A new article in NLM In Focus provides some highlights along with comments from the editor.
“If I have a gift for anything, it’s that I love to find obscure and wonderful things,” says Michael Sappol, PhD, a curator-historian at the National Library of Medicine (NLM). He proves that talent as editor of the new book, Hidden Treasure: The National Library of Medicine, which showcases the world’s largest medical library and its remarkable collection.
Sappol calls the book a “wonderful collaborative project” that involved the energy and expertise of more than 100 people inside and outside NLM. Two years in the making, Hidden Treasure was created to celebrate the Library’s 175th anniversary (1836-2011). Sappol was determined to produce a volume that would show off the richness of the collection, and the curiosities it contains, to distinguish NLM from other libraries.
While NLM is a medical collection, Sappol notes it is a historical collection that can be used by scholars studying not just the history of medicine, but also art, anatomy, culture, women’s studies, African American studies, and the military for example. “In showing off these many different kinds of objects, we are reaching out to people who might use our historical collections and saying, ‘Here’s stuff you might not know about.’” It’s also an invitation to the general public to peruse the collection.
Dolls that help tell the story of nurse-midwives, a volume on the art of palm reading and Adolph Hitler’s medical records are among the 83 items featured in the book. Each object is artfully photographed and accompanied by a brief essay from a contributing scholar explaining the significance of the item.
The 83 items in the book were winnowed from an original list of more than 400 possibilities. A deciding factor was that the item had to be visually interesting.
“The project became an opportunity for me to poke around in odd corners of the Library and say ‘what’s that?’ and ‘what’s that?’” says Sappol. In doing so, he uncovered “a great find,” the St. Elizabeths Magic Lantern Slide Collection (1855-1890s), un-cataloged because of a backlog. The slide projections were used in the 19th century to help treat patients at St. Elizabeths Hospital for the Insane in Washington, DC.
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