Letter from Michael E. DeBakey to William G. Reidy
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2 (154,128 Bytes)
1955-12-20 (December 20, 1955)
DeBakey, Michael E.
Reidy, William G.
United States Senate. Committee on Labor and Public Welfare. Professional Staff Member
MS C 47, National Library of Medicine (U.S.) Papers relating to the construction of a new medical library, 1874-1959, Modern
Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine (USA).
Reproduced with permission of Katrin DeBakey.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Supporting the Medical Enterprise: DeBakey and National Library of Medicine
Letter from William G. Reidy to Michael E. DeBakey (December 27, 1955)
Recently I learned that the Secretary of Defense has decided to drop from the Defense construction budget the funds requested
for the new building for the Armed Forces Medical Library. This action characterizes the difficulties that have plagued the
library for so many years and have prevented it from carrying out its function as a National Medical Library.
As we indicated in our Hoover Commission Report as well as in my article on the "Future of the Army Medical Library"
these difficulties will continue so long as the library remains in its present irrational administrative status and without
proper legal authorization to function as a National Library of Medicine. Over the past 10 years I have given this problem
much thought and have become increasingly convinced that these difficulties can be solved by higher authority and specifically
by Congressional action. The Medical Departments of the Armed Forces have clearly demonstrated their inability to resolve
the dilemma in which they find themselves on this matter, i.e., of controlling the operation of the library but of being unable
to support and develop its proper function as a National Institution either on a military or a legislative basis. This problem
is clearly reflected by the inability of the Armed Forces to obtain a new building for the library despite the fact that it
has been obviously badly needed for over 30 years as well as to meet its responsibilities as a National Library of Medicine.
It is further reflected in the letter dated October, 1955, to the Honorable Lister Hill from the Armed Forces expressing opposition
to the enactment of S 2408 and S 2482, identical bills "to establish a national library of medicine." The essential
basis for their opposition lies in the statement that the "Accomplishments of the library are a matter of pride to our
military organization and give it prestige." To be sure some effort is made to rationalize the need of the library to
military medical personnel in the conduct of day-to-day military medical programs throughout the world," but the fact
remains (and of course this is omitted from the letter) that this constitutes only a small part of the library's activities.
Its major and predominate lies in the service it provides civilian medical science.
This letter, thus, points up the reason that the library has remained on "dead center" for so long and has been unable
with the passage of time to meet the growing and now urgent need of a National Library of Medicine. On the one hand the Armed
Forces have strongly opposed its transfer or release of its operation. On the other they have been unable to justify its operation
as a National Library of Medicine on a military basis. As a consequence it has suffered badly from inadequate housing and
its growth and development have been severely hampered. In my opinion this dilemma can be resolved only by courageous action
In the drafting of a bill for establishment of a National Library of Medicine there are certain thoughts which I should like
to have you consider. These are concerned with the objectives or mission of the library. Its basic purposes should be (1)
to acquire such books, periodicals, films, recordings, prints, and other library materials which are pertinent to medicine;
(2) to organize these materials for use through appropriate cataloguing and indexing; (3) to make these materials available
though lending, photographic or other copying procedures and provision of reference assistance; and (4) to insure their preservation.
One of the most important functions of a National Medical Library is concerned with bibliographic control of current medical
literature by means of special indexes and regularly published compilations such as the Index-Catalogue, the Current List
of Medical Literature, and the Quarterly Cumulative Index Medicus. As I have stated previously a prompt comprehensive index
to current medical literature is of growing importance in this day of rapidly advancing scientific investigations. It is this
activity of the library which can best serve medical science and research today.