The modernist environs of the Osler Library of the History of Medicine belie the true character of its antique collection of texts and instruments. Tucked away on the third floor of the concrete tower that is the McIntyre Medical Sciences Building, it is a trove of rare books and vintage furnishings, hidden amongst cutting-edge lecture halls and research labs.
The library was founded in 1929 to hold some 8,000 rare medical books, collected by the prominent physician William Osler in his “Biblioteca Osleriana,” but has since then acquired a collection of around 100,000 texts. This collection comprises up-to-date books and periodicals relating to the history of medicine, but maintains its focus on rare texts and primary source documents. The collection is used by students and professors in a variety of faculties at McGill, and by scholars around the world.
Accessing the collection was recently made even easier when the partial archives this collection was moved to another surprisingly high-tech location: the Internet. The Osler Library Archive Collection has, according to their website “over 100 collections of papers by or about doctors, medical students and organizations” that are now searchable in an online database. It contains historical records regarding Osler, the papers of numerous prominent Canadian doctors, and the course notes from McGill medical students in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. By archiving this material, the collection aims to represent the history of the practice, as well as the pedagogy, of medicine.