Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Beginnings of the OHSU Library, or, why the History of Medicine Room has some great stuff

In a meeting I attended today, a question arose as to when the OHSU Library formally began: Was it in 1887, when the school was founded? Surely, a medical school would need to have a library of texts, for instruction and reference--heck, for patients to browse through while waiting for surgery!

But, alas, no library seems to have graced those first halls. Frankly, the school was lucky to have found some halls to inhabit that first year, after the acrimonious break with Willamette University Medical Department. The first catalog does contain a list of textbooks, but the titles were not only not supplied in an institutional library, they weren't even required--the list was just a "guide" to the student! (Incidentally, we have the exact editions of all those original textbooks recommended to the student in 1887, collected in our First Class Collection.)

So, at what point did the faculty settle down and decide on the need for some library facilities? It wasn't until 1893, when the personal libraries of Portland physicians (and brothers-in-law) R.B. Wilson and Rodney Glisan were donated, that the school had a collection of reading material on hand. The collection was dubbed the "R.B. Wilson Library," and remained such until some time after the school relocated (for the last time) up to Marquam Hill.

During those first years on the Hill, the library was housed in Mackenzie Hall (as was everything else, since it was the only building on campus). When physician and philanthropist Dr. John E. Weeks gave $100,000 to the fund to construct the first library building on Marquam Hill, they tried to rename the library after him, but he humbly deferred and the suggestion was soon forgotten. A plaque commemorating the donation is all that remains.

Now the only library service point in that Old Library, the History of Medicine Room still contains many of the books from that original donation of Wilson and Glisan's libraries. Later donations from alumni, faculty, and other friends of the library have added to those volumes to make the History of Medicine and History of Dentistry Collections that we enjoy today.

Though we may date back only to 1893, we're still the oldest medical school library west of Denver and north of San Francisco! (Johns Hopkins' Welch Medical Library? A toddler, having been born in 1929.... )

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