Rare Books and Journals

Archives and Special Collections has approximately 27,000 books and several hundred journal titles relating to the history of the health sciences dating from 1476 into the 20th century. All books printed through 1922 are held by the department as well as journals titles before 1876. The department also holds some selected books after that date because of their significance in the history of the health sciences. The other rare book collections - the Webster Library of Plastic Surgery, Freud Library and the Nightingale and Hyman Collections - while housed in the department, are described elsewhere.

Because of their historical importance, rarity, or physical fragility, rare books do not circulate and can be read only in the department's Geraldine McAlpin Webster Reading Room.

The collection is a comprehensive library in the history of the health sciences but is particularly strong in anatomy, physiology, surgery and dentistry. Anatomical titles include most of the classic works in the field from the 16th into the 20th century, including multiple copies of Vesalian titles. The physiology collection is rich in 17th century works, particularly William Harvey and his supporters and detractors. Surgery holdings are extensive and the Jerome Webster Library of Plastic Surgery is one of the most comprehensive in the world on this surgical specialty. Dental titles include almost 80% of those listed in Morton's Medical Bibliography ("Garrison & Morton"), the standard subject bibliography, as well as many 19th century dental journals. Other subject strengths include medical Americana, medical education, and European spa books from the 18th and 19th centuries. In addition, there are 22 incunabula.

Besides Webster's, the rare book holdings include the libraries of Columbia professor of anatomy George S. Huntington (1861-1927), and professor of physiology John Green Curtis (1844-1913).

Most books and all journals printed before 1876 are held on-site; many, though not all, book titles printed between 1876 and 1922 are stored in ReCap, the Columbia University Library's off-site book facility, and must be requested through the department.  Retrieval time is 1-2 days.

Most titles dating after 1700 can be found in CLIO, the library catalog. Some titles, especially those printed before 1700, only appear in the card catalog located in the circulating collection stacks on Lower Level 2. The Archives & Special Collections staff can help you find a title.