Recently, I was invited to be the keynote speaker for the Archivists and Librarians in the History of Health Sciences (ALHHS) conference, held this year at Emory in advance of the AAHM annual meeting. The title of the talk was “Virtual Memory: Medical History and Public Engagement in the Digital Age.” In it, I spoke at length about the value of digital collections and the means by which digital platforms can help promote libraries and museums. Very often, new technologies are greeted with a mixture of skepticism and frustration–skepticism because the digital age is sometimes conceived of as the enemy of historical collection and frustration because, even when welcomed, such platforms have an ever changing learning curve. How can we harness these technologies and create meaningful interactions between the collection, the history, the visitor, and the user (on a budget and often with limited resources)? At the meeting, I described curators and librarians as the HMI, or human-machine-interface: the living, vibrant thread between our collections and the digital world… and on my return, I have been featuring those whose collections are making the most of it. Not long ago, I posted about the Medical Heritage Library. Today, I have asked Melissa Grafe, John R. Bumstead Librarian for Medical History at the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library (Yale), to speak a bit about the digital collections there. In the coming weeks and months, I hope to feature many more–and begin an ongoing conversation between curators, librarians and the public about the value of digital engagement.
About Melissa Grafe
I’ve always been interested in history, and started my career working at historic sites and museums. I did a nearly 2 year stint in North Dakota as a site supervisor for the Pembina State Museum and Gingras Trading Post, and then headed off for graduate studies in the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins. I became fascinated with how people healed themselves in the past, which led me to the program at Hopkins, the oldest one in the United States. During my time at Hopkins, I worked at the Rare Book Collection in the Library of the Institute of the History of Medicine, merging a love for history of medicine with a similar passion for books. My doctoral research focused on a family of medical practitioners in Harford County, Maryland, at the end of the 18th century. Dr. John Archer, 5 sons, and nearly 40 apprentices provided a window into exploring apprenticeship, medical education, knowledge creation, the economics of the medical marketplace, and the transmission of information throughout the Atlantic World in my dissertation, “Making “Medical Hall”: Dr. John Archer, medical practice, and apprenticeship in early America, 1769-1820.” I left Hopkins to begin a Council of Library and Information Resources (CLIR) post-doc. at Lehigh University in 2009, became Humanities Librarian in 2010, and joined Yale in 2011. At Yale, I am the John R. Bumstead Librarian for Medical History at the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, and am in charge of a collection of nearly 140,000 volumes dating from the 12th to the 21st centuries, nearly 7,000 prints, posters, and drawings, over 800 scientific and medical instruments, and much more. I can say, without prejudice, that we have one of the top collections of medical historical materials in the country.
The Medical Historical Library has been digitizing materials for a number of years, and you can find a variety of things in our Digitized Collections. We digitize based on a number of factors, usually based on need, opportunity, funding, and staff. Our earliest digital collections focused on one of the founders of our Library, and a big name in 20th century neurosurgery, Harvey Cushing. If you get the chance to visit Yale, you can see his brain collection at the Cushing Center in the Medical Library, along with a selection of rare books he collected. We also partnered with other departments to create collections like the Pathology teaching collection. However, our most recent collections include wounded Civil War soldiers, beautiful prints and eye-catching posters, and Yale Medicine’s own rich history. We are constantly updating our collections, and recognize that we don’t have everything perfect yet (so if you see errors, we’ll fix them soon!), and we strongly believe in making our materials openly accessible. Yale is also a partner in the Medical Heritage Library, described in an earlier post, so you’ll find Yale collections through the MHL as well.
Thank you, Dr. Grafe! Stay tuned for more from this and other collections–and, if you are a curator or librarian yourself, please join the conversation by contacting me @bschillace.