Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Evaluating a Historical Medical Book Collection

Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Evaluating a Historical Medical Book Collection

Article excerpt


Preserving the history of medicine to help scholars and clinicians discover errors and to connect practitioners and institutions to the past are important values for health sciences librarians [1-5]; however, libraries do not always have staff with the expertise and resources to implement these values. In addition to the difficulty in managing historical collections, it can also be difficult for librarians to find historical information. To remedy this, the Medical Library Association (MLA) created a BibKit that includes ready reference, primary and secondary sources, and Internet resources that are relevant to the history of medicine [6]. While this resource was helpful, librarians at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Library and Informatics Center (HSLIC) wanted to make its modest collection of older print books, dating from the early 1800s to the 1950s, more discoverable and findable to support historical researchers.

In 2007, approximately 1,300 monographic volumes were weeded from the general collection and placed in offsite storage to be evaluated for addition to the historical collection. The bibliographic records were suppressed in the library catalog system so that they would not display in the public catalog. Due to personnel changes, no one was available to review these titles for several years. In 2015, the library migrated to a new catalog system that did not permit a suppressed status. Because the collection needed substantial review, we decided not to migrate these records to the new system, which meant the books would need to be re-cataloged in the new system.

Before we lost access to our previous catalog system, we exported a spreadsheet with information about the suppressed titles, including title, author, barcode number, Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) number, National Library of Medicine (NLM) call number, and circulation information to a spreadsheet. Because of the suppressed status, this review project became known as the "Suppressed Books Project." At the time of this project, the University of New Mexico HSLIC did not have an archivist or special collections librarian, so the collection development librarian evaluated the books.

It was challenging to find current case studies from health sciences libraries that documented similar projects. There is a plethora of information in the professional literature regarding the importance of writing policies for collection development as well as determining standards for rare books, but little information on selection criteria and evaluation of books with historical value. The Association of College and Research Libraries' Rare Books and Manuscripts Section offers guidelines on selecting and transferring materials from general collections to special collections that consider (1) market value, (2) rarity and scarcity, (3) date and place of publication, (4) physical and intrinsic characteristics, (5) bibliographic and research value, and (6) condition [7]. While the library has a collection development manual that covers selection criteria for the general collection and a separate special collections policy, these historical titles did not fit into existing documentation or procedures.

Our goal was to develop selection criteria to help guide future decisions to include historical information in the collection. The Cleveland Clinic Foundation Library had a similar objective to evaluate and provide selection criteria for its offsite historical book collection to incorporate into the general collection, explain the evaluation process and rationale for criteria, and provide a written collection development policy to guide future decisions [8]. While our goal was to develop selection criteria rather than a policy, their advice of looking in the catalog to determine if the title was already held, checking availability at consortia or our university library systems, looking at the number of titles available in OCLC's WorldCat, and investigating the dollar value of the book was helpful. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.