Monday, October 30, 2006

Rare titles in otolarynology

About two weeks ago, we received a donation from Dr. Donald Holden, a Portland-area ear, nose and throat physician (otorhinolaryngologist) who completed his residency here at OHSU. Dr. Holden's collection, about 50 books in all, contains five titles that appear to be extremely scarce. Two of them are not included in OCLC's WorldCat (OHSU only link), the online database of libraries around North America and the world, and three more of them are only held by five or fewer other libraries in WorldCat.

One of the titles not found in WorldCat is Management of clinical allergy by Herbert Rinkel. Rinkel was certainly no quack; the American Academy of Environmental Medicine has an award named after him, which is given "in recognition for excellence in teaching the techniques of environmental medicine."

WorldCat only lists four libraries that own the book A clinical and pathological study of tumors and cysts of the nose, pharynx, mouth, and neck of teratological origin; the author, A.C. Furstenberg, was chair of the department of otolaryngology at the University of Michigan School of Medicine from 1932 to 1958 and dean of the medical school there from 1935 to 1958.

How is it that some books fall into such rarity? Specialized subject matter may limit the number of buyers when the book is initially published; perhaps poor construction leads to quick deterioration and then disposal of the volume. The topics of these volumes are not unimportant or uninteresting, and it's highly unlikely that either was the focus of a censorship campaign a la Joyce's Ulysses or Rowling's Harry Potter. Are there some books that do not deserve to be saved? What criteria would mark such a book for oblivion? Since I don't presume to know with certainty that a given book will never be used, never be needed, never inspire some future author, I would never sign such a death warrant.

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