Osler Library

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Authorized form of name

Osler Library

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Other form(s) of name

  • Osler Library of the History of Medicine


  • University

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Description area


The Osler Library of the History of Medicine opened in 1929 to house the collection of rare medical and other books donated by Sir William Osler, the well-known physician and McGill graduate and professor.

Sir William Osler (1849-1919) was a McGill graduate with a distinguished career as a physician, professor, author, and bibliophile at McGill, the University of Pennsylvania, and Johns Hopkins, and as Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University. As Professor of Medicine at McGill, he employed new methods using the microscope and pathological study. His major contributions included introducing bedside teaching and writing a major textbook, The Principles and Practice of Medicine. Sir William Osler was knighted for his significant innovations in teaching and contributions to medicine, and is revered for his warm personality and for his blending of humanity and science. Bequeathed to McGill in gratitude for the sound education and strong support he received early in his career, his Library reflects the man, a life in medicine, and his creativity and humanity. Students, teachers, clinicians, and researchers can gain inspiration from the tradition that is recorded in this Library.

Osler's private library originally comprised approximately 8000 titles listed in a catalogue known as the Bibliotheca Osleriana. Since then, the library's collection has grown to around 100,000 works including archival records, rare books and periodicals, and current works and journals related to the history of health sciences.

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Mandates/Sources of authority

Osler's original description of the Library's purpose remains unchanged. "The Library is to serve, as far as possible, two functions - the education of students in the History and Methods of Science and of Medicine, and to promote research into these subjects." To this end the Library maintains a specialized research collection in all aspects of the history of medicine and its sciences.

In view of its size, importance, and uniqueness, the Library must conceive its responsibilities on a national and international scale as well as those demanded of any specialized research collection within McGill University. The Library should maintain a collections policy consonant with these responsibilities. (Section III of the Board guidelines)

Administrative structure

The Osler Library is part of the McGill University Library and has its own Osler Library Board of Curators. Curators are normally elected or appointed for five year terms.

Records management and collecting policies



Since its opening in 1929, the Osler Library of the History of Medicine has collected archival material. One of the main collection areas is Sir William Osler and his circle. Material by and about Sir William can be found in the Sir William Osler Collection (P100) and the Harvey Cushing Fonds (P417), amongst others.

Another significant area of collecting is the papers of notable medical practitioners. The Wilder Penfield Fonds (P142) contains 80 meters of material from the founder of The Montreal Neurological Institute. The Archives also has the papers of other important doctors as Maude Abbott (P111), Harold Nathan Segall (P109) and Arthur Vineberg (P126).

The pedagogical side of medicine is represented, in part, by medical student notes, primarily from McGill University. The archives contains course notes that span the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

The library has approximately 600 artefacts. These include a number of surgical and medical instruments and kits, medals and plaques from a great variety of sources. There are also several objects that belonged to Sir William Osler, including furniture. Please email the library for further information.

There are several hundred photographs in the library's collection, mostly relating to Sir William Osler.

The library has an extensive collection of prints and drawings. The largest collections were donated by Dr. Kalz and Dr. Evans. Frederick Kalz had amassed 175 engraved portraits of physicians from the 17th to the 19th centuries. John Howell Evans donated over seven hundred images to the library of cancer and other tumour cases from the late 1860s to the mid 1920s, as well as English physicians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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Access conditions and requirements

Please note that some Osler Library fonds may contain patient records that are subject to privacy restrictions. It is advisable to contact the library and make an appointment before coming to use the archives.


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Research services

Reproduction services

Scans and digital images may be ordered at the Osler Library. Please send an email to osler.library@mcgill.ca

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Access Points

  • Clipboard

Primary contact