The Michigan Alumnus

May 18, 1929, page 614

The Medical and Dental Libraries

By Francis L. D. Goodrich, B. L. S., A. M., Associate Librarian

The first of the professional schools of the University of Michigan was started in 1849 when the Regents authorized a "Medical Department".  It was not until 1854, however, that the necessity of a Medical Library was officially recognized. In that year an appropriation of $66.00 was made for the purchase of medical books and magazines. The funds available for medical books and periodicals and their binding for the current year 1928-29 was $9.500.00. This, in brief, is the story of the growth in 80 years of one of the great medical colleges of the United States and of its library; a library which has kept pace with the evolution in the teaching of medicine and one which is recognized as an essential factor in both the acquisition and the imparting of knowledge.

It has never been the purpose of this library to acquire everything published in the field of medicine. That has been left to the United States Army Medical Library in Washington, commonly called the surgeon "General's Library." It has been the endeavor to acquire here all the literature essential for the teaching of medicine, knowing that this would automatically include the first published reports of all advances in the field of medical re-search. To this end, the collecting of medical journals has been for many years emphasized rather than the purchase of medical texts. It is recognized that case records, new methods of treatment and the results of research are first published in some periodical and that books are largely of value because they bring into one volume the results of studies which have appeared in many different places. During some years scarcely a book has been purchased and all of the money has been applied on periodical subscriptions. The wisdom of this early policy has been vindicated often in recent years. The completeness of the periodical sets is the pride of the department. The periodical subscription list in 1860 carried twenty-four medical titles. It now numbers 453 and in addition 83journals are received as gifts. There are, of course, many magazines, which do not appear in this group, and of others there are only broken sets, but they are the minor serials in this science. The library's holdings include all the standard periodicals in all languages and in all the divisions of medicine. These form the bulk of the volumes in the Medical Library, which, according to the last annual report of the Librarian of the University, numbers 48,159 volumes. It is one of the largest medical college libraries in the United States. It is exceeded in numbers by Lane, Columbia, and Harvard, but in turn outranks Vermont, Washington, and Johns Hopkins.

The requests for service made upon this Medical Library are exacting. All possible tools to aid in the search for material on a given subject are available, but the vocabulary of a doctor is a foreign language to the layman and it is necessary for the members of the library staff to acquire much of that vocabulary before they can give prompt aid to the inquirer. A card catalog, dictionary in form, is kept in the Medical Reading Room. Init is an author and a subject card for each monograph and textbook and set of periodicals in the collection, and it thus serves as a guide or key to the books in the two floors of stacks adjoining the Reading Room. These cards are duplicated in the general catalog of the Library in the main corridor of the library building. There are two reference works of unsurpassed excellence in the medical field. They are the catalog of the Surgeon General's Library, and the Index Medicus as continued by the American MedicalAssociation in the Quarterly Cummulative Index Medicus. These index practically the whole of medical literature both old and new. They are first aid in an emergency and final check in a completed case. Without these aids reference work would be haphazard, incomplete for even the doctor himself, unless he kept, personally, an index of all the literature, which came to his attention on his subject. In the field of dentistry where there is no such complete index of periodical literature, it is necessary for the librarian to make an index for himself. A goodly number of hours each week must be devoted to such indexing, if a dental library is to yield its material on demand.

The recorded use of books in the Medical Reading Room for the year ending June 30, 1928 was 17,675volumes. This is a decided increase over all previous years. This figure does not include the use of current periodicals to which readers have direct access. Although the work of the staff in this library is diverse; there are two distinct divisions of the service, which is rendered to the public. Many readers come to the library with definite references. They simply wish to have these books delivered to them as expeditiously as possible. If the reference is correct, it is a relatively simple matter for the attendant to go to the shelves and find the desired book unless someone else is using it. In such a case a search must be made to be certain that the book is actually in use. Even though it may be charged to someone, if it is in the building, it is usually available for at least a brief consultation period. All too frequently a reference is incorrect either as to author, title, volume or date. Recently one of the most distinguished scholars on the faculty made an error of nearly ten years in citing the publication of one of his own studies.

The second division of the service to readers is the furnishing of material when a subject is asked for instead of a specific book. A study made some months ago disclosed the fact that seven-eighths of the use of the library is for purely reference purposes. This, of course, is much more difficult than the other service. If a relatively complete set of references is desired, it is a matter really of copying those listed in many volumes of the two great indexes. If, however, only a small amount of material can be used, that must be the latest and best available. To pick that out requires knowledge of the comparative ratings of magazines, information as to the institutions, which are con-ducting investigations, a doctor's vocabulary, and a quick perception. If a request for such material is telephoned in and a time is designated when it will be used, the problem can be worked out carefully; but if it must be solved while the reader waits, the result May not be so satisfactory. One doctor may desire a list of references on his subject while another may ask to have the books assembled on a table for his use. Medical students and the doctors who are teaching them are given practically the same service. There is this difference, however. The doctors usually havecarrel tables in the stack, whereas students must do their work in the Reading Room.

When the new hospital was equipped, it was provided with space for a small medical library and reading room. This is administered as a part of the medical library of the University. Its staff of two spends a few hours each week in the main library to keep up their acquaintance with the large collection, as the permanent collection in the hospital numbers only a few hundred volumes. This collection is made up almost entirely of sets of journals and texts, which are the gifts of doctors on the hospital staff. There is a daily delivery of books between the two divisions of the library. Requests left at the hospital library are telephoned to the main library and the desired books are sent out each afternoon. Not infrequently some doctor at the hospital or elsewhere will ask to have a certain article read to him over the telephone. A special shelf is provided in the telephone booth of the medical library on which to rest books being so used.

By action of the Regents some years ago, the privilege of borrowing books from the Medical Library was granted to the doctors of the state. This service has been increasing until it is now quite an element in the day's work. Some mails bring two or three requests for the loan of medical books and scarcely a day goes by without at least one such request. Through the inter-library loan system it is often possible for the university library to borrow from some other library a work, which is not to be obtained in Ann Arbor. The courtesy of such loans is not granted by some libraries, and in others the material which can be loaned is much more restricted than was the case even a half dozen years ago. The larger libraries will furnish photostat reproductions of articles for a nominal sum, and in the next few years this is likely to take the place of much of the borrowing, which is now done.

Closely allied to the Medical Library and its service is the Dental Library. This is housed on the first floor of the Dental College building and numbers according to the annual report for the year ending June 30, 1928, 4,396 volumes. Dentistry is preeminently an American science and the best works on the subject are in English. Consequently a very large proportion of the library is in that language. The standard journals for England, France, Germany and Italy are on the subscription list as well as all the important American magazines. The works of historical significance in these languages are being secured as rapidly as possible. Most of the volumes for England and Germany were acquired some years ago, as the library bequeathed by Doctor W. D. Miller contained much early material. A complete collection of all dental literature would number only a few thousand volumes and it might be possible to approximate such a collection, although some of the items are now very rare and demand a fairly large price.

The dental course includes a number of subjects in the medical curriculum and presupposes a considerable knowledge of chemistry, physics and metallurgy. This means that a dental library, which aims to assist the student in his daily work and the professor in his research, must be well stocked with scientific works on such allied subjects. The dental students make wide use of the Medical Library to supplement the collection in their own building.

The lack of bibliographical tools for dental library-work has already been stressed. An index to the dental periodicals in the English language has been issued covering the years 1839 to 1894 and 1912 to 1923and other volumes are in preparation. This index has to be supplemented by an index made in the library. There is but little occasion for the loan of books between libraries but there is a field for the exchange of references.

The Dental Library of the University of Michigan sends each month to the American Society for the Promotion of Children's Dentistry references to the articles, which have appeared on the subject of the dental care of children. The Dental Library of the University of Michigan has just been subsidized by the Carnegie Corporation to make a demonstration of what an adequate library can do in serving the students and faculty of a dental college. As a part of this demonstration a manual of dental library practice is to be prepared which will contain a list of the books and journals which are considered essential for any good dental college library.

History of the University of Michigan

Medical & Dental Libraries