Explore the Academy Library Timeline

By Robin Naughton, Head of Digital 

The New York Academy of Medicine Library began in 1847 with the intention of serving the Academy fellows, but in 1878, after the collection had expanded to include over 6,000 volumes, Academy President Samuel Purple and the Council voted to open the Library to the public.  It continues to serve both the Academy fellows and the general public, providing an unprecedented level of access to a private medical collection.  Today, the Academy Library is one of the most significant historical libraries in the history of medicine and public health in the world.

The Academy Library’s history spans almost 170 years and a glimpse into this history is documented in this interactive timeline. While the timeline does not represent everything that has occurred in the Library, notable milestones can be seen here. The story starts with the founding of the Library on January 13,1847, with a gift from Isaac Wood of Martyn Payne’s Medical and Physiological Commentaries and continues forward to the recent renovation and naming of the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room.



Figure 1:  The New York Academy of Medicine Library Timeline (Created using Northwestern University’s Knight Lab Timeline JS).


Timeline Highlights


New York Academy of Medicine, Archives.




Academy’s First Permanent Home: In 1875, the Academy purchased and moved into its first permanent home at 12 west 31st Street. This image of the Academy’s first building will take you back to a different time.





New York Academy of Medicine, Archives.





Academy’s Current Home: In 1926, the Academy moved to its current location on 103rd Street and 5th Avenue. The architectural firm York & Sawyer designed the building.  A 1932 expansion added three new floors on the northeast side of the original structure above the existing floors.  Today, you can visit the Academy at this location and explore the historic building.






Apicius’ de re culinaria, 830 A.D. 



Cookery Collection: In 1929, Margaret Barclay Wilson gave the Academy her collection of books on food and cookery, which includes a 9th-century manuscript (De re culinaria) attributed to Apicius, and sometimes referred to as the oldest cookbook in the West.




George Washington’s lower denture, 1789.



George Washington’s Teeth:  Yes, that’s right!  In the spring of 1937, the descendants of John Greenwood gave the Academy the lower denture created by New York dentist John Greenwood for Washington in 1789. The denture is just one of the artifacts that the Library owns.





Librarians Gertrude L. Annan and Janet Doe, both in The Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine., vol. 50, no. 10, 1974.



Honored Librarians: In 1974, the Academy honored Gertrude L. Annan and Janet Doe, long-time librarians for their contributions to the Library.





There are many more highlights in the timeline so click through and enjoy.

The Tech

The Academy Library timeline was created using Northwestern University’s Knight Lab open-source timeline tool called TimelineJS. The tool was released under the Mozilla Public License (MPL), making it possible for anyone to create timelines to embed and share publicly.

TimelineJS is an easy tool to create a timeline with just a few steps. Here are some things to keep in mind when creating a timeline:

Content: Have content ready prior to creating

It’s important to have content ready prior to creating the timeline.  For the Academy Library timeline, there was already a text version of the timeline that could be used to create the interactive timeline. Together Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian and I edited, updated and added images to the timeline. Starting with some content allowed us to devote time to enhancing the timeline by finding and adding associated images.

Media:  Make media publicly available

It is important that the media resources used in the timeline are publicly available.  TimelineJS uses URLs to access and display the media files (images, videos, maps, Wikipedia entries, Twitter, etc.). Thus, items behind firewalls or logins will not be accessible to the public. Make sure to upload images to a publicly available server and use that URL for the timeline.

Google Sheets: Add all content and links into spreadsheet and publish

Google Sheets is the data source for the timeline and this means that all data for the timeline is managed in Google Sheets. Once the Google Sheets file is published, the URL is used by TimelineJS to create the timeline, link to the timeline and embed code for websites.

If you’re familiar with Google Sheets or have used any spreadsheet program, then you know the process of adding content to the spreadsheet. If you haven’t used any spreadsheet program before, think of Google Sheets as a table with multiple columns and rows where you’ll input data for the timeline.


Figure 2:  TimelineJS Google Sheets Template

To get started, the TimelineJS template and directions provide a good guide to the parameters of the timeline with each row representing a screen and each column a component of that screen. For example, the date structures are very flexible and the timeline can include a full date and time or just a year. Also, in the background column, adding a hex number for color can change the background color or including a link to image will show a background image.


Hoping for the Best, but Preparing for the Worst: A Disaster Preparedness Workshop

By Emily Moyer, Collections Care Assistant, The Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory

Puzzling over what to do with materials.  Alan Galicki supervises, far right.

Puzzling over what to do with materials. Alan Balicki supervises, far right.

On December 11, Alan Balicki, chief conservator at the New York Historical Society, came to NYAM’s Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory to lead an afternoon workshop about the importance of disaster planning, response, and recovery. The Conservation Lab recently rolled out a comprehensive Collections Disaster Plan detailing the proper protocols for dealing with disasters and Alan’s workshop was a great way to cap off this project.

Facilities staff experiment with draping techniques to protect against a leak.

Facilities staff experiment with draping techniques to protect against a leak.

The most common risk that libraries face is flooding due to pipe leaks or severe weather conditions. All the staff from Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health as well as several members from the Facilities Department had the opportunity to see what happens when materials get wet (all items used were set to be discarded). Center staff members were also able to engage in hands-on experimentation on how to dry different items based on their materiality and to ask questions in a non-disaster setting. Staff were encouraged to return to the lab the next day to see how the items had dried and engage in conversation about best practices.

Wet items everywhere!

Wet items everywhere!

VHS, film, and photographs.

VHS, film, and photographs.

We experimented with a variety of materials, including coated paper, leather covers, colored paper, shrink wrapped materials, photographs, audio-visual materials, and blueprints. Staff practiced interleaving soaked books, draping with plastic, and basic techniques for dealing with wet and fragile materials. Workshop participants dried materials using best practices (fanning and interleaving) as well as unorthodox methods (keeping the materials wet and closed) in order to compare the results. It was very instructive to witness how thoroughly books soaked up surrounding water, and how quickly coated paper began to “block,” or stick together, when wet. It was not surprising that some colored papers and Post-it notes bleed when wet, but seeing how quickly and dramatically they reacted to water was a good cautionary lesson. Conversely, it was encouraging to see how effectively shrink wrapping protected items from water.

Paper, cloth, and leather materials.

Paper, cloth, and leather materials.

Alan gave a thoughtful presentation on real-world dangers faced by libraries, and impressed the group with his capable and pragmatic approach to disaster planning. Thanks to everybody for a great learning experience, and especially to Alan for his time and expertise.

What Soldiers Read

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

During World War I, the American Library Association (ALA) undertook a million-dollar campaign to bring libraries to soldiers in United States training camps and cantonments. The ALA detailed these efforts in its regularly published War Library Bulletin and War Libraries, distributed by its Library War Service.

"Action in the New York City campaign." From War Library Bulletin, volume 1, number 6, April 1918.

“Action in the New York City campaign.” From War Library Bulletin, volume 1, number 6, April 1918. Click to enlarge

The ALA asked each United States city to contribute monetarily in “an amount equivalent to 5% of its population” and collected books and magazines at local libraries. These materials went to ALA-established collection centers throughout the country before being forwarded to camps. (The Red Cross and Y.M.C.A. took on the work of distributing reading materials to troops abroad.) By January 1918, the ALA had raised more than $1.5 million dollars to build and staff libraries, buy additional titles, and transport materials.

What kind of reading material did soldiers want?

"What books do the men read?" From War Library Bulletin, volume 1, number 4, January 1918.

“What books do the men read?” From War Library Bulletin, volume 1, number 4, January 1918.

Soldiers also read for pleasure. As Burton E. Stevenson wrote in the January 1918 War Library Bulletin article “What Soldiers Read”:

"Men now have time to read." From War Library Bulletin, volume 1, number 4, January 1918.

“Men now have time to read.” From War Library Bulletin, volume 1, number 4, January 1918.

There is an impression in some quarters that our soldiers have no time to read. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most of them have more real leisure than they ever had before. They are free practically every evening, and not only free, but without the distractions most of them had in civil life. There are no parties, no dances, no social engagements, and many of them find that the most pleasant way to spend an evening in camp is with a book. So, in one camp, one man has started to read Boswell’s “Life of Johnson.” Another is wrestling with Bergson’s “Creative Evolution.” Another has started Gibbon, and is working hard to finish it before he is sent to France. Still others are beginning courses of reading in various branches of English literature, under the direction and guidance of the librarian.

The cover of the June 1918 War Library Bulletin trumpets the campaign’s successes:

The front cover of War Library Bulletin, volume 1, number 7, June 1918.

The front cover of War Library Bulletin, volume 1, number 7, June 1918.

"Delivery counter at Camp Lewis A. L. A. library." From War Library Bulletin, volume 1, number 4, January 1918.

“Delivery counter at Camp Lewis A. L. A. library.” From War Library Bulletin, volume 1, number 4, January 1918. Click to enlarge.

But there was still more to be done: the August 22, 1918 War Libraries issued a new challenge: “We are going to ask the American people, in the week beginning November 11, 1918, for $3,500,000 with which to carry on the Library War Service for another year.”

On the very date selected by the ALA, of course, World War I ended. The next year, President Wilson proclaimed the date Armistice Day; in 1954, November 11 became Veterans Day to honor all American veterans, not just those from World War I.1

By the end of the war, ALA’s Library War Service had raised more than $5 million and distributed more than 10 million books and magazines. There were also long-term results: the Library War Service’s work led to the founding of the American Library in Paris and American Merchant Marine Library Association.2

The back cover of War Library Bulletin, volume 1, number 7, June 1918. Click to enlarge.

The back cover of War Library Bulletin, volume 1, number 7, June 1918. Click to enlarge.


1. United States Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs. History of Veterans Day. Available at: http://www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp. Accessed November 6, 2014.

2. Online Archive of California. Preliminary Inventory to the American Library Association War Service Records, 1917-1923. Available at: http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/tf8n39n9nm/admin/#did-1.7.1. Accessed November 6, 2014.