Guide to the Research Collections

- SECTION -- IV -- THE PURE AND APPLIED SCIENCES
- 58 -- MEDICINE AND THE BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES
- HISTORICAL SURVEY

HISTORICAL SURVEY

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.