Launched? Check! Library’s New Digital Collections & Exhibits Website

By Robin Naughton, Head of Digital


Content inventory complete? Check.

New and enhanced scans created?  Check.

Content migration complete? Check.

All collections uploaded to repository? Check.

All metadata confirmed? Check.

Backend infrastructure secured? Check.

Design complete?  Check.

Quality assurance complete? Check.

Sign-off? Check.

Then, we’re ready for take-off.

Let’s launch!

We are very excited to announce the launch of our new digital collections and exhibits website.

Starting in 2016, we began working with Islandora, an open-source framework that provides a robust infrastructure for digital collection development.  Our goal was to migrate old collections and develop new digital collections.  Islandora offered a solution that was extensible, easy to use, and built on a foundation that included a preservation-quality repository (Fedora), one of the most extensible content management systems (Drupal), and a fast search (Solr).   With this base, we set about designing the interface, migrating and developing collections, and working to build a digital collection website that would make it easy for the public to explore the amazing collections available at the Library.

You can find us at

The homepage of the website will be your guide to our collections.  There you will find a showcase of our treasures from rare medieval manuscripts to 19th century advertising cards.  From the homepage, you can access a collection by clicking on the image for that collection, search for particular terms using the search box on the right, and browse recently added collections just below the search.  As you explore a collection, you will find that some use the Internet Archive BookReader to provide the experience of turning the pages of a book, while others appear similar to image galleries.  Regardless of the collection design, you can learn more from the descriptive metadata below the object, zoom in on a specific area, and download a copy of the image.

William H. Helfand Collection of Pharmaceutical Trade Cards

The William H. Helfand Collection of Pharmaceutical Trade Cards was donated to the Library between 1986 and 1992 by Mr. Helfand, a leading collector of medical ephemera.  The collection includes approximately 300 colored cards produced in the United States and France in the mid-nineteenth century that advertised a variety of goods. For example, if you’d like a cure for your corns and bunions, then “Ask Your Druggist for Hanson’s Magic Corn Salve.”  Maybe you’d like a solution that will work for multiple ailments such as “Ayer’s Cathartic Pills: the Country Doctor.”   Whatever your ailment, chances are pretty good you will find something in this collection that offers a solution.

As part of the Library’s early digitization efforts and grant funding in the early 2000s, half of the collection was digitized.  This project digitized the rest of the collection.  For the first time, the complete collection, duplicates and all, is available to the public.  Researchers and the general public can explore these trade cards in new and novel ways to gain an understanding of the collection as a whole.

The majority of the metadata on the cards are hyperlinked so that users can easily find information.  For example, if you were interested in a particular manufacturer such as “D. Jayne and Son,” then you can click on that manufacturer’s name to find all the cards associated with that manufacturer.  Also, if you’re curious about all the cards with cats or dogs, then you can search the collection for “cats” to see how many cats appear on trade cards or “dogs” for the number of dogs in our collections.  Let us know how many cats or dogs you find!

Rare and Historical Collections


The website includes a glimpse into our rare and historical collections material.   In one day, high-end photographer, Ardon Bar-Hama, courtesy of George Blumenthal, took photos of a subset of the Library’s treasures.  For example, if you’re interested in cookery, you can page through our Apicius manuscript with 500 Greek and Roman recipes from the 4th and 5th centuries.  Maybe you’re interested in Aristotle’s Masterpiece, or you just want to see the most beautiful anatomical images from Andreas Vesalius’s De Humani corporis Fabrica, or a skunk-cabbage (Symplocarpus Fœtida) hand-colored plate from William P. C. Barton’s Vegetable Materia Medica.  Whatever the interest, this collection offers a broad range of materials from the Library.

Launched? Check!

At the Crossroads of Art and Medicine

By Anne Garner, Curator, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

Our collections have always reflected the strong relationship between medicine and visual culture. Accordingly, since its creation in 2012 our blog has frequently taken up the intersection between medicine and art as subject. Below, we link below to a few posts that explore these crucial connections.

Most recently, Caitlin Dover featured The New York Academy of Medicine’s collections of illustrated medical books on the Guggenheim’s blog in “Doctors Without Borders: Exploring Connections Between Art and Medicine.” Her findings are in part the fruit of a visit with the Academy’s Historical Collections Librarian Arlene Shaner, who showed her a selection of books and ephemera from our Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room, showcasing the connection between physicians and artwork.

Robert Latou Dickinson sketch of the Rare Book Room on its opening in 1933, from the Academy's Annual Report, 1933

Robert Latou Dickinson sketch of the Rare Book Room on its opening in 1933, from the Academy’s Annual Report, 1933.

Our extensive collection of anatomical atlases demonstrates the close relationships of physicians and artists, who frequently collaborated to create works both for students of medicine and of art. These atlases show both the successes and failures of collaborations between anatomists and artists who worked together to communicate new medical knowledge. For Vesalius, the collaboration was a great success. In a guest post from 2015, our 2014–2015 Helfand Research Fellow Laura Robson discusses the way Andreas Vesalius’ great milestone work of 1543, De Humani Corporis Fabrica, relies on the synergy between plates and text, and how a later work that uses the Vesalian plates suffers when the anatomist’s text is eliminated. Another guest post by New York physician Jeffrey Levine explores the visual imagery of Vesalius’ famous frontispiece of this same work. Other writers use illustration to signal authority and knowledge. A 2015 post on Walther Ryff explores the ways that Ryff’s use of the counterfeit style in his illustrations implied eye-witness discovery.

Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564). De humani corporis fabrica libri septum. Basel: Johannes Oporinus, 1543. The most famous illustrations are the series of fourteen muscle men, progressively dissected. Some figures, such as this one, are flayed. Hanging the muscles and tendons from the body afforded greater detail, not only showing the parts, but how they fit together.

Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564). De humani corporis fabrica libri septum. Basel: Johannes Oporinus, 1543.

Our 2014 festival Art, Anatomy and the Body: Vesalius at 500 offered ample opportunity for critical thinking about the relationship between art and the body. Guest curator and visual artist Riva Lehrer describes her personal experience of the ways the body informs identity, and how that has shaped her own work as an artist in a 2014 post. A selection of images from several of our early anatomical atlases are featured in “Brains, Brawn and Beauty,” an exhibit that accompanied the festival, and are discussed here.

Finally, two posts on skeleton imagery highlight the tradition of danse macabre imagery in anatomical illustrations. Brandy Shillace’s guest post, “Naissance Macabre: Birth, Death, and Female Anatomy” examines depictions of the female body over time. For a look at the evolution of anatomical imagery with special attention to the tradition of portraying the human skeleton in vivo, visit our blog here. You’ll find a slide show hosted by Flavorwire featuring spectacular anatomical images from our collections.

Surgite mortui, et venite ad judicium (Arise, ye dead, and come to the judgment). Table 6. Click to enlarge.

Surgite mortui, et venite ad judicium (Arise, ye dead, and come to the judgment). Table 6. Click to enlarge.

Next month, the New York Academy of Medicine library will be undertaking an artistic project of our own. Capitalizing on the current coloring craze, we are starting a week-long special collections coloring celebration on social media, using the hashtag #ColorOurCollections. We’ll share images from our collections, as will friends at other institutions. We encourage you to color them, and share your colored copies on social media. Read more about how you or your institution can participate.


Coloring a camel from Conrad Gesner’s Historia Animalium, Liber I, 1551.