- About the Library
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The Academy is home to one of the most significant historical libraries in medicine and public health in the world, safeguarding the heritage of medicine to inform the future of health.
Initially established as a medical collection for the use of physicians, the Library opened to the public in 1878. As a working professional library, the collection’s primary focus was first in contemporary medicine, but soon extended to rare and historical materials. The Library's current focus has shifted to building on its historical holdings, including current works in the history of medicine. The Library houses much of its rare book collection in the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room, which also contains many secondary sources in the history of medicine and the history of books and printing.
Special subject strengths of the collections include anatomical atlases, cardiology, cookery, dermatology, healthy living regimens, history of medicine of the City of New York, homeopathy and alternative medical systems, medical Americana, medical botany, neurology, surgery, and women and children's health.
Poetry, fiction, and philosophy also figure prominently in the Library's collections, along with natural histories and early scientific texts reflecting the ways in which physicians saw themselves as part of a broad intellectual community. Manuscript strengths include medical and culinary receipt books, student notebooks, hospital casebooks, and the personal diaries, daybooks, and correspondence of prominent New York physicians.
Archival holdings also document the practice of medicine in New York from the 18th century to the present including preserving the records of over 35 professional medical societies.
The Library fills a unique role in the scholarly and cultural landscape of New York City by making its collections accessible for research and by presenting an engaging roster of public programs integrating medicine with history, the humanities, and the arts through its Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health. Established in 2012, the Center builds bridges among an interdisciplinary community of scholars, educators, clinicians, curatorial and conservation professionals, and the general public.
The Library is open to the general public by appointment; most materials are housed in closed stacks and may not be browsed. More news about the Library and its programs and activities can be found on its blog, Books, Health, and History.
History of the Library
In January 1847, the Academy Library began with the gift of a three-volume set of Medical and Physiological Commentaries by Martyn Paine, one of the founders of the Medical College of the University of New York City. Originally intended only for the use of the Academy’s Fellows, the Library opened its doors to the general public in October 1878. By then the collection had grown to over 6,000 volumes and was on its way to becoming one of the foremost private medical collections in the United States. The Library had its most dramatic growth during the latter nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, increasing its collection largely through personal and institutional gifts, including the collections of the Medical Journal Association, the Society of the New York Hospital, and the medical books of the New York Public Library.
Historical collections have been a major focus of the Library's collecting interests. In 1898, when the Society of the New York Hospital voted to disband its library, over 23,000 books were added to the collections, including significant rare items. The rare book collections were greatly enhanced in 1928 by the Edward Clark Streeter Collection, considered one of the finest private rare medical libraries in the world, purchased from the Philadelphia bookseller A. S. W. Rosenbach. The collections have continued to grow as a result of donations and purchases, and now contain about 32,000 rare books dating mostly from the 15th through the 18th centuries, as well as manuscripts, archives, pamphlets, ephemera, visual materials, and secondary references about the history of medicine and the history of books and printing.