Happy Monday, everyone! Those of us at the Daily Dose send best wishes to those beginning the new school year today — as students, teachers, parents, etc. Amidst the Monday chaos, today’s MedHum Monday post resumes our series of contributions from lovely individuals who work at medical history museums and libraries. Hanna Clutterbuck is here to share how the Medical Heritage Library takes the printed or filmed history of medicine and makes it available digitally for a much wider audience. Welcome, Hanna!
I work with the Medical Heritage Library, an online digital collaborative of leading medical libraries, including the Francis A. Countway Library at Harvard University, the United States National Library of Medicine, the Wellcome Library in the UK, and the College of Physicians of Philadelphia (a full list of our partners and contributors can be found on our website).
Our collection includes a wide variety of materials that all fit under the large ‘history of medicine’ umbrella. We have deliberately kept our scope large and we have monographs, journals, and audio/video items covering a wide variety of topics including the history of dentistry, plastic surgery, neuroscience, balneology, phrenology, physiology, psychiatry, psychology, the development of surgical technique, the history of anesthesia, and nursing history.
The MHL exists solely online at the Internet Archive. Each library retains the physical items in their collection and the digital files are available to anyone who can reach the Archive. The MHL is an ongoing ‘daylighting’ process for rare and unique items.
“Getting the word out” about the MHL is an ongoing process. I maintain a regular blog for the project and am primarily responsible for keeping our Twitter feed turning over (a task, I have to say, I greatly enjoy); a volunteer group from our governance committee maintains our Facebook page.
My aim, particularly with the blog and Twitter feed, is multi-fold: I try to highlight specific items that might be eye-catching or relevant to a current event or anniversary in medical history and I work to engage with individuals and institutions in history of medicine, medical humanities, or digital humanities. Since personally I’m excited about the potential for wide use of our collections, I try to bring that through in our digital spaces: if someone is excited about our materials because she can use them as inspiration for an art project, wonderful!; if someone tells us he’s happy to have found how image-heavy we are because he uses the designs (out of copyright, of course!) to make wrapping paper, great!; and if we get a message from a professor telling us about a class excited to use 19th century medical journals, that’s exciting, too!
When it comes to the Twitter feed particularly, I make an effort to remember accounts (individual and institution) we regularly engage with and to direct material that may be of interest; for example, I regularly chat to @thesismum, a recent PhD of nursing history. She has been an enthusiastic supporter and anything I put up that’s related to nursing history, I try to remember to push her way. She has closer ties to the nursing and history of nursing communities on Twitter than I do and has been kind enough in the past to point me towards the right Twitter hashtags.
We have also brought the MHL into the non-digital world through printing postcards for free distribution at member institutions, presenting at conferences including the Society of American Archivists and the Special Libraries Association, and speaking to people face to face about who we are, what we do, and how we do it.
As we all know, outreach is a never-ending work in progress: you’re never finished, you just think of a new thing to try!