Monday, May 25, 2009

Remembering the US Army: the National Library of Medicine's beginnings


Did you know the National Library of Medicine (NLM) was created by and existed for the United States military for much longer than it currently has served the American people through a Congressional mandate in 1956?

In 1818 the first Surgeon General of the United States Army, Dr. Joseph Lovell, dedicated some shelf space to medical books, journals and pamphlets to serve as reference for surgeons under his command. This small collection was officially named the Library of the Office of the Surgeon General of the Army in 1836, although by the 1860s Joseph Woodward was not impressed and stated, "At the time the late Civil War broke out nothing deserving the name of a medical library existed in Washington."

Despite low beginnings the collection grew and by 1895 under the direction of John Shaw Billings it contained medical literature from nearly every era and nation. After President Lincoln's assassination in 1865, the government purchased Ford's Theater and the collection, medical records and an Army museum were housed there. There were additional moves and a few name changes to Army Medical Library in 1922, then Armed Forces Medical Library in 1952.

For much more detail see Milestones in NLM History, A Brief History of NLM, and FAQ: History of the National Library of Medicine.

On April 15th, I thanked American taxpayers for sustaining NLM. On this Memorial Day, I thank the American military for creating & curating it for so many years in addition to our country's freedom.