Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

May 25, 2017

Library Insider

Exploring Rare and Special Collections in Falk Library of the Health Sciences

Are you interested in how disease was treated in the past or what surgical methods were used before the invention of anesthetics? Or maybe you’re interested in deadly epidemics of the past or medical texts from the 17th century. If you are, then Falk Library of the Health Sciences in Scaife Hall should be your first destination for history of medicine research at Pitt. Falk Library’s collections include rare books, primary and secondary sources, special collections and archival materials.

Rare Books and Special Collections

Falk Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections originated with the union of materials from the former libraries of the schools of Medicine, Dental Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. These collections were further enriched with the deposit of rare books from the former Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic Library and major book donations from Gerald P. Rodnan (titles focusing on rheumatism and gout) and Mark M. Ravitch (titles relating to surgery, especially hernia). Also, included is a growing collection of unique and archival materials about people involved with the health sciences at Pitt and UPMC.

The rare books collection includes materials that require special handling due to their significance, fragility, value, age or rarity. Publication dates span from the 15th to the 20th centuries. Included are first editions of important medical texts, autographed or unique monographs, and limited editions of printed books, manuscripts, scrapbooks and pamphlets.

The library’s website provides additional information on resources available for historical research in the following areas:

History of Medicine Collection

The History of Medicine collection consists of approximately 11,000 secondary sources related to the history of medical education and ethics, hospital care, health care and health care policy, development of drugs and therapies, diseases and substance abuse, public health and epidemiology. Also included are reprints of classical texts that complement resources in our rare book collection. This circulating collection is available to the Pitt community.

Special Collections and Exhibits

Special Collections contains unique print and media materials of local interest, selected works by authors associated with the schools of the health sciences and Pittsburgh hospitals, publications produced by health-related departments at the University of Pittsburgh, artifacts such as medical instruments and medals, and several small archival collections, including the growing “Scope & Scalpel” archive. This archive includes playbills, posters, recordings and other materials from the annual musical productions written and performed by School of Medicine graduating classes for the past 63 years. The library is currently hosting a “Scope and Scalpel” exhibit titled “As the Years Go By – Scope & Scalpel Retrospective,” complete with posters and recordings from performances through the decades. Additionally, online exhibits provide access to several of our unique collections in digital form.

Accessing the Special Collections

There are many gems and fascinating items among Falk Library’s historical materials. Specially selected items are regularly featured in the bimonthly column, Treasures from the Rare Book Room, in the library’s newsletter, HSLS Update.

Researchers interested in our historical collections are encouraged to arrange a consultation with History of Medicine Librarian Jonathon Erlen or explore the collections on the library’s website. All materials are discoverable through PittCat. The rare and special materials do not circulate and may only be used in-house with access by appointment.

Online research might be fast and convenient, but it’s a treat to connect with the past in Falk Library’s beautiful climate-controlled reading room, surrounded by centuries-old volumes, holding an original edition in your hand. Climbing the hill to visit Falk Library is rewarded by the sensory pleasure of perusing an old book and feeling the smoothness of vellum or the softness of worn rag paper under the tips of your fingers. It’s worth the trip!

Małgorzata Fort is head of digital resource development for the Health Sciences Library System and the caretaker of its Rare Book and Special Collections.

Leave a Reply