Tapes, Health, and History: Gaining Reel (to Reel) Experience at the New York Academy of Medicine

By Michelle Krause, Spring Intern

Intern Michelle Krause with audio-visual materials in the library's collection.

Intern Michelle Krause with audio-visual materials in the library’s collection.

I am a graduate student in the Moving Image Archive Program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. To complete the program, students must complete two semester-long internships and one full-time summer internship. This semester I completed my first internship for the program at the New York Academy of Medicine, under the supervision of Archivist Rebecca Pou.

When the opportunity presented itself to intern at the New York Academy of Medicine, I immediately applied for the position. I come from a family of doctors and am extremely interested in the medical field. I knew I would be fascinated to work on preserving a collection of audiovisual materials relating to medicine.

I was fortunate to work with three collections throughout my internship at the Academy. The largest collection I worked with consisted of 447 magnetic recording tapes (in reel-to-reel format) of medical lectures recorded in the late-1950s to the mid-1970s at the New York Academy of Medicine. My duties included organizing the materials and corresponding the reels with their appropriate series. After this task was complete, I catalogued all of the information on each reel into an item-level spreadsheet.

Labeled reels.

Audio reels in the library’s collection.

Throughout the course of my internship, I gained and strengthened numerous skills; for example, collection management, inspection, cataloging and knowledge regarding audiotape reels. Before embarking on this internship, I had no experience in collection management (I would eventually take a course on the topic during the spring semester), however after having completed the internship I feel completely confident in the field. It was especially helpful that Rebecca allowed me to choose my own method of assessing and cataloging the collection; as a result I felt confident in my choice of action, simultaneously improving my skills as a cataloguer.

An audio reel.

An audio reel.

I devoted countless hours to inspecting the audiotape reels, which emphasized to me that it is necessary to perform tasks slowly if one wishes to complete a thorough assessment of a collection. Completing this internship has increased my knowledge of magnetic recording tape, especially in reel-to-reel format, as well as how to correctly identify damage to audiotape reels. I could not have asked for a better internship or supervisor this semester so I can only hope that my experience this semester is repeated in future internships. Because of my work with the collection, the library now has a clearer picture of what these collections contain, and can move forward with work to preserve them and make them more accessible.

The NYAM Lectures: Medical Talks by Eminent Speakers (Items of the Month)

By Latrina Keith, Head of Cataloging

WNYC-LogoThe New York Academy of Medicine and New York Public Radio (NYPR) have digitized and cataloged some 40 radio broadcasts produced by NYAM and originally broadcast over WNYC radio in the 1950s. These lectures are drawn from the more than 1,500 original lacquer discs transferred from NYAM to the NYPR Archives in 2008. The digitization and cataloging resulted from a joint project between NYAM’s Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health and the New York Public Radio (NYPR) Archives, and with a grant from METRO, the New York Metropolitan Library Council.

The New York Academy of Medicine and WNYC-FM began their radio relationship in 1946 with the launch of The Laity Lectures—later to become Lectures to the Laity—a popular series of Academy lectures and talks on culture and medicine that had started in 1935. By mid-1950, this series was joined by For Doctors Only, which aimed to bring “the best of the meetings, conferences, and roundtable discussions held at the academy” to the medical profession and also addressed critical analysis of issues of society and medicine, as well as the application of the social sciences to medicine, and provided academic presentations in the history of medicine.

The current periodicals room of the New York Academy of Medicine Library, circa ____.

The current periodicals room of the New York Academy of Medicine Library, photographed by Irving Underhill, 1872-1960.

Lecture topics include gerontology, aging, nutrition, cancer, public health, heart disease, dermatology, psychiatry, and the role of the physician and the law, among others. Along with such informative topics, there were notable guest lecturers such as American anthropologists Margaret Mead and Ralph Linton; Dr. Sidney Farber, the father of modern chemotherapy and pediatric pathology; noted gerontologist Dr. John Steele Murray; and Dr. Leona Baumgartner, the first female commissioner of New York City’s Department of Health from 1954-1962. Baumgartner will be the focus of the upcoming Iago Galdston Lecture, “Making Public Health Contagious: The Life & Career of Leona Baumgartner, MD, PhD” to be presented by Dr. Hilary Aquino on December 4, 2014 at NYAM.

Making these historical hidden treasures available to all is a great achievement for both NYAM and NYPR. We hope that one day the entire radio broadcasts will be restored for the educational and cultural benefit of all.