Making Collections Accessible: The New York Academy of Medicine Library’s Health Pamphlet Collection

By Katarzyna Bator, Collections Care Assistant, Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory

Every library is likely to find parts of its collection in need of protective enclosures and unique storage solutions. As part of our responsibility for the physical care of the collections at The New York Academy of Medicine, staff in the Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory routinely engages in large-scale rehousing projects. One such project currently underway is rehousing the library’s Health Pamphlet Collection. We estimate the project will take up to three years to complete.

The Health Pamphlet Collection consists of 19th– and early 20th-century health-related publications in many languages. It covers a wide range of topics, such as nutrition, proper hygiene, exercise, as well as medical innovations and research.

A damaged document box housing health pamphlets.

A damaged document box housing health pamphlets.

Approximately 50,000 health pamphlets are currently housed in acidic envelopes or plastic bags. These are in oversized boxes too big for the compact shelving unit on which they are stored. This limits accessibility, as the compact shelving cannot move properly, leaving little room for a librarian to retrieve each box from the shelf. In addition, each box is heavy and overstuffed with materials. This puts the pamphlets at risk of damage during storage and retrieval, and is problematic for staff who have to move and transport heavy boxes for patron use.

Previous storage space, with overstuffed document boxes.

Previous storage space, with overstuffed document boxes.

As part of the rehousing efforts for this collection, staff members place each pamphlet in an archival envelope with a 10-point folder stock insert for additional support, and then into a custom-made enclosure. The design of the enclosure is borrowed from the New-York Historical Society Library’s conservation laboratory. It is economic, sturdy, easy to make, and most importantly allows for safe and easy access to the collection.

Storage space with rehoused pamphlets

Storage space with rehoused pamphlets

The process of rehousing a collection involves more than simply making new enclosures and moving items to a new space. In order to make the Health Pamphlet Collection more accessible, staff members also dry clean each item with soot sponges—absorbent vulcanized rubber dirt erasers— and assess them for other conservation treatment needs, which they record in a spreadsheet to address as needed over time. In addition, a volunteer is creating an accurate inventory of all of the pamphlets to aid in future cataloging updates.

The Health Pamphlet Collection contains a wealth of information for researchers; through this project, conservation staff hopes to guarantee its accessibility to patrons both today and for generations to come.

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.