Historic Medical Library at Pennsylvania Hospital opened its
doors in 1762, making it the oldest medical library in the country,
and in 1847 the American Medical Association designated it as
the first, largest and most important medical library in the
United States. Under the stewardship of a handful of bibliophiles,
medical, scientific, historical and other volumes were consistently
acquired and donated throughout the library's history. Although
the first librarians did not intend for Pennsylvania Hospital's
medical library to be a historical collection, it has evolved
as such. For many years, Philadelphia was the American center
for medical and scientific knowledge, and the hospital's library
can attest to that history. Now, in the late 20th century, the
historic collections of the library are maintained separately
from a contemporary library used by current medical staff, nurses
Pennsylvania Hospital's library had its early beginnings through
two friends of Benjamin Franklin: Dr. John Fothergill and Dr. John
Coakley Lettsom. In 1762, Dr. Fothergill sent the first book
for the library. The following note was made in the minutes of
the Board of Managers' meeting on July 27, 1762:
William Logan, lately returned from London, attended the Board
with a book entitled "An Experimental History of the Materia
Medica" by William Lewis, F.R.S., lately published in London,
being a present to the Hospital by Dr. John Fothergill for the
benefit of the Young Students in Physic who may attend under
the Direction of the Physicians, which is kindly accepted by
the Managers as an additional Mark of the Doctor's benevolent
Regard to this Institution, and William Logan is requested to
him with our grateful Acceptance thereof.
In 1763, the staff physicians requested that student admission
fees to clinical lectures be used toward the purchase of books
for the library. The development of the library was further aided
by gifts and bequests from physicians. In 1767, 43 volumes were
received from Dr. Lloyd Zachary's estate, and 55 classics in
medicine from the estate of Dr. Benjamin Morris.
In 1775, Dr. Lettsom was appointed agent for selection of medical
books in London. He purchased them from William Strahan, the
London bookseller immortalized by the Scottish writer James Boswell.
Strahan also contributed money and books for Pennsylvania Hospital's
A student was appointed to supervise the library. Very stringent
rules were made and enforced regarding the use of books; only
managers, physicians and students were allowed to borrow them.
The library was open one hour in the morning and one hour in
the afternoon, twice a week. Each borrower was required to sign
a promissory note to guarantee against damage or loss. Certain
texts, such as William Hunter's Gravid Uterus with illustrations
by Jan Van Rymsdyk, could only be used in the library under the
watchful eye of the student librarian. At the end of a one-year
appointment, the student librarian had to account for every book
and pay for any that were lost.
During the Revolutionary War, acquisitions were almost at a
standstill. Dr. Benjamin Rush, a prominent physician, author
and civic leader on the medical staff, complained in 1783 that
medical information in the United States was eight to 10 years
behind Europe. The Board immediately began to rectify the situation.
By 1790, when the first printed catalogue was prepared by Dr.
Rush and Dr. Thomas Parke, the collection amounted to 366 volumes.
In 1800, a portion of a very important collection was donated
to the library. William Byrd of Westover, Va., was one of the
most acclaimed book collectors in America, and his 3,625-volume
library was famous throughout the world. Upon his death, his
widow sold the library to Isaac Zane, who kept the books in Virginia
until 1781 when he sent them to his family to sell at a Philadelphia
auction. (It is rumored that Thomas Jefferson wanted to purchase
some of the volumes but claimed they were too expensive.) Zane
died in 1795 and his books were sold piecemeal until 1800 when
his sister, Sarah Zane, gave 124 medical and scientific volumes
to Pennsylvania Hospital. Several scholars have traced the dispersement
of Byrd's library and it is believed that Pennsylvania Hospital
has the largest collection.
In 1817, the Board purchased the library of Dr. Benjamin Smith
Barton from his widow. Dr. Barton was a distinguished botanist
and his library contained many beautiful volumes, such as the
six volumes of Pierre Joseph Redoute's Les Liliacees,
Mark Catesby's Natural History of Carolina and outstanding
herbals of John Gerarde and Dr. Jacob Christoph Trew.
Herbals were very much in use in colonial medicine and these
outstanding classics were valuable additions to the library collection.
Also donated were several volumes from the Byrd library which
had been purchased by Dr. Barton. These books were now reunited
with the original Byrd collection on the shelves of Pennsylvania
The Influence of Early Bibliophiles
In addition to the apothecaries and physicians who served as
honorary librarians and library committee members, the hospital
is indebted to two book-lovers: William Gunn Malin and Dr. Francis
William Gunn Malin became associated with the hospital in 1824
as a clerk and later as the librarian. It is primarily due to
his influence that the major classics in medicine were acquired,
including many of the 11 incunabula bound in 10 volumes. (Incunabula
refers to books printed before 1501 in the earliest period of
publishing history.) Malin also purchased subscriptions to important
medical journals in all languages and had the sets bound. In
1829, he prepared a comprehensive catalog of the library, including
the earlier 1790, 1794 and 1806 catalogs, as well as a history
of the development of the library. The rate of growth of the
library under his direction was approximately 150 volumes per
In 1840, Malin became steward of the hospital's newly opened
psychiatric facility, The Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital.
He was no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of the
library, but he continued to take an interest in its operation
and supervised it until his retirement in 1883. Additional catalogs
were published in 1837 and a completely new "catalog raisonne" was
prepared by Dr. Emil Fischer in 1857. A rough draft for an additional
catalog was written in 1883. Malin contributed much to medical
librarianship, medical bibliography, hospital management and
mental health care.
The second great bibliophile in the library's history was Dr.
Francis R. Packard. He served the hospital as an intern, resident,
staff physician, historian and honorary librarian. His long association
with the hospital began in 1894 and continued until his death
in 1950. His great concern for books and libraries led him to
ask the hospital's Board of Mangers for funds to employ a librarian
to prepare a card catalog and classify the library materials.
Dr. Packard did much to encourage the use of the library by scholars.
He also authored a history of the institution: Some Account
of the Pennsylvania Hospital of Philadelphia from 1751-1938.
As the library expanded, additional space was required and it
was moved from the apothecary into its present room when the
Center Building was completed in 1804. From approximately 1824
to 1835, the collection was moved to other places and this room
was used as a lying-in area. In 1835, the room was made a library
again and continues as such today. In 1847, the American Medical
Association designated it as the first, largest and most important
medical library in the country. It continued to grow after this,
but at a slower pace because medical schools and medical societies
were beginning to build library collections.
The library was not developed to be a rare book collection,
although some items are now scarce. Instead, the collection was
assembled for use by the physicians and students at a time when
Philadelphia was recognized as the center for medicine and science
in America. From the accessions lists, one can evaluate the transit
of medical knowledge from Europe to America; from the borrowing
records, one can get a picture of how soon this knowledge was
accepted. Dr. Packard decided, in an effort to preserve the volumes,
that the collection should be maintained as the Historic Library
and a contemporary collection of medical literature for the residents
and interns was begun. The Packard Reading Room was established
in 1950 as a memorial to him.
The Library in Modern Times
In 1974 and 1976, the Historic Library received grants from
the National Library of Medicine to inventory and catalog the
collection in order to make it more accessible for scholarly
research. Today, the collection count is 8,700 books and 4,500
bound journals. The Historic Library possesses the richest resource
in early medicine belonging to any hospital in the United States.
Although much can be learned from the early medical volumes,
our contemporary collection follows the tradition established
in 1762 of collecting up-to-date information. Professional medical
librarianship has followed the path Malin began. As he contributed
to medical bibliography, the contemporary library participates
in union lists and surveys. And as he contributed to hospital
management and mental health care our library collects literature
in these areas for present day hospital staff members.
We have what is considered by many to be one of the most comprehensive
collections of nursing literature in the area. The library is
also a major contributor to the Health Science Library Consortium,
a network exchange of health care information for medicine, nursing
and other disciplines.
Other Historic Collections
The richness of Pennsylvania Hospital's library is complemented
by the scope of our other historic collections, which include
archival materials, paintings, photographs and memorabilia.
The archives at Pennsylvania Hospital trace the development
of health care and public policy since the mid-1700s. Records
relating to both our 8th Street facility and former 49th Street
facility are available for research. The wide range of materials
consists of Board of Manager minutes; admission and discharge
records; administrative and financial records; and personal correspondence
of physicians and superintendents.
The memorabilia collection includes hundreds of diverse medical
artifacts, such as antique surgical kits and World War I scrapbooks
from hospital nurses. The photograph collection features Dr.
Thomas Story Kirkbride's Magic Lantern slide collection.
The Historic Library and other special collections are available
for research use. Interested researchers may write or phone for
an appointment on weekdays between 9 am and 5 pm. Interlibrary
loan of historic materials is not available. Reference services
are available; a fee may be required depending on the complexity
of the research request.
For more information, please visit the Historical
Collections site or call the Pennsylvania Hospital Archivist at (215) 829-5434.
to 1751 - 1800