From Submarine Blueprints to Intricate Fruit: Digital Collections of Historic Images, Science and Medicine

Library collections often extend far beyond just books and journals, and today’s digital collections offer free access to all types of multimedia.  Online collections from the Library of Congress include photos/prints, manuscripts, video, audio, maps, and even archived websites. One of my favorite types of digital collections are historic images in the science and medicine field.  It can be fascinating to see catalog images for intricate machines from a century ago, infographics from the 1950s about medical careers, or beautifully detailed watercolors of plants.  Here are a few of my favorite places to look for historic science and medicine image collections:

Library of Congress Digital Collections (Science and Technology) – View 19 collections, such as Architecture, Design & Engineering Drawings. This collection “covers about 40,000 drawings (described in more than 3,900 catalog records), spanning 1600 to 1989” and includes a wide range of architectural and engineering designs, such as a submarine design from 1806.

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[Submarine (“Submarine Vessel, Submarine Bombs and Mode of Attack”) for the United States government. Cock cavity and wheel details for “plunging boat”]
National Library of Medicine Digital Collections – I recommend exploring the almost 70,000 images within the Images from the History of Medicine collection.  Browse health-related advertisements, educational material, images of patients and healthcare professionals, medical illustrations, etc. from before 1600 to the present.  For example, check out this infographic from 1957 about the growing field of health service occupations.

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Health service occupations: a growing field of employment for both men and women

Smithsonian Libraries Digital Collections – One of my favorite collections, which I first became familiar with when hunting for online trade literature collections for patent searches, is the Instruments for Science, 1800-1914 collection.  This collection lets you browse through catalogs for scientific instruments and machinery from over a century ago.  Here’s an instrument called a “Moist Chamber” from an 1899 catalog, which was used to “keep a muscle and nerve preparation damp during the experiment” (yikes).

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Moist Chamber (pg 29)

United States Department of Agriculture Special Collections – Some science images are absolute works of art, like the watercolors of fruits and nuts from the USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection.  This painting of strawberries from 1914 is one beautiful example.

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Fragaria: Pine Apple

This is only just scratching the surface of online image collections…if you have a lot of time to kill, visit the British Library Flickr page, which offers over a million public domain images scanned from old books.

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My 5 Favorite Consumer Health Resources on MedlinePlus

MedlinePlus is, without a doubt, my favorite online consumer health resource.  MedlinePlus is the main consumer health portal created by the National Library of Medicine, and it has strict criteria to ensure that it only links to and publishes reliable, accessible, and high quality health information. The site offers a variety of tools for both the general public and healthcare professionals who work with the public, ranging from a medical encyclopedia to videos and multilingual patient information.

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Homepage of MedinePlus.

Here’s a quick list of my features on MedlinePlus:

  • Health Topics – Currently over 1000 Health Topics pages are available on MedlinePlus, and they cover “symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention for over 1000 diseases, illnesses, health conditions and wellness issues.”  The Health Topics pages include a basic summary about the health condition, followed by an organized list of links to relevant websites related to the condition.  Navigate through the list of links using a menu at the top of the page, with sections on latest news, diagnosis and tests, treatment, genetics, health check tools, clinical trials (links to ClinicalTrials.gov), journal articles (links to PubMed), find an expert, patient handouts, and much more.  The Health Topics pages also link to information on the health topic in multiple languages and related medical encyclopedia articles.
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Health Topics page on skin cancer from MedlinePlus.
  • Drugs and Supplements – Browse lists of generic or brand-name drugs and medical supplements to find information on “side effects, dosage, special precautions, and more.”  The pages on individual drugs and supplements include all information on one page (which can be easily printed), in consumer-friendly language.
  • Medical Encyclopedia – Browse through over 4,000 articles from the A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia on a broad variety of “diseases, tests, symptoms, injuries, and surgeries.”  The medical encyclopedia pages include links to other related encyclopedia articles and health topics, as well as medical photographs and illustrations.
  • Tutorials on Understanding Medical Words and Evaluating Health Information – The Videos and Tools section of MedlinePlus includes many useful links to health videos, health check tools, and games, but I want to highlight two tutorials available on MedlinePlus which tackle topics important to most people who aren’t healthcare professionals.  The “Understanding Medical Words” tutorial can be used to gain a better understanding of medical terminology and improve communication between patients and doctors, while the “Evaluating Health Information” tutorial teaches viewers how to judge the reliability of information found on health-related websites.
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Interactive tutorial “Understanding Medical Words.”

MedlinePlus has a number of additional features, like the latest health news and links to organizations and directories.  The site is an indispensable resource for the general public and any professional who provides health information to the public, due to its reliability, ease of searching, and wide variety of topics.