The College of Physicians & Surgeons (now the Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons) moved uptown in 1837 to Crosby St. after having been located on Barclay St. near City Hall for almost a quarter century. Along with its anatomical museum and chemical apparatus, the medical school also brought its library with it to its new home. Perhaps motivated by the new surroundings, recent P&S graduate Nelson Shook, Class of 1835, agreed to undertake – for free – an inventory and reshelving of the library’s contents.
He discovered a collection in appalling shape. In his report to the College Trustees he declared:
I found it in a most dirty and deranged condition; not more than one fourth of the books labelled; many missing and those too the most valuable belonging to the Library; those in the library badly arranged, covered with the accumulated dust of years so as to be scarcely legible.
Shook estimated there were about 1300 volumes in the library, with another 50 or 60 missing; he was proud to note that he had been able to retrieve many previously errant volumes including some “that have been out for two years or more.” He went on to describe his new arrangement of the volumes in four cases: “Reviews and Journals;” state papers and documents; works on chemistry, materia medica and therapeutics; and books in Latin and Greek.
The main problem with the library, Shook believed, was that it was badly out of date. The College hadn’t bothered to add any new volumes in over a decade and had even ceased subscribing to journals in 1825. As a result “there are so few books in the library which students are in the habit of reading” that in recent years it had generally been open only one day a week – sometimes less.
Shook was pleased the faculty had recently agreed to allot “a small sum for Reviews and Journals” and hoped that “something now will be done to purchase some of the standard works so as to render the library a source of some benefit to the students, whom complain much upon the subject.”
Unfortunately, Shook’s report doesn’t seem to have galvanized the Trustees into action. The library is barely mentioned in the College’s annual catalogs during 19th century and for long periods the position of librarian seems to have been vacant. It was only in 1912, with the appointment of Alfred L. Robert as library director, that a modern library emerged at the medical school.