About the Osler Library of the History of Medicine

The Osler Library of the History of Medicine opened in 1929 to house the collection of rare medical and other books donated by Sir William Osler, the renowned physician and McGill graduate and professor. Initially comprising 8000 titles listed in the Bibliotheca Osleriana, the collection - the finest of its kind in Canada - has grown to around 100,000 works including older, rare materials as well as current books and periodicals about the history of the health sciences and related areas.

The Osler Library is a major resource centre for historical research in the health sciences and is the international centre for the study of Sir William Osler and the Oslerian tradition. It supports students and teachers at McGill in the Department of Social Studies of Medicine, the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (including the Ingram School of Nursing, School of Physical and Occupational Therapy, and School of Communication Sciences and Disorders) as well as the Faculty of Dental Medicine and Oral Health Sciences, and the Faculties of Arts and of Science. It is heavily used by researchers from McGill, Quebec, across Canada, and throughout the world.

Scholarship in medical history is supported through the Osler Library Studies in the History of Medicine series of publications and three research travel grants awarded annually: Dr. Edward H. Bensley Osler Library Research Travel Grant, Mary Louise Nickerson Travel Grant, and Dimitrije Pivnicki Award in Neuro and Psychiatric History. Exhibitions are mounted regularly at the Library's entrance.

The Library is generously supported through endowments and donations and the active participation of members of the Friends of the Osler Library. Membership of the Friends is open to anyone who is interested in the Osler Library, the life and legacy of Sir William Osler or the history of medicine. Please contact the Osler Library for more information.

Sir William Osler (1849-1919) was a McGill graduate with a distinguished career as a physician, professor, author, and bibliophile at McGill, the University of Pennsylvania, and Johns Hopkins, and as Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University. As Professor of Medicine at McGill, he employed new methods using the microscope and pathological study. His major contributions included introducing bedside teaching and writing a major textbook, The Principles and Practice of Medicine. Sir William Osler was honoured with a baronetcy for his significant innovations in teaching and contributions to medicine, and is revered for his warm personality and for his blending of humanity and science. Bequeathed to McGill in gratitude for the sound education and strong support he received early in his career, his Library reflects the man, a life in medicine, and his creativity and humanity. Students, teachers, clinicians, and researchers can gain inspiration from the tradition that is recorded in this Library.

Members of the Osler Library Board of Curators 2022-2023

Curators are normally elected or appointed for five year terms, the dates below show the most recent date of appointment.

Prof. Annmarie Adams

Professor, Stevenson Chair in the History and Philosophy of Science, including Medicine, Department of Social Studies of Medicine
Re-elected 2021

Ms. Neevya Balasubramaniam

Student Representative
Co-president of the Osler Society, 2023

Dr. Guylaine Beaudry

Trenholme Dean of McGill University Library

Dr. Bernard Brais

Montreal Neurological Institute
Re-elected 2019

Dr. Charles S. Bryan

University of South Carolina
Elected 2020

Dr. Richard Cruess

Chairman of the Friends of the Osler Library
Re-elected 2020

Ms. Lili de Grandpré

CenCEO Consulting
Re-elected 2018

Dr. Rolando Del Maestro

Honorary Osler Librarian
Professor Emeritus, Montreal Neurological Institute
Re-elected 2022

Dr. Lesley Fellows

Vice-Principal (Health Affairs)
Dean, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
ex officio

Dr. Richard Fraser

Department of Pathology, Montreal General Hospital
Re-elected 2020

Dr. Abraham Fuks

Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, McGill University
Re-elected 2022

Ms. Lilly Groszman

Student Representative
Co-president of the Osler Society, 2023

Prof. Fen Osler Hampson

Representative of Osler family
Appointed 2022

Dr. Jason Harley

Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, McGill University
Elected 2022

Dr. Milton K. H. Leong

Create Health Hong Kong Ltd
Re-elected 2022

Mr. Brian M. Levitt

TD Bank Group
Re-elected 2018

Mr. Jamie Robert Osler McIntyre

President, Romeo Oscar Inc.
Re-elected 2019

Dr. Jonathan Meakins

Director, RBC Art and Heritage Centre, MUHC
Re-elected 2020

Mrs. Pamela Miller

McGill University
Re-elected 2020

Dr. J. Mario Molina

Molina Foundation
Re-elected 2018

Mr. Lawton Osler

Osler Business Consultants Ltd.
Re-elected 2022

Dr. Jeffrey Reznick

Chief, History of Medicine Division, US National Library of Medicine
Representative of the US National Library of Medicine

Dr. Milton G. Roxanas

University of Sydney, Sydney Adventist Hospital Medical School
Elected 2020

Prof. Deep Saini

Principal, McGill University

Prof. Faith Wallis

McGill University
Re-elected 2021

Dr. Mary Yearl

Head Librarian, Osler Library of the History of Medicine

Board guidelines

(Approved by the Board of Curators May 1, 1968)

  • Revised October 23, 1969
  • Revised April 17, 1974
  • Revised April 22, 1981
  • Revised November 4, 1994

(Approved by the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors of McGill University, April 10, 1995)

I. Functions of the board

The Osler Library, (hereinafter, "the Library") is associated with three different communities:

a) as a service to the McGill medical community, the Library needs communication with, and advice from the Department of Social Studies of Medicine in particular, and the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences more generally, especially with regard to services and facilities;

b) as a library within the McGill University Libraries, the Library needs communication with the library system, particularly with regard to its University appropriations, personnel policies and integration of services and facilities with other McGill libraries;

c) as an institution with extra-mural support and responsibilities, the Library needs communication with, and advice from individuals representing a variety of interests, particularly with respect to the disposition and use of private donations and other gifts, especially Osler's bequest.

The Board of Curators (hereinafter, "the Board") is designed to embrace these various commitments to and sources of support for the Library. So constituted, the Board has three major functions:

i) to provide the main channel for communication by and participation of persons from outside McGill;

ii) to provide a formal means for overseeing the disposition and use of private donations and gifts;

iii) to define and to adjudicate the nature and extent of the Library's responsibilities and the various interests it serves.

As far as these last two functions are concerned, it is clear that the Board, as well as being advisory, is also a governing body of the Library.

Under normal conditions, the Board will meet annually, on Osler Day. However, a formal meeting may be called at any time by the Chair or by a minimum of ten members.

II. Composition

a) Ex officio

  • The Dean of Medicine, McGill University (as Chairperson, ex officio)
  • The Principal of McGill University
  • The History of Medicine Librarian (hereafter referred to as "the Librarian")
  • The Life Sciences Librarian
  • The Trenholme Dean of Libraries
  • The Director of the U.S. National Library of Medicine

b) Representatives

  • A representative of the Osler Family selected by the other Curators
  • A representative of the Department of Social Studies of Medicine (appointed by the Department Chair - hereafter referred to as "the Departmental representative")
  • A medical student representative (appointed annually by the Medical Student's Society of McGill)
  • A representative of the McGill Medical Faculty (elected by the Faculty for a five-year term)

c) Elected

In addition to the above, members may be elected upon nomination by any member of the Board and acceptance by a two-thirds majority of the Board on a mail vote, or by a two-thirds majority of those members of the Board attending an official meeting. Members are elected for a term of five years, but are eligible for re-election.

The purpose of elected membership is to allow the Board to add individuals who can contribute special experience and perspectives on broad policy matters affecting the Osler Library, especially its extramural commitments. From time to time, for example, it may be desirable to have representatives from such institutions as l'Université de Montréal and local medical societies, as well as the New York Academy of Medicine, American Osler Society, etc.

d) Standing Committee

There shall be a Standing Committee (hereafter, the "Committee") to serve the Board as:

  1. an executive committee;
  2. a planning committee;
  3. the nominating committee;

    and as

  4. an ad hoc committee to deal with any matters that are delegated to it by the Board.

The Committee shall be composed of the Dean of Medicine, the Librarian as Secretary to the Committee, the Departmental representative, the Chair of the Friends of the Osler Library, and three local members of the Board elected for a five-year term at an annual meeting, the Chair of the Committee to be appointed, from among these members, by the Dean.

  • i) As an executive body, the Committee, primarily in the person of the Committee Chair, will advise the Board Chair and/or the Librarian on curatorial matters requiring a decision between annual meetings. In the course of making such decisions, the Chair may consult one or more members of the Committee but the Chair will be answerable to the Board for all such executive decisions taken.

  • ii) As a planning body, the Committee will meet from time to time to discuss matters referred to it by the Board or the Librarian and will make recommendations to the Board as it sees fit. Such meetings will be open to other members of the Board as non-voting participants.

  • iii) The Committee will also make nominations and perform other tasks assigned to it by the Board in the manner prescribed by the Board or, in the absence of such instructions, according to procedures established by the Committee Chair. In addition, the Committee shall meet formally, at least once a year, before the annual meeting of the Board, to review the agenda for, and to make its report to that meeting. A member of the Committee shall also serve the Board as its representative on the Health Sciences Library Advisory Committee.

e) Honorary Osler Librarian

The Board may elect an Honorary Osler Librarian for whatever term of office and under whatever conditions it sees fit.

III. Functions of the library

Osler's original description of the Library's purpose remains unchanged. "The Library is to serve, as far as possible, two functions - the education of students in the History and Methods of Science and of Medicine, and to promote research into these subjects." To this end the Library maintains a specialized research collection in all aspects of the history of medicine and its sciences.

In view of its size, importance, and uniqueness, the Library must conceive its responsibilities on a national and international scale as well as those demanded of any specialized research collection within McGill University. The Library should maintain a collections policy consonant with these responsibilities.

IV. The History of Medicine Librarian

a) Shall be appointed according to the Regulations Relating to the Employment of Librarian Staff at McGill University, upon the joint recommendation of the Director of Libraries and the Chair of the Board of Curators.

To this end, a search committee will be struck, consisting of equal numbers of members appointed by the Director of Libraries and the Chair of the Board, and will be chaired by the Director or one of her or his representatives. This committee will make its recommendations to the Director and to the Chair of the Board. The Departmental representative shall be a member of this search committee. Furthermore, before joining the Director in recommending a candidate for the position, the Chair shall obtain approval from the Board, as signified by two-thirds of the Board in a mail vote, or by two-thirds of those attending an official meeting of the Board.

b) Shall be responsible to the Life Sciences Librarian for the administration of the Library and to the Board for those matters under its jurisdiction as described in these "Guidelines".

c) Shall be Secretary to the Board of Curators, responsible for its minutes, for an annual report to the Board, and for arranging its annual meeting, including the establishment of the agenda, in consultation with the Dean of Medicine and the Chair of the Standing Committee.

d) Shall be Secretary to the Standing Committee of the Board.

e) Shall be generally responsible to the Board. It is understood that this responsibility is discharged by being answerable to it for her or his stewardship rather than by seeking its prior approval for her or his decisions and actions, except where the Board's special concerns explicitly require such approval.

f) To Sir William's original hope that the Librarian will have scholarly attainments and an interest in the bibliography of the history of medicine and its sciences is added the expectation that she or he will have professional competence as a specialist librarian. When, in the judgement of the Board, the History of Medicine Librarian has attained high standards of excellence in these areas, the Board may confer upon that individual the title of Osler Librarian.

V. Osler's books and manuscripts

a) Books from the original library bequeathed to McGill by Sir William Osler will be subject to essentially the same rules as to custodial care and security as apply to all other books in the collection with the following exceptions:

  1. books clearly marked as being from Osler's original bequest will not circulate;
  2. no item that is part of the original Bibliotheca Oslerianamay be taken out of the University without the permission of the Board.

b) The Board is the executor of Osler's literary remains. The Board also holds copyright to other manuscript or archival materials formally donated to or acquired by the Library, save in cases where the conditions of gift or sale specifically state that copyright resides elsewhere.

c) The Librarian may allow any person to examine any of Osler's manuscripts, notebooks, etc., when satisfied of that person's legitimate need and scholarly intentions.

d) The Librarian may also permit manual copying, photocopying, microfilming, etc., of these materials for the same purposes, subject to the conditions set forth in section (e) below, if satisfied that, in processing them, suitable precautions against loss, theft, or physical damage have been taken.

e) The Librarian may permit individuals to quote from these materials, or from Osler's printed works, provided that due acknowledgment is given to the Library. These quotations should be of such limited length as to provide only documentation for the point which the author is making and should not constitute the publication of a manuscript itself or the wholesale, or partial reprinting of a published text, permission for which must be sought from the Board (see section g below).

f) When in doubt, the Librarian may refer any request relating to section (c), (d) or (e) for a decision by the Board.

g) Permission to publish the text of a manuscript, or to republish a printed text for which the Board holds copyright, may only be granted by the Board at an official meeting.

However, the Librarian, at her or his discretion, may grant permission to publish an entire letter, or entire manuscript of short length, if she or he judges the intent of publication to fall within the spirit of section (e) above.

VI. The use of the Osler library

In accordance with Sir William Osler's original wishes, "the Library is for the use of the members of the medical profession, including of course medical students." In addition, the Librarian may permit the use of the collection and Library facilities by anyone who offers suitable evidence of a legitimate need and scholarly intentions.

VII. Revisions

a) From time to time circumstances may necessitate ad hoc, temporary deviations from these guidelines. Such changes can be made, on the advice or approval of the Standing Committee but, if still in effect, should be approved by a simple majority of those attending the next official meeting of the Board along with a clear plan as to the time and/or circumstances of their termination. If they are not to be terminated, appropriate revisions to the Guidelines must be made, as provided for in section b) following.

b) These Guidelines may be altered or augmented upon agreement by two-thirds of the Curators, as determined by a mail vote, or by two-thirds of the attending Curators at any official meeting.

    Collection description

    The Osler Library's books and serials are listed in the McGill Library Catalogue. The Osler Library also has collections of digitised and other material that are not individually listed in the Catalogue. To help find this material, special databases have been created, specifically:

    • Archival Material Held in the Osler Library - A Searchable Database. The Osler Library Archives has over 100 collections of papers by or about doctors, medical students and organisations, including significant collections on Sir William Osler, Wilder Penfield, Maude Abbott and the Canadian Health Libraries Association. There are fonds or collections level records in the McGill catalogue too.  Please note that individual archival fonds or collections are also listed in the catalogue.
    • Osler Library Prints Collection. The library has an extensive collection of prints and drawings. The largest collections were donated by Dr. Kalz and Dr. Evans. Frederick Kalz had amassed 175 engraved portraits of physicians from the 17th to the 19th centuries. John Howell Evans donated over seven hundred images of cancer and other tumour cases from the late 1860s to the mid 1920s, as well as English physicians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Ones in the print collection have been digitised, but other illustrations remain, primarily in archival collections.
    • William Osler Photo Collection. This is a digitised collection of approximately 400 photos of Sir William Osler and his family and circle from all phases of his life.
    • We also have materials for which there are no online listings, but which are available by writing directly to the Osler Library at osler.library [at] mcgill.ca. Examples of such items are: the Osler Library’s artefact collection of over 700 items consisting of surgical and medical instruments and kits, medals, plaques, etc.; numerous photographs of medical personnel, and paintings. It is worth noting that the library is home to a variety of items belonging to Dr. Osler, including furniture as well as medical instruments.

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