Thursday, February 17, 2011

The History of Medicine Room and HC&A collection development

One of the questions I'm often asked by visitors to the History of Medicine Room is "How long has all this been here?!?" The simple answer is "Since 1939," which is the year the room was established and/or the year the rare book collection was established, depending on which source we're consulting. The complicated answer is more interesting and reveals a lot about the development of the library's historical collections.

In 1966, librarian Bertha Hallam wrote a letter to Dr. Daniel Labby, then president of the Portland Academy of Medicine. In the letter, she reported on the on what was then called the "University of Oregon Medical School Library Historical Book Collection." She describes a collection of "about 400 volumes published before 1850, plus many excellent and classic volumes published since 1850." Most of these books were received as gifts or were purchased with gift funds. The Portland Academy of Medicine was a major donor of such funding.

Bertha Hallam explained that it was through the generosity of the academy that the "Historical Book Room" was able to open for business in 1964. The room on the 1938 building floor plan had not been completed, due to lack of funding. The academy's gift provided for the furnishings and equipment needed for a traditional rare book room.

The letter identified several priorities for developing the Historical Book Room collections, including three that continue to guide collection development now:
-- Continue to acquire medical classics, emphasizing breadth over depth to appeal to diversified interests
-- Plan for in-depth coverage of subjects according to faculty and student interests
-- Build the Pacific Northwest Collection, dedicated to publications about medicine in the area. "This project will involve the expenditure of time rather than money."

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