basis. Much reliance is placed on inclusive bibliographies such as Index Medicus. Certain older works in all medical fields have been retained due to their value as early imprints, or for documentary purposes other than medical, as is the case with fine illustrated medical books.

The Biological Sciences

The library does not specialize in the fields of the biological sciences. The 31,800 volumes held are adequate only for research of a general nature, although there are strong collections in allied subjects such as agriculture and voyages and travels. Subjects closely related to the medical sciences such as anatomy, physiology, and bacteriology are represented by only small holdings of basic reference texts.

The policy for collecting works in the biological sciences is similar to that for medicine. Until 1877 biology, botany, and zoology were collected comprehensively, and therefore the holdings are rich in the early classics of those fields. Since then it has been the library's policy to acquire only standard works of reference, both domestic and foreign, and similar materials which supplement the collections in other subjects.

The Science and Technology Research Center is attempting to build a central core of basic reference works in biology that may be of assistance to the researcher into biochemistry, biophysics, or biological mathematics. In addition, the center wishes to maintain complete files of comprehensive biological abstracts and indexes so that a researcher may compile bibliographies of works to consult even though the material itself may not be in the Research Libraries.


The deemphasis of the medical and biological sciences in the collections is not a recent event. As early as 1854, Dr. Cogswell declared that medicine would not be considered of major importance to the Astor Library since it "is so well provided for in the hospitals and other libraries of the city." In 1877, Mr. Brevoort affirmed this position; however, in 1883 a part of $15,000 given by J. J. Astor was used for additions in this field.1 Since then systematic collection has not been attempted.

In 1949 the medical collections in the Research Libraries, then estimated at about 26,000 volumes, were reviewed. Approximately 3,800 books were transferred to the Academy of Medicine Library; only the resources in medical biography, local history, medical bibliographies, histories of medicine, and books on nervous and mental diseases, longevity, food and diet, vegetarianism, chiropody, exercise, and the Red Cross were retained. About 59 periodical titles (approximately four percent of the extensive holdings) were also retained.

As early as 1851, Cogswell reported a good collection of works on "natural history and all its divisions," later stating that "in entomology we are said to have the best and fullest collection in the country to which naturalists have free access." In his report of 1854 he remarked on the costliness of works such as Wallich's Plantae Asiaticae Rariores, Roxburgh's Plants of the Coast of Coromandel, a complete set of Gould's works on the birds, Chenu's Illustrations Conchyliologiques, Audubon's Birds of America (of which the library has both quartos and folio sets), Sibthorp's Flora Graeca, Lambert's A Description of Genus Pinus, and at least 100 volumes of similar interest and rarity.

In 1877 the deemphasis of natural history began when Brevoort stated that it was no longer to be a field for extensive buying, since other libraries in New York City covered the subject. Certain large collections did, nevertheless, continue to strengthen the resources: the Stuart collection, received in 1892, contained among its 14,000 books and pamphlets a notable group relating to natural history, as well as collections of shells and minerals. The Tilden library also contained a fine collection of illustrated folio works relating to natural history, ornithology, botany, and the like.

Historical materials (as distinguished from rare and unusual works) are, on the whole, ample. Both general and special studies represent the development of the subject for the eighteenth century and following. American and Continental periodicals, society publications, and other serials are generally present with full, if not complete,

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files (this was the case until 1934, when some of the titles were discontinued in the light of their availability to the public in other city libraries).

Manuscript holdings relating to biology are small. In the Manuscripts and Archives Division, however, many of the notable biologists are represented by autographs, letters, and other material of interest. An important collection consists of the correspondence of the National Association of Audubon Societies from 1899 through 1930, which the library received in 1938.



Among the 130 periodical titles in medicine listed as present in the Research Libraries, approximately 20 are in the field of medical history, such as the Archiwum historii medycyny (1964- ), the Bulletin of the History of Medicine (1933- ), and Sudhoffs Archiv (1908- ). There are also substantially complete files of the American Journal of Nursing (1900- ) and the Journal of the American Medical Association (1885- ). Journals relating to vivisection number 4 titles including the Anti-Vivisectionist (1949- ).

The library retains a few general directories of the profession, the most important being the American Medical Directory, the Biographical Directory of the American Psychiatric Association, Directory of Medical Specialists, and Medical Directory of New York State. The latest issue of these titles is on the open shelves in the Main Reading Room. Back issues are in the general collections, as are foreign directories such as the British Medical Register. The Science and Technology Research Center has selected standard dispensatories and pharmacopoeias for the use of the physical scientist. The library relies upon the major indexes of medical literature such as Index Medicus and its predecessors, Cumulated Index Medicus, and the catalogs of organizations such as the National Library of Medicine.

The history of medicine is well documented in the holdings, with a good retrospective collection. Annual reports of medical schools (primarily from the nineteenth century) and New York City hospitals are an outstanding feature, since they represent both the social and historical aspects of the subject. Reports from hospitals outside New York City and those in foreign countries are not particularly well represented. Official reports of state boards of health and medical examiners, while not complete, are present in large numbers. In addition, a number of works relating to the history of medicine, while not classified with the subject in the Public Catalog, may be found under headings such as "U.S. History--Civil War--Medical and Sanitary Affairs." There are materials on specific diseases such as tuberculosis; for the most part these are older items of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and concern the prevention of the disease. The library has collected works on syphilis, particularly those treating its supposed connection with the discovery of America. Thus the Rare Book Division holds a first edition of Girolamo Fracastoro's Syphilis sive Morbus Gallicus (Verona, 1530) which gave a name to the disease and also a copy of the rarer and more complete Rome edition of 1531. Other works of interest include those on the early treatment of syphilis such as Ulrich von Hotten's De Guaiaci Medicina et Morbo Gallico (1519). Ruy Diaz de Isla's Tractado ... contra el mal serpentina (1542) is available in a second edition; in this work the physician describes his treatment of a number of Columbus's men in Barcelona after their return from Haiti in 1493.

Beyond the items already noted, medical rarities are few. There is a treatise on popular medicine entitled Versehung von Lieb, Seele, Ehre und Gut (Nuremberg, 1489); and in the fine collection of early Mexican imprints in the Rare Book Division are four of the first eight medical books printed in Mexico City before 1600, including the first two, Alonso de la Veracruz's Phisica (1557) and Francisco Bravo's Opera Medicinalia (1570). The Arents Tobacco Collection has a number of early medical works, most from the seventeenth century; included are herbals, pharmacopocias, and books of medicine for the layman. They are described more fully in chapter 60 of this Guide. Early anatomy books in the Research Libraries are described in the section on drawing and painting resources in chapter 28.

Doctors have often entered the field of letters; a library exhibition of the published works, most from the Berg Collection, of some eighty English and American doctor/authors was held in 1964.2 Among the papers of physicians and surgeons in the Manuscripts and Archives Division are Benjamin Rush's "Observations on the Cause & Cure of the Tetanus," a paper read March 17, 1786, along with notes of lectures delivered by him in 1809 and 1810 kept by George Clark. Other papers include those of John Wakefield Francis of New York (1809-61) and Gustav Scholer (1887-1929) of New York City; in addition are miscellaneous materials such as 6 volumes of scrapbooks containing prescriptions filled at the store of Mclntyre Ewen and Son from 1857 to 1890. In 1919, Simon Gratz of Philadelphia presented the division with a collection of 61 autograph letters of eminent American physicians and surgeons covering the period 1756 to 1880. Among the names represented are Silvester Gardiner, Samuel Latham Mitchell, David Hosack, and Jacob Bigelow.3 An Arabic manuscript treatise on the human body is dated 1375; it contains one miniature and several circular marginal ornaments. The papers of Eugenie M. Heller and John Houston Finley contain material on the Red Cross during World War I. The Ingersoll-Farrell family correspondence contains the letters during 1917-18 and 1940 of Mrs. Clinton P. Farrell as president of the Vivisection Investigation League, Inc., of New York.


As has been previously noted, holdings in the field of botany are not strong. A check of the section entitled "Most Frequently Cited Serials" in Charles Harvey Brown's Scientific Serials (1956) reveals that the library has active or complete files of only nine of the first twenty-five titles, most of them in biochemistry, biophysics, or agriculture rather than in the field of botany proper. Some twelve titles in botany are currently

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available in the Periodicals Section; these are from the United States, Canada, Poland, Brazil, England, and Germany, among them items such as the Botanical Review (1935- ) and the Boletim (1944- ) of the Museo Nacional in Rio de Janeiro. The General Research and Humanities Division collects only standard reference texts of broad general interest.

Although the general research services of the library are not strong in botanical works, there are a number of rarities in the special and subject collections that should be mentioned. The Prints Division houses a few curious examples of nature printing from actual specimens, including one of the first books to be so illustrated, Christiano Gottlieb Ludwig's Ectypa Vegetalilium (1760). The division has copies of both the "lottery" or quarto and the folio editions of Robert John Thornton's Temple of Flora. It has also Rudolf Koch and Fritz Kredel's Das Blumenbuch (1929). The Rare Book Division's holdings in botany were enriched in 1965 by the gift of Mr. and Mrs. Pál Keleman of some forty books ranging in date from the early sixteenth century to the first quarter of the nineteenth, including the work of many of the most famous European botanists, among them Otto Brunfels. Charles de l'Écluse, John Parkinson, and J. C. Volckamer.4

Both the Arents Tobacco Collection and the Arents Collection of Books in Parts contain fine botanical books, and the collections are actively adding to the holdings. In the Arents Tobacco Collection the criterion for selection has been the mention of the tobacco plant, the earliest example being Rembert Dodoens's Crüyde Boeck (1554). Fine examples of botanical books originally issued in parts include Redouté's Descriptions des Plantes Rares et Cultivées à Malmaison (1812-17), Henry John Elwes's A Monograph of the Genus Lilium (1877-80), and John Guille Millais's Rhododendrons (1917-24).

Manuscripts are notable in the Spencer Collection's holdings of botanical works. A fifteenth-century "Tacuinum Sanitatis" ("table of health") from northern Italy contains 200 representations of plants and simples in pen-and-ink and color.5 An eighteenth-century German "Hortus Floridus" is illustrated with hundreds of watercolor drawings of plants and flowers. Among the large number of Japanese manuscripts and scrolls are herbals selected for their aesthetic, artistic, and botanical interest. The earliest of these is a manuscript scroll from 1165, "Koyaku Zukan" (Incense of Medicine). There are others produced during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


Zoology materials are held in less strength than those for botany, although some of the early publications, particularly the materials relating to birds such as sets of Gould and Audubon works and Edward Lear's Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots (1832), are of considerable importance. A check of the section relevant to zoology in Charles Harvey Brown's Scientific Serials (1956) reveals that only eight of the first twenty-five periodicals are actively collected by the library, with several of those not devoted to zoology proper but to related fields such as microscopy and biochemistry; periodicals held by the library come from the United States, Israel, Brazil, France, and England.