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PACSCL Hidden Collections Processing Project » Blog Archive » The Changing Face of the College of Physicians Library

The Changing Face of the College of Physicians Library

Written by Forrest Wright on July 7th, 2010

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Today, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia is known throughout the world for its disturbing, yet fascinating Mütter Museum.  However this was not always the main draw of the College of Physicians, which was founded in 1787 as America’s first medical organization. Throughout most of the institution’s history, physicians and other medical professionals came to the College to teach and conduct medical research. The College’s Library played a crucial role in supporting these functions, as it held both extremely rare medical texts, as well as contemporary medical journals.  Over the last few decades however, the Library has shifted its focus from a medical library for physicians, to an independent research library dedicated to the history and heritage of medicine. The College of Physicians Library records documents this shift, demonstrating how an old institution can still offer a rich learning experience for modern researchers and the public.

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One of the ways the Library reached its audience was through the publication “Fugitive Leaves,” a newsletter dedicated to the Library’s unique and historic collections. Published irregularly from 1935 to1996, the newsletter relied on Library books and illustrations for its fascinating articles.  The Library records contains several printings of the newsletter, as well as photographs of images used.

The Library has also supported exhibitions at the College of Physicians, providing materials for exhibitions such as “Emerging Infectious Diseases: Ancient Scourge/Modern Menace,” “Exploring Therapeutic Resources in Colonial North America,” and “Only One Man Died” (an exhibition on Lewis and Clark).

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The Library records was one of the largest collections of the “Hidden Collections” project. At times, finding all the items in the collection proved a challenge, however the Library staff was very accommodating in allowing our team to make full use of their space. This was also my last collection working with my teammate and student processor Leslie O’Neill.  It was a pleasure to work with Leslie, and we all wish her the best of luck in her future career as an archivist!


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