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History of medicine collection policy

Selection in the two categories, primary works and secondary works, is governed by a distinct policy.

Secondary works

As far as language, chronological and geographical coverage, and nature of treatment of the subject are concerned, it is the aim of the Osler Library to be comprehensive in acquiring secondary literature of scholarly interest. In addition, an autobiography of an important medical figure, for example, although not presented as historical scholarship, would be acquired as a quasi-primary document. In the following subject areas, consideration is also given to popular works, local histories, memoirs, etc., again on the grounds of their documentary value: Sir William Osler, other figures of note in Canadian medicine (e.g. Bethune), history of medicine at McGill University, in the city of Montreal, in the province of Quebec and in Canada. In areas other than these, popular works etc. are excluded.


The topical parameters for secondary works are as follows:

  • practice of medicine and surgery and of the various medical specialties, including diagnosis, treatment, and related instruments and apparatus;
  • medical theories and philosophies;
  • institutions internal to medicine (hospitals, schools of medicine, academies...) and external institutions which impinge upon medicine (e.g. governmental agencies regulating health, etc.);
  • the "cultural context" of medicine (medical numismatics, medicine in art, medicine in literature, music and medicine, philately and medicine);
  • basic biomedical sciences, including:
    • human anatomy
    • comparative anatomy (in consultation with Blacker-Wood Library)
    • alchemy
    • bacteriology
    • medical chemistry
    • biochemistry
    • medical botany
    • medical genetics
    • pathology
    • pharmacology
    • physiology
    • psychology (in cooperation with McLennan Library)
    • public health
    • epidemiology and biostatistics

    In the case of basic sciences, care is taken to select works with a recognizable medical content, especially in fields such as biochemistry and psychology.

  • allied professions such as nursing and dentistry, but not veterinary medicine, save for histories of the Montreal Veterinary College, or for works linking or comparing human to veterinary medicine.
  • biographies of medical practitioners, medical histories of famous people, and accounts of significant individual medical cases.

Collecting level

Since the aim of the Osler Library is to be comprehensive in the acquisition of secondary works, every effort is made to collect at level 5 (see the American Library Association's Guide for Written Collection Policy Statements, 1989).

Types of material

Reference Works: High priority is given to the acquisition of reference works, particularly:

  • historical bibliographies of individual medical writers or of medical topics;
  • catalogues of history of medicine libraries (e.g. the Wellcome Library) or of important long-established medical libraries (e.g. the Royal College of Surgeons Library).
  • biographical dictionaries, both primary (e.g. old editions of Medical Directory) and retrospective (e.g. E.H. Bensley's McGill Medical Luminaries);
  • portrait catalogues of medical figures;
  • guides to manuscripts and archives in medical history;
  • historical medical dictionaries;
  • non-medical reference works which are likely to receive heavy auxiliary use, e.g. language dictionaries, directories of McGill graduates, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, etc.

Journals: The Library aims to be as comprehensive as possible in acquiring journals in the history of medicine regardless of language. It also attempts to collect newsletters of medical-historical museums, archives, libraries and special research projects. Basic journals in the history of science (e.g. Isis) are acquired both for their content and for their bibliographic coverage.

Reprints of Articles: Reprints of articles from journals are accepted for the collection provided the journal is not held within the McGill University Library System. Articles directly concerning Sir William Osler, (for which the Library assumes the role of a documentation centre) are collected in reprint form without the proviso.

Theses: The Library acquires on a selective basis copies of doctoral (and occasionally masters') theses in the history of the health sciences. It purchases copies of theses by the major German and Swiss university institutes for the history of medicine. In the German-speaking world, the thesis is considered a publication and disseminated as such. Since North American theses are available either full text or on demand from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, it is the Library's policy to be selective in acquiring them, waiting a few years from the defence date to see if a book emerges. The exception to this rule is theses on Canadian medical history, written in Canada or elsewhere, which we attempt to buy when they appear. Additional information on thesis directories and digitization projects can be found on the Theses section of the Library Online Reference site.

Litteraria: In general, fiction, poetry and other literary forms are not acquired, though exceptions to this rule would be considered in the case of:

  • literary works by or about medical figures or events of local interest, e.g. Osler, Bethune.
  • literary works by Sir William Osler's favourite authors, especially Sir Thomas Browne and Robert Burton.

However, the Library does acquire secondary works on the relationship of medicine to literature, and on Osler's favourite authors.

Primary works

The Library is committed to covering the entire range of historical medicine as sketched, for instance, in the headings for Garrison and Morton's A Medical Bibliography, but it cannot collect in all areas at the same degree of intensity. The Osler Library is a strong collection in some subjects, and less strong in others; this profile is conditioned by the shape of both Osler's original collection, and our principal feeder library, the Life Sciences Library.

Chronological Coverage: The chronological scope for primary works is up to 1913 inclusive. The Life Sciences Library houses and, through gifts, adds to holdings of post-1913 materials. As time goes on, these will be progressively transferred to the Osler Library, and the chronological scope revised in consequence.

Geographical Coverage: The geographical scope is global, that is, medical texts from any medical system which has a textual tradition are collected. Thus Chinese traditional medicine and Ayurveda are included in the Library's mandate (but see remarks under Translations, below).

Editions: General Remarks: In principle, the Library is interested in acquiring a record of what an author wrote, not in collecting books for their form; hence collected works are sought out as the cheapest and most convenient way of representing the works of a given author. Ordinarily, no attempt is made to collect all the editions of an author's work. There are, however, reasons for providing a number of editions of one text, e.g. the first edition, the last edition to be revised by the author, etc. In general, consideration is given to the acquisition of a number of significant editions of authors represented in Osler's Bibliotheca Prima and Bibliotheca Secunda.

Ancient and Medieval Authors: A variety of Renaissance and of modern editions and translations of various ancient and medieval authors is collected, if:

  1. The text has different manuscript versions or traditions;
  2. The text is accompanied by a commentary;
  3. A different translation offers another opinion as to the meaning of the original Greek, Latin or Arabic text;
  4. The text has been subjected to scholarly scrutiny resulting in a critical edition;
  5. The text has been abridged or modified by later authors to serve didactic or other purposes, and these modifications are in themselves of historical interest.

Renaissance and Modern Authors: For authors writing since the advent of printing, only those editions of any title which are known or thought to vary significantly from each other are purchased.

Translations: Primary works which are published in translation are likely to be those of some historical significance, or at least interest. Translations are therefore acquired liberally, especially in consideration of the needs of students, and of scholars who want background information to their primary project. For a translation into modern languages other than English and French, greater caution is exercised. In such cases if (a) the text is not available in the Library in its original form, (b) the translation is accompanied with an important scholarly commentary, (c) it comes with a facing critical edition of the original text, consideration is given to its acquisition.

The only case in which a translation might be preferred to the text in its original language is that of non-Western languages; e.g. Ayurvedic texts are customarily acquired in English, but not in their original Indian languages.

Facsimile Reprints: The Library acquires facsimile reprints of historic works on a generous basis. Facsimiles of unique documents such as medieval manuscripts are especially important. Facsimiles of printed books are also given high priority. Since publishers of facsimiles choose, for marketing reasons, important authors and first editions, such works are inherently valuable, particularly if we do not have a historic copy and even if we do, a facsimile permits borrowing of important works, and saves wear and tear on the original.

Subjects and levels of collecting for primary materials

It has already been noted that the Osler Library is stronger in some subjects than in others, and that this is dictated by the nature of Osler's own original collection and the materials the Osler Library inherits from the Life Sciences Library. It is also dictated by economic necessity.

Current definitions derive from the American Library Association's Guidelines for collection development policies, 1989. The Osler Library is a specialized research collection, collecting at research level with some variation in intensity and limited always by financial necessity. The levels are thus 4+ or 4-, as far as primary materials are concerned.

Sometimes, as in Surgery, a higher level is assigned to subheadings (in this case, Antisepsis and asepsis, and Surgical anaesthesia) than to the broader heading.

Collection Levels

SUBJECTS COLLECTION INTENSITY BIOLOGY 4- Anthropology Craniology Evolution, heredity, genetics Microscopy COMPARATIVE ANATOMY 4- ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY 4+ Anatomy Embryology Histology Physiology (General) Biochemistry Cardiovascular System Heart Haematology Respiratory System Digestive System Nutrition Vitamins Lymphatic System Ductless Glands and Internal Secretions Thyroid Parathyroids Adrenals Pituitary Gonads Sex hormones Pancreas ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY, continued 4+ Genito-urinary System Kidney Urinary Secretion Nervous System Peripheral Nerves Peripheral Autonomic Nervous System Chemical Mediation of Nervous Impulses Spinal Cord Brain Cerebrospinal Fluid Organs of Special Senses Eye, Vision Ear, Hearing STATE MEDICINE, PUBLIC HEALTH AND HYGIENE 4+ EPIDEMIOLOGY 4+ BIOSTATISTICS 4+ MEDICAL JURISPRUDENCE 4+ MEDICAL ETHICS 4+ PHILOSOPHY AND MEDICINE 4+ RELIGION AND MEDICINE 4+ CLIMATE AND GEOGRAPHICAL FACTORS IN MEDICINE 4- MATERIA MEDICA; PHARMACY; PHARMACOLOGY 4- THERAPEUTICS 4+ Physical Therapy; Hydrotherapy Blood Transfusion TOXICOLOGY 4- Lead Poisoning Venoms INDUSTRIAL HYGIENE AND MEDICINE 4+ MILITARY AND NAVAL HYGIENE AND MEDICINE 4+ MEDICINE: GENERAL WORKS 4+ Medical philosophy CONDITIONS DUE TO PHYSICAL FACTORS 4- TROPICAL MEDICINE 4+ PATHOLOGY 4+ TUBERCULOSIS 4+ SYPHILIS 4+ LEPROSY 4- PARASITOLOGY 4- MICROBIOLOGY 4- INFECTION, IMMUNOLOGY, SEROLOGY 4+ ALLERGY AND ANAPHYLAXIS 4- ONCOLOGY IN GENERAL 4+ PHYSICAL DIAGNOSIS IN GENERAL 4+ Diagnostic radiology 4- DISEASES OF THE CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM 4+ Heart and Aorta Angina pectoris Arteries Ligation of arteries Aneurysms Veins Thrombosis and Embolisms Cardiovascular surgery Disorders of the blood Anaemia and chlorosis DISEASES OF THE RESPIRATORY SYSTEM 4+ Pulmonary tuberculosis Laryngology and rhinology Laryngoscopy Bronchoscopy DISEASES OF THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM 4- Esophagus, stomach and intestines Appendicitis Hernia Liver, gall bladder, pancreas DENTISTRY 4- DEFICIENCY DISEASES 4- Scurvy Rickets Beri-beri Pellagra SPLEEN AND LYMPHATIC SYSTEM 4- ENDOCRINE DISORDERS 4- Thyroid gland Parathyroid gland Adrenals Pituitary gland METABOLIC DISORDERS 4- Diabetes mellitus DERMATOLOGY 4- DISEASES OF THE GENITO-URINARY SYSTEM 4- Kidney Prostate Urinary calculi DISEASES OF BONES AND JOINTS; ORTHOPAEDICS 4- Fractures and dislocations Amputations, excisions and resections Rheumatism and gout DISEASES OF THE NERVOUS SYSTEM 4+ Aphasia Inflammatory conditions Poliomyelitis Cerebral meningitis Degenerative disorders Myopathies Neurosyphilis General paralysis Epilepsy Tetany Neuroses and psychoneuroses Neurosurgery Psychiatry Medical psychology Psychotherapy Hypnotism COMMUNICABLE DISEASES 4+ Enteric fever Diphtheria Scarlet fever Whooping cough Bacillary dysentery Brucellosis Cholera Plague Tetanus Glanders, Melioidosis Anthrax Tularaemia Amoebiasis Sexually transmitted diseases Gonorrhoea and trichomonas infection Lymphogranuloma venereum Malaria Trypanosomiasis Leishmaniasis Treponematoses Relapsing fevers Rat-bite fever Leptospiroses Diseases due to metazoan parasites Hookworm disease COMMUNICABLE DISEASES, continued 4+ Rickettsial infections Smallpox and vaccination Chickenpox Measles Yellow fever Dengue Phlebotomous (Pappataci) fever Rabies Infectious mononucleosis Influenza Rubella and allied conditions Actinomycosis and nocardiosis Candidiasis SURGERY 4- Antisepsis and asepsis 4+ Surgical anaesthesia 4+ Grafts, plastic surgery 4- Diseases of the breast 4- OPHTHALMOLOGY 4+ GYNAECOLOGY 4- OBSTETRICS 4- Caesarian section Pelvis, pelvic anomalies Puerperal fever MEDICAL INSTITUTIONS AND PROFESSIONS 4+ Hospitals Academies Medical schools Nursing Professional associations Medical publishing SOCIAL CONTEXT OF MEDICINE 4+ Medicine and politics "Medicalization" (of sexuality, diet, clothing, etc.) Mental health Physicians as commentators upon social issues Popularization of medicine Race and eugenics Relationship to government agencies Women in medicine "ALTERNATIVE" MEDICINE 4+ Alchemy Magic and superstition Quackery Radical or unusual medical philosophies and practices

McGill resources

Life Sciences Library. Adjacent physically to the Osler Library, this library contains many older works, and long runs of medical journals. Space problems preclude the addition of the older works to Osler at the moment, but these can be transferred on an ad hoc basis if required.

Humanities and Social Sciences Library contains the main humanities and social sciences collections with long runs of early institutional journal publications and a certain amount of directly relevant material, e.g. Medicine in literature. It is the principal location for Psychology materials and for the history of non-medical psychology.

Government Information Department contains, i.a., Statistics Canada publications, as well as those of the United Nations, the World Bank, and other international organizations which publish demographic and statistical data, etc.; also Canadian federal and provincial health departments' annual reports.

The Schulich Library of Science and Engineering includes the Mossman collection in the History of Science.

McGill University Archives includes the archives of the Faculty of Medicine, the Principal's papers, and holdings of select hospitals and individuals.

Department of Rare Books and Special Collections contains noteworthy manuscript and printed material of relevance to the Osler Library (e.g., herbals).

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