Representatives of Medical Heritage Library (MHL) collaborating institutions presented a lunchtime session at the American Association for the History of Medicine annual meeting on Saturday, April 30th.
Michael North, National Library of Medicine (NLM), introduced the NLM’s improved Directory of History of Medicine Collections (http://www.cf.nlm.nih.gov/hmddirectory/index.cfm). The directory includes 200 repositories globally and is now searchable by subject and location. It is possible to refine searches, adding subjects or locations to assist users in prioritizing repositories to visit. He also demonstrated a new NLM resource, Digital Collections (http://collections.nlm.nih.gov), a repository for preservation and access to historical biomedical materials. Michael discussed one type of digital collection, 28 digitized films issued by the military during WWII, mostly related to hygiene, that have been transcribed so are fully searchable and accessible.
Stephen Novak, Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library, Columbia University, discussed Archive Grid (http://archivegrid.org/web/index.jsp), a portal to find archival collections held by thousands of repositories globally. Search results can be sorted by location, relevance, and repository. Links to finding aids appear in search results. Stephen noted that the NLM’s Finding Aids Consortium (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/consortium/index.html) provides access to a narrower—and highly relevant—body of finding aids drawn from twelve major history of medicine libraries.
Jack Eckert, Countway Library, discussed finding digitized books. In addition to commercial sources, there are a number of freely available collections of digitized books in the history of medicine. BASE (Bielefeld Academic Search Engine) (http://www.base-search.net/) offers open access web resources from 1700 repositories around the world. HATHI Trust (http://www.hathitrust.org/home) provides access to 8.6 million volumes with full text search; while only 27% of these are in the public domain, many more can be used for educational and research purposes. Google Books (http://books.google.com/) has an unfortunate user interface and scanning quality issues. It does provide deep searching across a wide variety of materials. Specialized sources include the Bibliothèque numérique Medica – Histoire de la santé at BIU Santé, Paris (http://www.bium.univ-paris5.fr/histmed/medica.htm), which covers science and medicine, and Taubman Medical Library’s Homeopathy Collection (http://quod.lib.umich.edu/h/homeop/). The Medical Heritage Library (http://www.archive.org/details/medicalheritagelibrary/) offers 9,000 medical rare books currently, with more coming. The online book reader provides tabbed access to search terms and a number of other functions. Books can be downloaded in a variety of formats.
Lori Jahnke, College of Physicians of Philadelphia, discussed the next steps for the MHL. In addition to digitizing new material, we are turning our attention to aggregating existing content and to developing an access environment that will facilitate cross-disciplinary study and digital scholarship in the history of medicine. Among our goals is linking primary sources with secondary literature, image repositories, film, and datasets. We plan to draw upon tools such as the Unified Medical Language System to improve the richness of content description, which will enable concept mapping as part of a more efficient discovery process. As the wealth of historical resources on the web grows so must our efforts in creating a coherent access environment that supports scholarly needs.
Jeremy Greene, Department of the History of Science, Harvard University, a member of the MHL’s scholarly advisory committee, opened the audience discussion by asking, how are we using digital resources, what do we need in terms of sources and tools, and how should the availability of these materials influence the training of new scholars? He described several ways in which digital sources are commonly employed: as a way to locate resources that are remote to the user, which are then printed; a convenient format to carry and use digital objects, which are downloaded, read, and annotated on the user’s computer; and as sources for objects that are downloaded then combined in single documents or databases for more powerful search and manipulation. These methods provide important efficiencies for scholars, but don’t use technology to extend the effectiveness of the scholar’s work. How can we get to the next level?
Audience members responded to the presentations and comments with a number of ideas about how digital resources and tools could be more useful. Some of these include:
– Projects tend to follow the subject strengths of collections. Scholars also want to cross-reference such holdings with materials in other formats and subjects.
– History of medicine should be presented in relation to social history, cultural history, and related fields.
– Projects need to be aware of other digital projects such as those undertaken by Google and others, leverage those projects, and demonstrate their value.
– Scholars need meta-tools for searching—not more silos. Will MHL bring materials together via a search tool?
– We need to bring the museum into the library – add artifacts and 3-D images to text repositories under single search tools.
– Lack of annotation is an obstacle for scholarly use of digital objects; what tools are available to support this activity?
– Who decides what gets digitized? Where do the resources come from?
– Scholars are accustomed to organizing paper files; what is the best way to organize the digital materials we download? What software can support organization?
We will be following up on the questions and ideas raised by participants. The MHL is committed to ongoing scholarly engagement to improve the library’s ability to support the work of students and scholars.