Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Class distinctions, pre-1901

A recent focus on collection assessment at the OHSU Library has re-energized our efforts to conduct a more systematic survey of the historical book collections here in Historical Collections & Archives.

Being librarians, we tend toward the use of standardized data for comparisons, and in the case of subject assessment like to rely on classification numbers (the schema by which books are usually arranged on library shelves--although the History of Medicine Collection is shelved by author, but that's the topic of another post.) Being medical librarians, we like to use the National Library of Medicine Classification scheme.

Unfortunately for medical special collections, NLM classification didn't come into use until the 1940s which means that, unless you had money for a massive reclass project at some point, most of your older books have either class numbers from different schema or no class numbers at all. Ours are a mixture of Library of Congress class and no class (which is no judgment on the book's content, just a statement of bibliographic fact).

That said, analysis of the existing class assignments reveals some strengths in the local collections and vividly illustrates the late start made by some of medicine's bigger specialties:

WB (practice of medicine): 291 titles
W (general medicine): 175
WP-WQ (obstetrics/gynecology): 146
WU (dentistry): 146
WO (surgery): 142
QV (pharmacology, materia medica): 135
QS (anatomy): 99
QT (physiology): 91
WL (nervous system): 81
WC (communicable diseases): 65
QZ (pathology): 57
WW (ophthalmology): 51
WS (pediatrics): 42
WR (dermatology): 34
WM, BF (psychiatry): 33
WE (musculoskeletal): 30
WI (digestive): 30
WA (public health): 29
WV (otolaryngology): 26
WJ (urogenital): 24
WF (respiratory): 24
QU (biochemistry): 21
WG (cardiovascular): 15
WY (nursing): 9
QW (microbiology): 7
WT (geriatrics): 5
WX (hospitals): 3
WD (systemic/metabolic): 2
WH (hemic/lymphatic): 2
WN (radiology): 2
WK (endocrine): 1
QX (parasitology): 1

Prior to the 20th century, much of the medicine that was practiced was what we would taoday call "general practice" or "family medicine"--which explains why so many of the early books cover the broadest possible scope and fall into the "W" and "WB" classes, with a heavy dose of OB/GYN for births.

Given the fact that the vast majority of these works were donated, rather than purchased, it's interesting to see the concentrations in neuroscience and even ophthalmology, reflecting the university's long history of research in these areas. And of course, our spectacular History of Dentistry Collection, created in a labor of love by faculty from the School of Dentistry.

The recent change to the pre-1901 cut-off for inclusion in the historical collections was made to secure the landmark works in those areas of medicine, like radiology, which have developed since the turn of the century. As medicine grows, so do we!

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