A couple of weeks ago while I was on my reference shift, one of our users came up to ask me if we had any neurology books. Of course we do I replied enthusiastically, and I then proceeded to show him how to access our all our e-book holdings in our library catalog. The user was immediately taken back by the number of e-book options and then began to relay a nostalgic memory of when the two library floors were once dominated by rows and rows of print books and journals. Admittedly, he said that he missed all those books but I quickly replied that the books are all still here but they now live online so all our users can access them anywhere and at any time.
Levy Library 11th floor, eastern side in 1980 (left) and in 2019(right).
As I think back to this exchange, I can’t help but to be amazed at how our own library has physically transformed since we first opened our doors 45 years ago. Back in 1974, we were very much the typical medical academic library- a reference desk in the entrance, a card catalog and of course numerous bookshelves that lined our two floors, with tables and study carrels dotted along the walkways so students and clinicians can sit down to read what they pulled out from the shelves.
Levy Library 11th floor, western side in 1980 (left) and in 2019 (right).
Looking at same space today in comparison to these photos of the past, I can see the difference that our user mentioned. Instead of seeing bookshelves dominating this small space, when you walk in, you are immediately greeted with a pretty spectacular view of New York City from our windows that span across the entire floor. In addition to that, you have a tons of open seating and study carrels so you can study alone or with a friend or two, and over 80 computers where you can read articles, watch modules, or even take a break and watch YouTube.
However, I must admit that while there has been some substantial physical changes, there are so many great things that have remained the same since the Levy Library first opened. Most notably our collection of resources. As I told our one user, our books are still here but not in the same format you were expecting. In fact, we have more books, journals, databases, and even mobile apps than ever before, and the greatest thing about this collection of resources is that our users can access these items without having to step into our library in the first place. And while we love to see our community of users enjoying our spaces, we know that our users may not have the time to visit or they may be working in another part of the city, state or country. For our library to fulfill our mission and vision to support the educational, research and patient care activities of the faculty, students and staff of the Mount Sinai Health System, we need to ensure that all our resources are accessible for all.
Residents watching a video in the Levy AV section in 1986 (left), and the 80+ public workstations in 2019 (right).
Let's not forget one other great thing that has been here since the beginning - the Levy Library staff! I know I may be biased since I work here, but seriously I can't think of another group of individuals that works day in and day out to make sure that the library opens its doors each day, checks journal and database links to make sure nothing is broken on our website, and meets with our community of users to educate them on what the library has to offer. I know the library team has been doing this since day one and we will continue to go above and beyond to support our community.
So, as we look into the future and what our library will transform into 45 year from now, I am not sure what will happen, but I do know that regardless of time or space, the one constant is that there will always be a place for the Levy Library at the Icahn School of Medicine and the Mount Sinai Health System as well as a strong library team to support this great community.
To learn about the history of the libraries at Mount Sinai, you can visit The Arthur H. Aufses, Jr. MD Archives and Mount Sinai Records Management Programs’ website at https://icahn.mssm.edu/about/ait/archives. Some interesting library-related finds in their collection include:
You can also read about the history of our library system written by a former branch librarian in the following article: Culp R W. “The Mount Sinai Hospital Library, 1883 to 1970.” Bulletin of the Medical Library Association vol. 60,3 (1972): 471-80.