Michael Flannery shows off one of the rare books housed in The Reynolds Historical Library. The library is turning 50 years old this year and will celebrate the milestone with a special lecture at 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8 in the Lister Hill Library Ireland Room.
UAB is at the forefront of modern medicine and home to the most advanced therapies, procedures and imaging techniques. Its laboratories are developing tomorrow’s medical breakthroughs. But in one little corner of UAB, on the third floor of the Lister Hill Library of the Health Sciences, the focus is on the past. The Reynolds Historical Library — a treasure trove of more than 13,000 rare medical texts, letters and other documents  — is 50 years old this year.

UAB will celebrate the milestone with a special lecture at 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8 in the Lister Hill Library Ireland Room. Stephen Greenberg of the National Library of Medicine, History of Medicine Division, will discuss “Real Books: What They Are and Why We Still Need Them.” A reception in the Alabama Museum of the Health Sciences will follow.

Historical views

The Reynolds Historical Library was created in 1958 when Alabama-born physician Lawrence Reynolds (1889-1961) donated his collection of more than 5,000 rare books and letters to UAB. Reynolds was the son of a doctor — born in the small town of Ozark and educated at the University of Alabama and Johns Hopkins Medical School.

“His love of books began in his youth when he read to his father, whose eyesight was failing, as they traveled by horse and buggy from patient to patient,” said Michael Flannery, associate director of Historical Collections at UAB. “In his later years, Reynolds spent much time and money amassing exceptional works of medical literature.”

Three years before his death, Reynolds chose UAB over other suitors – including Yale, Wayne State University and the University of Michigan – to house his entire collection.

“Although he never practiced medicine here, his Alabama roots motivated him to return something of great value to his native state,” Flannery said. “The library nearly has tripled in size since and now is the core of UAB’s Historical Collections, which includes the Alabama Museum of the Health Sciences and the UAB Archives.”

Exceptional holdings

The oldest book in the UAB collection is a copy of Rhazes’ Ninth Book of the Al’ Mansuri, a medical textbook dating from 1388, one of only three remaining in the world. Another volume, Arnold of Villanova’s Brevarium Practicae Medicinae, is believed to date from 1485. One of the most impressive works is a leather-bound first edition of Andreas Vesalius’s On the Workings of the Human Body, a groundbreaking volume of human anatomy from 1543, dedicated to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

The library holds a 1628 work by William Harvey that first described the human circulatory system. It possesses one of only five copies of The English Physician by Nicolas Culpeper, the first medical book published in North America in 1708.

Other holdings include letters written by Louis Pasteur, Florence Nightingale, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. and George Washington.