It is a depressing fact that history of medicine collections in some US libraries are under threat of reduced service provision and/or closure. This is not just a product of the current economic climate (although that does not help), but has been an issue for many years. In order to approach this problem and provide input on these issues, W. Bruce Fye, President of the American Association for the History of Medicine (AAHM), has set up an Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Medical History Libraries.
In his message in the February 2009 AAHM Newsletter, Fye stresses the importance of “physical collections with respect to historical research in medicine and health-related fields in the twenty-first century.” Yet the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the New York Academy of Medicine libraries have both reduced their hours of service and now receive visitors by appointment only. According to Fye, “two of our nation’s biggest institutional collections are confronting uncertain futures. This has important implications for scholarship.”
This is the most recent development of a trend for the dispersion and destruction of books from “most local and state medical libraries” in the US over the past fifty years. Fye also remarks that “medical history (defined broadly) is an under-populated, under-appreciated, and under-funded area” and “medical history libraries, always considered fringy by all but a few, face the prospect of having what little fringe remains trimmed away…” The new Ad Hoc Committee will investigate how this trend will impact on opportunities for research.