Did you know anyone can become a member of the Wellcome Library, one of the world’s great medical history collections? And better still, it’s free to join?
I had a tour of the library last week as part of my History of the Human Body course. I was blown away by the scope and extent of the collection, and by the loveliness of the reading rooms (all with free wifi. I may move in).
Not only does the collection have medical journals and text books dating back centuries, but it contains a vast array of associated books on subjects like gardening, cookery, witchcraft and more. Then there’s the image collection, with photographs, prints and paintings illustrating all manner of medical subjects, from all over the world. And, praise be, free to use for non-commercial purposes.
But it’s the wonderfully-named ephemera collection that really gets the imagination going. Everything from posters advertising Victorian freak
shows, to long-gone public information leaflets, to a comprehensive collection of the prostitute cards adorning Kings Cross’ phone boxes.
The librarians were enthusiastic and keen to help as the new students among us learned how to use the catalogue, how to order items and so on. You can’t take anything out of the building, but you can order anything from the stacks within a couple of hours.
My course assignment is to research and write about an item from the collection. The difficulty will be knowing when to stop exploring and finally choose something to focus on. Just one item? I may be some time.
The Wellcome Library is at 183 Euston Road, London Nw1 2BE.