Jeffrey S. Reznick: Remember the Army Medical Library and Discover the National Library of Medicine

Roundup: Talking About History

Dr. Reznick is Chief of the History of Medicine Division in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Honorary Research Fellow in the Center for First World War Studies of the University of Birmingham, and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He is the author, most recently, of "John Galsworthy and Disabled Soldiers of the Great War, with an Illustrated Selection of His Writings" (Manchester University Press, 2009).

Many news outlets, including HNN, have been covering the recent move of the National Museum of Health and Medicine from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to its new quarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.  In drawing attention to this venerable institution, and to its origins in 1862 as the Army Medical Museum, we should remember the museum's institutional "sister," the Library of Surgeon General's Office.  That office had its origins in 1836 and the commitment of the Army Surgeon General to purchase books and journals for active-duty medical officers.  In the early 1920s, the library was renamed the Army Medical Library, and it was housed with the Army Medical Museum until the 1950s when the institutions were physically separated.  The library was placed under the Public Health Service within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and it became the National Library of Medicine on the campus of the National Institutes of Health.  Meanwhile, the museum remained under the army and evolved into the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and the National Museum of Health and Medicine.

This year marks the 175th anniversary of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), which today is the world’s largest biomedical library with a collection of over twelve million books, journals, manuscripts, audiovisuals, and other forms of medical information.  During the past three decades, the NLM has come to have global influence through developing electronic information services that deliver trillions of bytes of data to millions of users every day, including consumer health information, drug information, clinical trials data, genetic/genomic data, and toxicology and environmental data. Scientists, scholars, educators, health professionals, and the general public in the United States and around the world search these and the NLM’s many other information resources more than one billion times each year.

While they exist separately today as federal entities, the National Museum of Health and Medicine and the NLM share a common goal of collecting, preserving, and providing knowledge about the past, present, and future of biomedicine and health care.

If you remember the National Museum of Health and Medicine from its early tenure on the National Mall, or more recently at Walter Reed, rediscover it today in Silver Spring, Maryland. At the same time, the NLM invites you to be in touch, to explore its resources, and to visit its home on the NIH campus.

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