Who Uses All This stuff?

by Kathie Johnson, Curator of History Collections for Kornhauser Health Sciences Library

You might ask what kind of people are interested in all of this old stuff that I care for and preserve, besides me, of course, – books, journal, manuscripts, and even artifacts. You might find surprising the wide variety of interests and research topics held by our researchers.

  • Here at Kornhauser Health Sciences Library, our number one clients (in pure volume only) are genealogists tracing their family lineage and suddenly find that an ancestor attended medical school in Kentucky. Since UofL School of Medicine has been in existence since 1837 and at one time there were seven medical schools in Louisville, four of which were absorbed by UofL in 1908, we have thousands of alumni.
  • The Schools of Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing, and Public Health, the Alumni and Development Offices, and the Deans of the four schools on HSC campus often have questions about individual past students, faculty, and/or the curriculum.
  • Most departments or offices on this campus will at one point or another develop an interest in their own history, especially if they are approaching an anniversary year. At that point, the individual assigned with putting together a department, unit, or school’s history usually contacts me in a panic, ending in relief that we have files that can be of help.
  • Scholars, usually writing an article or a book
  • Students, usually writing a paper or working on a project which they believe will be enhanced by doing research in the History Collections.

I get a lot of inquiries about our alumnae and I use all the tools that I have on hand to assist the researcher. Most of these researchers live too far away to travel here for this purpose. As I look up the information (if we have it) I always learn something about Louisville, UofL, medical education, and medical practice.

Offices such as the Deans of the four schools and Alumni and Development can be in need of a photograph, a date, or a specific piece of paper, and when someone calls, I hope I can find exactly what they need. Many of those in leadership at schools, units, offices do not think about history other than memorizing dates and names and show no real interest. That changes when approaching an anniversary year for that school, unit or office. That is when these individuals become researchers, looking for photos, artifacts, publications to tell their story, whether it be in an article or a book; a stage production, or a small exhibit in their building. And this is when they really appreciate the work that we archivists do for the university and the community.

Scholars and students working on a paper, an article or a book are the people one would expect to find here doing research, and we do have those as well. Most note-worthy was a researcher from England who spent every work day for two full weeks going through one very large collection, looking for how one physician integrated research findings with clinical application. Another was a couple working on a book about black physicians in World War I. Just a few weeks ago a physician doing a presentation on his father who attended medical school here and went on to a career of some importance contacted me for contextual information such as curriculum, number of students in the class, etc. Students as young as middle school have also called or come in when they are working on a paper or project.

We have material that can enhance research from the very basic to the most advanced scholarly work, and I welcome researchers of every age and level of expertise. This form of “teaching” is very rewarding and sharing my love of history and historical exploration with others is its own reward.

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