The Michael M. Davis Papers and Economics in Medicine

By Carrie Levinson, Reference Services & Outreach Librarian

Recently, the Academy hosted a talk between Paul Krugman and Tsung-Mei Cheng, entitled “Priced Out: The Economic and Ethical Costs of American Health Care.” This event focused on Uwe E. Reinhardt’s latest book, which discusses today’s U.S. healthcare system. Krugman and Cheng delivered lively and nuanced explanations of why our system is so expensive, especially compared with other similar countries, the morality involved in having costs so high, and some potential solutions.

Michael_Davis_watermark

A photograph of Michael M. Davis from Michael M. Davis: A tribute, by Alice Taylor Davis and Gertrude Auerbach (1972?). NYAM Collection.

The debate about healthcare in the United States is not a new one, however. One notable medical economist whose collection is one of the most interesting in the Academy’s library, Michael Marks Davis, advocated for comprehensive medical care and national health insurance, and worked in many prominent organizations and committees throughout his career, including the Rockefeller Foundation, the Julius Rosenwald Fund, the Committee for Research in Medical Economics, and the Committee for the Nation’s Health (New York Academy of Medicine, n.d.).

Davis donated his collection of papers and reports in 1962. This collection is important because, among other things, it provides source material for studying some of the most significant historical legislative advances in the United States, as well as social trends of the 1920s through the 1960s, aspects of medicine and health in other countries, and confidential and other unpublished reports that likely are not duplicated elsewhere. Below is a short description of the kinds of material that can be found within these papers, originally compiled by Lee Ash (1967).

Series 1: Medical Economics and Medical Sociology

  • Material on medical care costs and studies by, for, and about the Committee on the Costs of Medical Care, including confidential reports; also material on state, industrial and cooperative medical plans, comprehensive group medical plans, and union health programs.

Series 2: Medical Care in the United States

  • Materials including confidential reports made for foundations in the United States; material on rural economic conditions from the 1930’s through the 1950s, and on rural health problems and programs, material on medical education, hospitals, and medical personnel.

Series 3: Legislation and Legal Aspects

  • Materials on legislation since 1950, and publications, reports, correspondence, and ephemera relevant to legislation prior to 1950, public assistance and child welfare, mental health, and state legislation, including sickness and disability insurance programs to be paid for by the state, and original texts of bills.

Series 4: Organizations

  • Samples of special reports, annual reports, and letters to and from Dr. Davis concerning the work of various organizations, grouped into the following sections: Professional Organizations, General Organizations, International Organizations, and Political Organizations.

Series 5: Medical Care in Foreign Countries

  • Public documentation and correspondence with leaders and private physicians concerned with social medicine and public health abroad; a good deal of material focusing on the National Health Service Act; published and unpublished reports from many other countries.

Series 6: Personalities

  • Correspondence, notes, comments, clippings, personality evaluations, and memorabilia to, from, and about all of the leaders Dr. Davis associated with in his work.
Article with graphs looking at illness and income

Article with graphs looking at illness and income in Volume 21 of the Michael M. Davis papers. NYAM Collection in Public Health in Modern America, 1890-1970 .

These short descriptions don’t even begin to cover the richness of the Davis collection. With over 400,000 pieces (Ash, 1967), it might seem insurmountable to researchers, but that’s not the case. We have an excellent finding aid that goes into more detail about the materials and how to find them, as well as giving detailed biographical information on Dr. Davis. Not enough for you? You may recall our blog post about our partnership with Gale to digitize material related to public health in America. Well, this entire collection can be found in Gale’s new database Public Health in Modern America, 1890-1970! If your institution doesn’t subscribe to it, you can make an appointment to view it at our library.

Conversation and arguments about healthcare costs and structure are unlikely to stop anytime soon, but with collections such as Davis’s available to those who are interested, we can understand the history of such discussions in going forward.

References

Ash, L. (1967). The Michael M. Davis Collection of Social and Economic Aspects of Medicine. Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 43(7), 598–608. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1806900/

New York Academy of Medicine (n. d.). Library of social and economic aspects of medicine of Michael M. Davis [Finding aid]. New York, NY: Author. Retrieved from https://www.nyam.org/library/collections-and-resources/archives/finding-aids/ARM-0003.html/

Get Your Primary Sources! Public Health in Modern America & Archives of Sexuality & Gender, Part III

By Robin Naughton, PhD

The New York Academy of Medicine Library has closed stacks, and as such, the serendipitous nature of browsing the shelves and discovering a gem stuck between two unlikely neighbors is limited to the librarians working in the Library. Thus, it is important that we provide patrons with access to the material in ways that they too can explore. This is a major goal of the Digital team, and it is made possible through a variety of digitization projects. Most recently, the Library partnered with Gale, a Cengage company, to digitize materials for two mass digitization projects: Public Health in Modern America, 1890-1970 launched in June 2019 and Archives of Sexuality & Gender, Part III: Sex and Sexuality, Sixteenth to Twentieth Centuries launched in February 2019.  Within the past year, the collaboration with Gale has helped the Library to digitize over 6,600 items, which represents almost a million images created.

Contributions

The Library contributed archival collections, and rare and historical materials for each project, providing users with access to major primary sources.

PHIAF0004-C00000-B0209700-00020

Bouton, S. M. (n. d.). Old Doc Politics is back again. New York: Public Relations Bureau Medical Society of the State of New York. Pamphlet in New York Academy of Medicine Library collection; digitized for Public Health in Modern America database.

Public Health in Modern America includes:

  • The Committee on Public Health of the New York Academy of Medicine – a collection of correspondence, reports, minutes, and documents on the significant work of the committee with New York’s health department and leading figures in public health. It is a collection about the New York Academy’s contribution and role in public health at the time.
  • Library of Social and Economic Aspects of Medicine of Michael M. Davis – a collection of the work of Dr. Davis in the early twentieth century, covering topics such as healthcare, medical economics, social security, legislation, and more.
  • Selected Public Health Pamphlets – over 2,200 pamphlets on various aspects of public health from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century.
Sanger_cover_cropped

Sanger, M. (1913?). What every girl should know. Reading, PA: Sentinel Printing Co. Book in New York Academy of Medicine Library collection; digitized for Archives of Sexuality & Gender database.

Archives of Sexuality & Gender includes:

  • Monographs – over 1,500 monographs on a variety of topics dealing with sex, sexuality, and gender.
  • Mary Ware Dennett Case Collection – an archival collection of the court case against Dennett for writing “The Sex Side of Life,” a pamphlet about sex for young people.
  • Correspondence between Eugen Steinach and Harry Benjamin – a collection of over forty years of correspondence about rejuvenation, including letters, postcards, diagrams, and photographs.

Together, these two products represent significant digitization making rare and unique materials available. Researchers can now go deep in ways not possible prior to digitization. For example, the material has optical character recognition (OCR), which means that researchers can search for a term and discover all the places where that term exists within a text, across the collection, or across the product, which includes collections from other collaborators. In addition, the products offer options to jump to diagrams, photographs, and other material types within a given item.  Thus, researchers now have direct access to substantial databases of primary source materials that they can analyze in novel ways.

External Digitization Process

Creating these products took tremendous amount of collaboration among multiple organizations and people.  For the Library, these products required the external digitization process, which was one process out of many that made it possible to seamlessly digitize this material. The external digitization process included an intricate tracking of each item digitized from the moment it was identified and taken off the shelf to moment it was returned to its place on the shelf.

The external digitization process workflow describes the steps involved.

Gale Production Process

External digitization process flowchart, created by the author.

Green indicates start and end.  White indicates steps in the process.   Yellow indicates that there are additional processes involved with their own workflows. Red indicates that there is an issue that needs to be resolved.

External digitization projects make it possible for the Library to digitize materials on a large scale and make the content available to universities and research institutions from Gale. It also makes the products created available to patrons in the Library. Thus, patrons visiting the Library can have access to these databases while in the Library.

Interested in using these databases in the Library? Click here to find out how to make an appointment to visit.

“Alas, Poor Daft Jamie’s Pickled!”: Poetry Concerning the Resurrectionists

By Carrie Levinson, Reference Services and Outreach Librarian

You may have heard about “Resurrection Men” – people who robbed graves and even killed people to fill the unprecedented demand for cadavers in medical schools in the nineteenth century. You may have even heard the names William Burke and William Hare: two of the most notorious body-snatchers and murderers who ever lived. But did you know that there is poetry about these bizarre and tragic events?

 The New York Academy of Medicine Library has a digital collection, The Resurrectionists, which contains broadsides, ballads, pamphlets, poetry, and other literature concerning Burke and Hare, their accomplices, and their victims. Since it is National Poetry Month, we’ve decided to feature some of the poetry contained in this collection.

First, however, a little bit of background. William Burke and William Hare were two ne’er-do-wells in 1820s Scotland who enjoyed drinking and working as little as possible (Barzun, 1974). When another occupant in their lodging house passed away from natural causes, they sold the body. Soon they found that bodies for the medical schools (particularly, the anatomy and physiology class in Edinburgh taught by Dr. Robert Knox) were in high demand, but not in ready supply. To capitalize on this newly-discovered stream of funds, the group quickly turned to murder. Their first victim was likely a miller by the name of Joe, and more followed (Barzun, 1974).

Unfortunately for them, Burke, Hare, and their accomplices made a number of mistakes resulting in their capture: they murdered a prostitute by the name of Mary Paterson, who was a client of one of the doctors and whom he recognized (though he kept quiet at the time); they also killed a well-known and -liked young man known in town as Daft Jamie, whose disappearance was immediately noted and speculated upon (bringing suspicion upon Dr. Knox as well); and they also began to quarrel amongst themselves. Their arrest came after a couple who knew their last victim, Mrs. Docherty, went to the police (Barzun, 1974).

 

 

 

Hare was offered immunity to testify against Burke and Helen MacDougal, Burke’s mistress. After the trial, deliberations took less than an hour: Burke was declared guilty, while MacDougal went free. Burke’s punishment: he was to be publicly hanged, his skin to be tanned and sold in strips, and his body to be dissected and then lectured upon, much like the bodies he had murdered for profit (Barzun, 1974). Burke was hanged on January 28, 1829, and his skeleton is still on view in the Anatomical Museum of the Edinburgh Medical School. Hare left Edinburgh in disguise and soon disappeared. One enduring legacy was a new verb, to burke, originally meaning to kill by smothering (in order to leave a good body to dissect!), and now broadened to mean to suppress.

 

A huge amount of literature was generated from these morbid events, including, arguably, the genre of crime fiction (Barzun, 1974). Here are a few examples of the poetry: one, an elegy for William Burke, and two poems lamenting the death of Daft Jamie (Jamie Wilson).

Elegy__page_2

We hope you will peruse this collection and marvel at the many effects Burke and Hare’s dastardly deeds had on the law, medicine, and literature. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to write a poem of your own!

  References

Barzun, J. (1974). Murder for profit and for science. In J. Barzun (Ed.), Burke and Hare: Resurrection men: A collection of contemporary documents including broadsides, occasional verses, illustrations, polemics, and a complete transcript of the testimony at the trial (pp. v-xii). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.

Facendo Il Libro: The Making of the Book (and a digital collection and exhibit)

By Anne Garner, Curator, Rare Books and Manuscripts, and Robin Naughton, Head of Digital

The Academy Library is thrilled to announce “Facendo Il Libro: The Making of Fasciculus Medicinae, an Early Printed Anatomy.”  This online exhibit, focused on an astonishing and influential medical book first published in Italy in 1491, was made possible through the generous support of the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

Originally collected in manuscript form, the Fasciculus Medicinae (the “little bundle of medicine”) is a richly illustrated collection of medical treatises on uroscopy, phlebotomy, anatomy, surgery, and gynecology.  The Fasciculus Medicinae was first published in 1491, but demand for it made it a favorite text for printers. By 1522, it had been issued more than twenty times.  Variations in the text and the illustrations through time show the early modern tension between medieval medical ideas and advances in medical understanding forged at the beginning of the 16th century.  The exhibit allows visitors to browse full-text scans of all five editions (1495–1522) in The New York Academy of Medicine’s collections; to investigate each edition’s exquisitely illustrated woodcuts and to explore their cultural and medical meanings; and to compare the books’ illustrations in different editions over time.  The site includes contributed essays from Dr. Taylor McCall, art historian of material culture and medieval medicine at the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, and from Dr. Natalie Lussey Seale of the University of Edinburgh, whose work focuses on early modern Venetian print culture.  Dr. McCall’s essay looks at the creation of the text and its accompanying illustrations, while Dr. Seale’s essay offers a window into Venetian printing processes in the 16th century and describes the making of a book in early modern Italy.

frontispiece_1495_watermarked

Frontispiece, 1495.

The illustrations of the Fasciculus Medicinae offer an intriguing glimpse of medical practice in the 16th century.  The book’s woodcuts include narrative scenes depicting the earliest Western depiction of dissection in print, an early illustration of a diagnostic consultation showing a professor analyzing a urine flask, and a physician, holding an aromatic sponge to his nose to avoid infection, attending a sick plague patient confined to his bed.  Other woodcuts help us to understand early modern conceptions of health and illness.  The Fasciculus Medicinae’s female anatomical figure captures late medieval ideas about women’s bodies, reproduction, and pregnancy.  A “Wound Figure” graphically depicts the various threats to the body, from blows to the head down to the prick of a thorn on the feet.  Perhaps most surprising of all, the Fasciculus Medicinae’s “Zodiac Figure,” who balances all twelve zodiac signs on his body, conveys the powerful role the stars and planets played in health in the medieval imagination.  This figure, who dates to earlier manuscripts from the medieval period, survives well into the twentieth century, appearing alongside horoscopes in a modified form in print in American almanacs produced by pharmaceutical companies.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Delmas Homepage imageThe Facendo Il Libro website has a simple design, but a complex structure.  It is both a standalone digital collection and an online exhibit built using Islandora, an open-source digital repository framework.  Representing the first full-text internal digitization project for the Academy Library, the five editions of the Fasciculus Medicinae were digitized in the Library’s Digital Lab. The online exhibit was built using an Islandora multi-site to leverage the digital collection repository (Fedora), Drupal Book module, and the current Library branding theme.

The ability to draw from the common repository made it possible to store content once and use it in multiple ways.  Thus, the five digitized editions are available in two different places using a single source.  The built-in navigational structure for the exhibit makes it easy for users to explore the collection in a linear fashion or by sections.

First images of the 1500 edition

Replicating the physical experience of touching the text is still a challenge for digital projects.  Thus, it was important to create a digital experience that provides the user with some sense of the materiality of the object. For example, the 1500 edition was bound with another text (Savonarola’s Practica medicinae), which is evident from the first digital image of the book. The image shows the thickness of the text and the fact that the 1500 edition begins in middle of the physical object. It shows the user exactly what will be encountered when using the physical item.  It also highlights a significant piece of information that could have been lost due to cropping.

Another important aspect of the online exhibit is the illustrations page, where users can see all the illustrations from all editions in one place.  When a user clicks on an illustration, the user is immediately taken to a page with descriptions of each illustration as it appears in each edition.  To explore the images, users can click on an image and zoom in to see the intricate details.

Facendo Il Libro: The Making of Fasciculus Medicinae, an Early Printed Anatomy” offers a great opportunity for users to learn and explore the Library’s five editions of Fasciculus Medicinae in context.

Explore Facendo Il Libro Online Exhibit.

Delmas Post Shop Ad

Intern in our Digital Lab this Summer

The New York Academy of Medicine’s Library is looking for a digital intern to work in the Library’s digital program.  The internship will provide hands-on experience with creating and building digital collections, editing metadata for digitization projects, and conducting quality control of scanned images. The Intern will have an opportunity to learn about the digitization process and how to build digital collections.

We are looking for an intern who is imaginative and interested in learning more about developing digital collections and how metadata is used to enhance collections.

The internship is paid or may be taken for course credit.

Duties and Responsibilities

  • Create digital collections on Islandora website
  • Collect, edit, create and organize metadata according to standards
  • Conduct quality control on scanned images and digital collections

Qualifications and Experience

  • Familiarity with technology, digital collections, and/or digital humanities projects
  • Experience with metadata schemas (e.g. MODS, Dublin Core, MARC, IPTC etc.)
  • Knowledge of XML, XSLT, and OCLC
  • Coursework in Library and Information Science

Start Date: June 2018.

Hours: Approximately 10 hours a week for 12 weeks.  Intern must be available 2 days per week between the hours of 10:00am-5:00pm, Monday through Thursday.

To Apply

Please forward cover letter and resume with “Digital Intern” in the subject line to library@nyam.org.  Please also outline your academic needs for obtaining course credit, if applicable.  Deadline: May 18, 2018.

Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature: Medical Botany

By Robin Naughton, Head of Digital and Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian
Cross-posted at The Biodiversity Heritage Library blog.

The New York Academy of Medicine Library has contributed nine digitized titles (11 volumes) on medical botany to the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) as part of the Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature project.   It is very exciting to share some of the Academy Library’s botanical resources with the wider public.

While the Library’s collections include a large number of printed botanical books dating back to the beginning of the sixteenth century, for this project we were interested in identifying resources that could be sent to the Internet Archive for external digitization, which meant that we concentrated on our holdings from the second half of the 19th century forward through 1922.  After generating lists from our online catalog, we checked to see if any of these resources had already been digitized by the BHL, Internet Archive, or HathiTrust.  For this process, we developed a set of simple guidelines.

  • Resources not available via BHL, Internet Archive or HathiTrust remained on the list.
  • Resources already available via the BHL were eliminated from the list.
  • Resources already available via the Internet Archive were eliminated from the list because BHL harvests content from the Internet Archive, so there would be no need for us to digitize that content.
  • Resources already available via HathiTrust could still potentially be digitized for access via the BHL based on whether our copy provides additional information for the public once digitized. For example, the Indian Medicinal Plants (Kīrtikara & Basu, 1918) has been partially digitized by HathiTrust, but the volume with the images was missing. As such, it became important for us to digitize so that it would be fully available.

We went through multiple lists and rounds of de-duplication to narrow down our potential submission.  Once we finalized the list, Scott Devine, Head of Preservation, conducted a conservation assessment to determine which resources could be sent out for digitization and which were so fragile that they could only be digitized in house.  We separated these into two lists.  The first list was sent to the Internet Archive for digitization and is our contribution to BHL.   The second list will be a project for our new digital lab and we hope to make them available at a future date.

Fig2

Indian Medicinal Plants (1918), plate #256 showing Leea Sambucina.

The Indian medicinal plants (Kīrtikara & Basu, 1918) stood out as a resource to digitize and share widely.  It documents the medicinal plants found in India.  The authors describe a need to provide a text that reproduces illustrations of Indian medicinal plants from other works since there were few prior to this publication.  Dr. W. Roxburgh’s text, reprinted in 1874, was used as a reference throughout.

Although Indian medicinal plants did not focus on the use of plants in the development of drugs, this theme can be seen throughout the resources submitted to the BHL. Each author grapples with the role of plants in the creation and production of drugs.

Fig3

A course in botany and pharmacognosy (1902), plate #1 showing organized cell-contents.

In A course in botany and pharmacognosy (1902), Henry Kraemer, Professor of Botany and Pharmacognosy, defines pharmacognosy as the “study of drugs of vegetable origins.” Kraemer devotes the first part of his text to plant morphology and the second part to pharmacognosy.  In addition, he provides illustrations to aid in the study of both parts so that students can connect the descriptions throughout the text to the visual representations.

Fig4

Pharmaceutical Botany (1918), fig 57 showing leaf bases, species and compound leaves.

Youngken’s Pharmaceutical botany, 2nd edition (1918) was expanded to take advantage of the growing area of botany, including a section on drug-yielding plants.  The text focuses on the morphology and taxonomy of plants used in drug development.

In Pharmacal plants and their culture (1912), Schneider argues that the majority of imported plants used in medicine could already be available in the United States.  He focuses on California and outlines what can be cultivated and grown in the state.  Schneider provides a list of uses and common names.

The medicinal plants of Tennnessee (1894) is an observational inventory of Tennessee’s plants and their descriptions based on a similar project conducted by North Carolina.  Published by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, the report emphasizes the importance of documenting and understanding the native plants of Tennessee and how they can help increase usage and revenue.

Overall, readers of this collection can begin to understand the role of plants in the creation, development and economic viability of drugs.  Many of the resources provide some form of inventory, index or list that documents the plants and associated drugs.

All titles submitted by the Academy Library to BHL:

The BHL Expanding Access project is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Open Access to Your State Medical Society Journals

By Robin Naughton, Head of Digital

In 2015, The New York Academy of Medicine Library embarked on a mass digitization project with the Medical Heritage Library (MHL), a digital curation consortium.  Over the course of two years, the Academy Library along with MHL collaborators digitized state society medical journals from 48 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.  The Academy Library contributed state medical journals from 37 states, which accounted for 716 volumes of the digitized content now available.   Today, you can find, 97 titles, 3,816 volumes and almost 3 million pages of digitized journals on the Internet Archive.

Digitizing the medical journals of state societies has been an amazing experience for the Library and it is a significant contribution to preserving our cultural heritage and making it accessible to anyone with an internet connection.  Researchers and the general public now have access to a major resource on medical history that includes journals from the 19th and the 20th centuries that would not otherwise be available to the public.  “One of the great values of having the state medical journals online is the willingness to provide full-text digital content for materials that would normally be available only with limited content because they are still in copyright,” says Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian.

Dr. Daniel Goldberg, Associate Professor at University of Colorado, Denver and 2016 Academy Library Helfand Fellow, agrees:

“As an intellectual historian, medical journals in general are really important for my work because they can reveal much about significant ideas and concepts circulating in medical discourse.  I am working on several projects where the specific local and state histories are crucial to the story I am trying to tell, so having full access to digitized state medical journals will be enormously helpful.  I continue to be so grateful for the important work of the MHL and its partners!”

A quick exploration of the journals can be the catalyst for a deeper research project across many disciplines.  For example, what style and design trends can be identified from the covers of the Illinois Medical Journal?

SMJournals
Illinois Medical Journal through the years.

We invite you to explore the journals, use them, and share with us how they’ve impacted your work: https://archive.org/details/nyamlibrary

So, You Want to Build a Digital Program? (Part 2)

By Robin Naughton, Head of Digital and Audrey Sage Lorberfeld, Digital Technical Specialist

This is the second in a two-part series on the creation of the Academy Library’s Digital Collections and Exhibits website. Part 1 is here.

Sometimes opportunities arise that you just can’t pass up. In late May 2017, our Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Anne Garner, suggested a digital exhibit of items from our collection that would showcase the history behind many of the magical elements from J.K. Rowling’s beloved Harry Potter series; and suggested its launch coincide with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone‘s 20th anniversary on June 26. While we were a new digital team of two with new digitization equipment, we were up for the challenge. That is how we wound up creating the online exhibit, “From Basilisks to Bezoars: The Surprising History of Harry Potter’s Magical World,” in a mere 6 weeks.

Leo, Astronomicae Veteres_watermark

Leo from Aldus Manutius’ Astronomici veteres (1499).

Our first stop was to Garner, who, within a week and a half, handpicked two objects (including our infamous bezoar) and 34 images from over 20 different books  for us to digitize. While we were hustling to photograph these items in the lab, Garner was busy creating robust image metadata for us to ingest into Islandora. Next, we got to work churning out XML records through the use of OpenRefine and an Apple script, and then we were in the quality assurance phase. Once everything was checked, it was time to launch!

Of course, there were bumps along the road, too. At one point, we realized we had digitized the wrong phoenix! At another point, we had to go into all of our XML records and manually add in a download button. There were also some late Friday and Sunday nights spent working on our laptops to make the collection as perfect as possible. Bumps notwithstanding, we launched on-time, and the collection received a lot of great attention.[1]

contentselection

Anne Garner takes us through the images she has selected for digitization for our Harry Potter-inspired collection.

So, what did we learn from the launch of our digital program? We quickly discovered that it takes time and skill to create metadata. Both Garner and our Head of Cataloging, Rebecca Filner, expertly provided us with extremely detailed metadata for our current collections. Even in its quickest iteration, metadata-creation takes weeks![2]

We also learned that no digitized image is wasted. As we mentioned in Part 1, many of the digitized rare books with which we launched our Digital Collections were photographed for a separate project the Library had completed a few years earlier. The photographs were impeccable, so why double the work? Instead, we used what the photographer, Ardon Bar-Hama, gave us and co-opted these previously-shot images for our Digital Collection site. (Some notable examples are the Apicius and the Guy de Chauliac.)

robin

Our Head of Digital, Robin Naughton, trying out the new equipment.

And finally, we learned that the easiest part of the digitization process is photographing the items. As long as your equipment works, you are good to go! We received training by our expert Conservation staff in how to handle rare items, and we hit the ground running.

For those wishing to start a digital lab in your library, we have some hard-earned advice, all of which focuses on communication and outreach (the tech is the easy part!):

First, reach out to local colleagues who have been doing this longer than you. We visited many digital labs before our launch, including the beautiful labs at Columbia University, The Frick Art Reference Library, and the Museum of the City of New York. Each lab had a different setup, different workflows, and different amounts of staff with unique backgrounds. Without this exploratory research, we have no doubts our lab would not have done as well as it has.

Second, join listservs. Without the listservs to which we subscribe, we would not have gained nearly as much knowledge as we did before launch. Two great listservs to join are ALA’s digipres listserv and the ImageMuse Yahoo group’s listserv. We even reached out to a wonderful colleague from Coastal Carolina University because we admired how he used OpenRefine and the command line to batch-create and –export XML metadata records. He shared his script with us, and the rest is history. We now use his workflow in our lab for nearly every project.

teachingothers

Now we are even sharing our knowledge with others!

Third: join or create a digitization-related community in your area. By way of using the free, open-source Islandora platform for our digital collections, we became part of a very active and supportive network of Islandora admins, managers, developers, and vendors around the world. While that is incredible, it is also nice to have a support system in your own backyard. So, we co-founded the New York City Islandora Working Group with some colleagues from other institutions. Our group is open to anyone, regardless of whether they currently use Islandora. We meet once per month and share skills, ask each other questions, and, of course, eat pizza and sip wine together. It’s one of the most worthwhile professional endeavors we have been a part of, and our members have been instrumental in getting our lab up and running.

The secret to success really is communication. Talk to people, and you will learn so much!

Footnotes:

[1] “Study for your O.W.L.s with Library’s Harry Potter-Themed Online Collection” (DNAInfo); “There’s a New Digital Harry Potter Book Collection from NYC’s New York Academy of Medicine Library” (untapped cities); “Celebrating 20 Years of the Philosopher’s Stone Inside the Mini-Hogwarts in New York City” (The Verge); “Attention Harry Potter Fans: There’s A Mini-Hogwarts In East Harlem” (Gothamist)
[2] For those library-science fans among you, why didn’t we just pull the metadata from our online catalog? We did! But we encountered a lot of library-speak that we did away with for our Digital Collections audience and wanted to add some new metadata.

So, You Want to Build a Digital Program? (Part 1)

By Robin Naughton, Head of Digital and Audrey Sage Lorberfeld, Digital Technical Specialist

There is a moment before a system is officially live when all the pieces align to create perfection. That moment arrived for us on June 5, 2017, when we launched our Digital Collections and Exhibits website. The launch represented the culmination of 18 months’ work towards implementing a new digital software system (Islandora), migrating content, digitizing new material, and building an internal digital lab.

We took a structural approach to this undertaking. The first structure we wanted to tackle was our software. We selected Islandora, an open-source software framework, which offered an active community and support for small institutions. The community was a major driver in our decision. We wanted support from a diverse group of people who included librarians, software developers, and administrators.

To get our Islandora instance set up, we opted for a vendor-hosted solution. Since we were new to the system, and had a small team with no developers, this was the best move for our institution. Out of a few different vendors, we selected DiscoveryGarden. They were instrumental in getting our system up and running (including customizing our theme to align with the Academy’s branding). We ended up with an amazing homepage that shows users all the resources the Library has to offer.

Wireframe for new theme development (Left). Design mock-up for theme (Right).

Next, we shifted our focus to the content: what would fill the pages of our Islandora repository? A few years prior, courtesy of George Blumenthal, photographer Ardon Bar-Hama took photographs of some of the Library’s rarest books. We determined that co-opting already-digitized content would be the perfect first project for our new system.  Better still, Anne Garner, the Library’s Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, had already written descriptions for these images. With the help of digital assistants, volunteers, and interns, the images were cropped, separated, and augmented with robust metadata. This project alone gave us 13 rare books to showcase in our repository without requiring any new digitization.

For our next project, we explored migrating an older digital collection from our legacy system, ContentDM, to our new Islandora system. We chose the William H. Helfand Collection of Pharmaceutical Trade Cards because the digitization that took place almost a decade prior had not captured the entire run of the collection. So, not only could we migrate the old content from ContentDM, we could also add new content.[1]

contentdm

The previously-digitized cards from the William H. Helfand Pharmaceutical Trade Cards collection on ContentDM.

Armed with lots of digital images at this point, we began the long-awaited test and launch phases of this process. Such questions as will the system render correctly? Will it handle the large number of users? What are the load times? went through our heads frequently. There were many hours spent performing quality assurance on everything, but that is necessary. Do it right once, and you will be set for the future.

At the same time as all of this pre-launch processes were taking place, we were also building our physical digital lab. We purchased a refurbished digital, medium-format camera, strobe lights and Capture One software for cultural heritage institutions, dusted off an old copy-stand we found hiding out in the Library, and outfitted it on top of a workbench to serve as our digitization environment.

Building a digital program takes time and resources. We are fortunate to have a supportive institution and to be part of a very active community that has done, is doing, and planning to do the same or similar digitization projects. On the morning of June 5, 2017, everything worked. The launch was a success, and the feedback we received was stellar.

Coming up in part 2, we will take you through the creation process behind our Harry Potter-inspired digital collection; go over general lessons we learned over the past 2 years; and share some recommendations for those of you thinking of starting a digital lab of your own.

labsetup_3

Our digital lab setup. We’re ready to digitize everything!

Footnote:
[1] For those of you who like to get into the nitty gritty of digital asset management, in order to migrate these legacy Helfand scans from ContentDM to Islandora, we exported the ContentDM metadata into Excel spreadsheets, conducted an inventory of these original images, added to the inventory data related to the new items we were putting into the collection, and voilá!

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Our Hogwarts Digital Collection

By Anne Garner, Curator, Rare Books and Manuscripts

When Hogwarts librarian Irma Pince first appears in book one of the Harry Potter series, published twenty years ago this week, she is brandishing a feather duster and ordering young Harry out of the library where he’s pursing the noble (and ultimately world-saving) task of looking up the alchemist Nicholas Flamel.

Rare book room

Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room.

Pince doesn’t exactly scream poster-child for open access.  And yet, a chance look at our card catalog recently revealed that the Academy Library might have something in common with Hogwarts, aside from its ambiance (The Library’s Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room, nestled on a locked mezzanine level of the Academy that visitors sometimes call its “Hogwarts floor,” frequently invites comparisons.)  That something is our collections.

To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the publication of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, The New York Academy of Medicine Library has launched a special digital collection, “How to Pass Your O.W.L.s at Hogwarts: A Prep Course.” Featuring rare books dating back to the fifteenth century, the collection reveals the history behind many of the creatures, plants and other magical elements that appear in the Harry Potter series.

The digital collection is organized as a fictional study aid for Hogwarts students preparing for their important magical exams, the O.W.L.s. The collection is organized into seven Hogwarts courses, featuring historical content related to each area of magical study. For example, the Transfiguration section focuses on alchemy and the work of Nicholas Flamel—a historical figure who is fictionalized in Rowling’s books.  Both Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and seventeenth century scientific literature represent Nicholas Flamel as an important alchemist responsible for achieving the philosopher’s stone (the real Flamel was a wealthy manuscript seller, and likely never an alchemist himself).

Nicolas Flamel's Hieroglyphicks_watermark

Salmon, William. Medicina Practica, or the Practical Physician, 1707, featuring Nicholas Flamel’s Hieroglyphics.

The collection’s Care of Magical Creatures section features spectacular centuries-old drawings of dragons, unicorns and basilisks—plenty of prep material here to keep the attention of young wizards during this third year elective course.

The early naturalists Conrad Gessner and Ulisse Aldrovandi both devoted entire volumes of their encyclopedic works to serpents.   Some illustrations depicted snakes as we might see them in the natural world.  Others celebrated more fantastical serpentine creatures, including a seven headed-hydra and a basilisk.  Said to be the ruler of the serpents, the basilisk (from the Greek, basiliskos, for little king) looks a little like a turtle with a crown on his head.

Aldrovandi's Snakes_watermark

Aldrovandi, Ulisse. Serpentum, et draconum historiae libri duo…, 1640, pp. 270-271.

Aldrovandi's Basilisk_watermark

Aldrovandi, Ulisse. Serpentum, et draconum historiae libri duo…, 1640, p. 363.

Off campus proves to be where the wild (er) things are.  In book one of the series, Voldemort gains strength by ingesting the blood of a unicorn.  Rowling’s unicorns have healing properties and can act as antidotes to poison.  The qualities Rowling assigns to these beautiful and rarest of beasts echo their characterization in early modern natural history texts.  Several of these works —illustrated encyclopedias that depict and describe both real and fantastic animals in the sixteenth century—present the unicorn as powerful healers.

We’ve written already about the French apothecary Pierre Pomet’s illustrations of the five types of unicorns, and his assertion in his 1684 history of drugs that unicorn horns sold in most apothecary shops were actually the horns of narwhals.

Pomet's Unicorns_watermark

Pomet, Pierre. Histoire generale de drogues, traitant des plantes, des animaux, & des mineraux…., 1694, p. 9.(Click Here for a coloring sheet of this image!)

Conrad Gessner’s 4500 page encyclopedia of animals, the Historia Animalium, also includes a depiction of a unicorn (below). Gessner writes that unicorn horn and wine together can counteract poisons, and assigns it other efficacious properties.

In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, we meet a band of spirited and enigmatic centaurs in the Forbidden Forest.  Centaurs and mer-people fall into a category throughout the series of what Rowling refers to as “half-breeds”:  hybrid creatures who are part man or woman, and part animal. This category of beings is often diminished for being somehow less than fully human.  In the books, half-breeds don’t have the civil rights that other wizarding folk have. Hagrid, Dumbledore, and others are sympathetic to the creatures—In Harry’s fifth year, Dumbledore appoints one as Hogwarts’ Divination Professor.

While the History of Magic taught at Hogwarts is largely fictional, the Academy Library contains books in the real-life history of magic, including the 1658 manual Natural Magick by Giovanni Battista della Porta and a manual for witch-hunters by della Porta’s rival, Jean Bodin—two highlights of the digital collection. Another featured treasure is an actual bezoar (ours comes from the stomach of a cow, ca. 1862), and is used as a key potions ingredient by Hogwarts’ students.

As Hermione Granger says, “When in doubt, go to the library.” We hope you’ll heed her advice and check out our new digital collection, “How to Pass Your O.W.L.s at Hogwarts: A Prep Course.”

Shop Ad for Harry Potter post