MedHum Monday: Getting the Word Out with the Robert L. Brown History of Medicine Collection

DailyDose_PosterIt’s Monday again, MedHum Monday in fact. Today we are thrilled to be joined by Linda Lohr and Keith Mages of the Robert L. Brown History of Medicine Collection at the University of Buffalo. These two are skillfully tackling an all to common question in medical libraries — how do we get people to know we are here? Through partnerships both on and off campus, the R.L. Brown Collection is uniting history, health sciences and medical humanities to make their presence known. Take it away, Linda and Keith!


Established in 1972, the Robert L. Brown History of Medicine Collection is home to rare books, artifacts, and ephemera related to the rich history of medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, nursing, public health and the health professions. The comprehensive monograph collection contains works ranging from 1493 through the 20th century, with an extensive nineteenth century component featuring particular strengths in the subjects of anatomy, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, pharmacology, dentistry, and oncology. Within the History of Medicine Collection are several special components including the Bonnie and Vern Bullough History of Nursing Collection, the Edgar R. McGuire Historical Medical Instrument Collection, the Homer T. Jackson Collection and historical artifacts from the UB School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Historical artifacts from the UB School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences
Historical artifacts from the UB School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences


One comment that we hear far too often from visitors to the History of Medicine Collection, including our own University at Buffalo faculty, staff and students, is: “We didn’t know you existed!” In an effort to remedy this situation we have become more proactive in coming up with creative ways to spread the word about the Collection throughout the University and the greater Buffalo and Western New York community. In October of 2012 we put together an experimental event called “Hidden Treasures of the South Campus: A Walk into History.” Partnering with the special collections in the Health Sciences schools on the University’s South campus and with faculty from our Department of History, we arranged an evening of tours, a History of Medicine panel discussion and refreshments. Individuals from the University and the community attended and the feedback we received was very positive. As a result of this program, we partnered with two local tour groups for events that featured tours of the History of Medicine. These programs attracted people from the community with an interest in medical history and increased our visibility.

Guests exploring historical instruments in the Library Lobby

Another result of the “Walk into History” was that one of the professors in the History Department invited us to participate in three sessions of his course “Health and Illness in American History, during the Spring 2014 semester. The history students spent three sessions in the History of Medicine analyzing primary sources based on selections from the Collection, attending a presentation on how to find medical and social primary sources and presenting one or two of the best pieces of primary evidence that they found. We have been asked to participate in the professor’s class again this fall!

Over the past few years the History of Medicine has worked with students in the local “BOCES: Connections Health Related Careers program” that gives honors-level high school seniors the opportunity to observe careers in many allied health areas. The students come to the library to learn basic research skills on locating and evaluating quality health sciences literature using UB Libraries’ resources. Afterwards the students spend time in the History of Medicine Collection exploring old books, medical instruments and other resources. We look forward to continuing this activity in the future!

Students in the BOCE program at the library
Students in the BOCE program at the library

While we continue to explore new ways of raising our profile we still continue to pursue more traditional “in-house” endeavors. For a number of years we have had a presence at the annual Dental Convention in Buffalo which gives us a venue to make the Collection more visible to dental faculty and professionals from the University, Western New York and elsewhere. Programs through the Friends of the Health Sciences Library group are another way to promote the activities and resources of the History of Medicine. We have forged a close relationship with the Medical School Development/Alumni Department and as a result have often had a presence in their activities including Spring Clinical Day, an annual alumni continuing education event, and at various special events, such as the groundbreaking ceremonies for the University’s new Medical School complex.
We are looking forward to some future events as well.

RLBrown Hallway Display

In August we will participate in a local Family Health Fair sponsored by a state legislator with over 80 health care providers. We will provide a historical view of public health and hopefully will introduce the Collection to another diverse audience. Another opportunity for outreach is involvement with the new University at Buffalo’s Center for Medical Humanities which we recently learned about will offer programs that will engage medical students in humanistic learning, discussion and reflection. We were excited to hear of this new development and have taken steps to work with this group, including offering to host a session that will bring medical students to the Collection to learn about the history of medicine and its importance to their current studies.

We actively communicate digitally via our new website and our Twitter account @RLBrownHistMed as yet another means to reach a larger, more diverse audience.

About the Authors

Linda Lohr has been the Manager of the Robert L. Brown History of Medicine Collection in the Health Sciences Library at the University at Buffalo since 1997. She earned a B.A. and M.A. in French studies from the State University of New York at Albany and received a New York State teaching certificate for French, grades 7-12. She is a member of the Archivists and Librarians in the History of the Health Sciences.

Keith Mages is the senior assistant librarian with the R.L. Brown Collection. He has an undergraduate degree in Nursing, and a MLS from the University at Buffalo, a MSN in advanced practice psychiatric nursing from Yale University, and a PhD in the History of Nursing from the University of Pennsylvania. He is a member of the Archivists and Librarians in the History of the Health Sciences, the American Association for the History of Nursing, and the American Association for the History of Medicine.



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