Working in the History of Medicine Library
I’ve always enjoyed reading. Browsing through bookstores and antique shops looking at books both old and new fascinates me. Handling old books and thinking about the many other hands that have touched the same book, leafed through the same pages, and enjoyed the same printed words, piques my imagination. Therefore, working in the Mayo Foundation History of Medicine Library is almost too good to be true. The volumes of rare medical classics and early journal literature comprise the core collection of primary literature on all aspects of medicine dating as far back as 1479. I like to think of this specialized section of the library as the jewel in the crown of the Mayo Library system.
When I see one of Galen’s hefty vellum bound volumes published in the mid-1500’s I can’t help but visualize learned medical men of the past leafing through these very pages absorbing the words of the great master from Pergamon. Gazing at the marvelous images in Vesalius’s opus, published in 1543 and commonly referred to as The Fabrica, I am reminded of the genius and audacity of a young anatomist from Brussels disproving the time honored traditions of the old master, Galen. Sharing this wonderful collection with others who are passionate about the history of medicine is truly a privilege and delight. Introducing those who are not familiar with the history of medicine to some of the amazing facts of the subject and seeing the awe on their faces is an added bonus.
Medicine has come a long way since the days of pouring boiling oil on open wounds, amputating limbs with little or no anesthetic and performing surgery in frock coats. How fortunate we are to be able to read about the incredible progress made and look at stunning images created by artists who dared to push the bounds of the law and draw from actual cadavers in an effort to produce accurate interpretations of the human body. This is all part of the rich heritage handed down to us from the wisdom that went before.
To protect the oldest and rarest of resources within the History of Medicine Library, we limit their access only to scholars on pre-approved research projects. However, patients and visitors are free to visit the current exhibit in the History of Medicine office.
By Hilary J. Lane, History of Medicine Library Coordinator