Wilburt C. Davison & Medical Libraries, 1972
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september 22 1971 wilburt c davison and medical libraries by martin m cummings, m.d knowledge is not wisdom wisdom is knowledge when it is tempered by judgement frank e egler 1970 wilburt c davison stimulated and inspired medical students and faculty colleagues for more than half a century at eighty years of age he remains a knowledgeable and wise man i was fortunate to be a student at duke when his powerful influence as professor of pediatrics and dean of the school of medicine was approaching its zenith i observed his giant figure and warm personality in the setting of his office the hospital ward and clinic--as well as in his home in each of these places he used books and journals to teach the principles of good medicine scholarship and humanism he supported libraries everywhere he loved the library which he created at duke importantly he used it frequently and taught others to do the same gently he led students to this source of knowledge and for many the library became the place to browse study think and write even though its chairs were hard its lighting poor and its space limited it was through dr davison that i became acquainted with the importance of the history of medicine and some of its leaders of the day as a student he introduced me to dr john f fulton then at yale and dr arturo castiglioni refugee medical historian driven from italy by mussolini it is not surprising therefore that i should feel pleased and honored to be invited to comment on davison and medical libraries on this occasion in my present work i have learned that dr davison assisted the national library of medicine in many important ways in this sense he was a disciple of its first director dr john shaw billings great american bibliographer medical educator innovator and administrator

Page  2 2 1913 the year that brought to a close the career of john shaw billings witnessed the appearance of dr davison on the medical scene as a rhodes scholar in medicine at oxford where he met and studied under osler 1 cushing describing osler's life at oxford during world war 1 wrote only rhodes scholars and invalids - in the university but with the colleges and streets full of soldiers - many of them invalid tommies in their blue coats and red ties - and with 5000 derby recruits gathering in the parks the city of oxford was anything but deserted of the american rhodes scholars three or four were taking the medical course one of these dr w c davison was secretary of the american club an organization which former ly brought together every saturday night the americans studying in oxford ..." the influence of osler upon the life and work of davison was varied and 2 i have chosen to cite a few vignettes from davison's reminiscences to reflect this it was sir william's custom to dash into laboratories and ask amusing and often disconcerting anatomical questions of students who were dissecting or to look down the microscopes and inspect the slides of those studying pathology and bacteriology osler was a magnificent teacher and made everyone with whom he came in contact feel that he was primarily and genuinely interested in that individual i have since met hundreds of his former students in america and england who shared that belief for example thomas b futcher who was supposed to give me an examination in medicine when i transferred to the hopkins in 1916 happily chatted about the chief for an hour and then gave me a good grade john musser did the same thing when i took the national board in 1919 in fact passing examinations seemed more dependent on knowing osler than on a knowledge of medicine perhaps they are synonymous . " 3 osier deepened davison's interest in books and reading one of the most delightful features of the medical training at oxford was sir william's interest in the history of medicine at intervals throughout the year he would send six or seven of us one of the following treasured invitations 1 cushing h the life of sir wm osler vol ii oxford at the clarendon press 1926 516 2 davison w.c sir william osier reminiscences arch int med , vol 84 110-128 1949 3 ibid

Page  3 3 from the regius professor of medicine oxford dear davison if free dine here please with me thursday evening 23rd 7:30 sincerely yours wm osler after dinner he would bring out many of his precious books and we would spend hours in pouring over them while he explained the part avicenna paracelsus leonardo da vinci and others had played in medicine these evenings gave us a background that was invaluable like billings and osler davison was born in the north central region of america grand rapids michigan migrating to the east for educational purposes he left his mark in the same cities where osler and billings also worked baltimore washington and oxford he extended his frontier southward to influence medical developments in north carolina and nearby territory 4 in his preface to the 7th edition of the compleat pediatrician davison wrote this edition required 1,930 hours for compiling and writing the changes spread over nine months - a normal gestation - in addition to a half hour daily for the past eight years for reading and abstracting the 6,437 references used it should be noted that this text is organized and arranged in a fashion which makes it easily adaptable for computer storage and retrieval davison's half hour daily reading habit too is to be traced to the influence of osler on mondays osler who was a lt colonel in the canadian army medical corps visited the duchess of connaught hospital on the astor estate at cliveden as he needed someone to take his notes and collect blood specimens for study he took me along sir william would start the cliveden journeys by stacking ten or fifteen medical journals which had arrived during the preceding week on the car seat between us and would read one after another dog-earing the articles which he recommended 4 davison w.c & levinthal j.d the compleat pediatrician duke university press durham n.c 1957

Page  4 4 my reading he could read and digest medical literature more rapidly than anyone i have ever met at the end of the two hour ride he would have completed a survey of all the journals it took me the rest of the week to cover the articles he had suggested but it started a life-long habit of reading medical journals for at least a half-hour daily in 1916 davison completed his scholarship at oxford and returned to the united states now his life history was to intersect with strands originally woven by john shaw billings while yet retaining an inter-relationship with osler it was john shaw billings who recruited both osler and william h welsh to the first faculty at johns hopkins 1927 was the year in which he was appointed first dean of duke medical school and for this mark of favor he thanks osler for osler had written to welch about him and welch had recommended him to duke he was as you can see as pious as aeneas 5 in 1961 dr stanhope bayne-jones praised dr davison at duke i am going to quote some thoughts from that delightful talk which bears on my theme osler's influence upon him has been incalculably inspiring and has been of constant benefit to the school over which he presided for thirty-three years this influence was by no means limited to ideals of clinical medicine and teaching and methods of observation but extended to books medical history and literature and the genuine humanism so badly needed in a period becoming ever more strictly scientific 6 in his reminiscences of sir william osler dr davison wrote one of osler's most helpful aphorisms was to study the phenomena of disease without books is to sail an uncharted sea while to study patients without books is not to go to sea at all ' it made me realize how essential a medical library was to every school and that although buildings could be built and a staff assembled a library had to be hunted in the four corners of the earth as a result the collecting was started three years before the school opened and now the duke medical library is among the best ten in the country 5 personal communication 6 davison w.c sir william osler reminiscences arch int med vol 84 110-128 1949

Page  5 5 davison's interest in libraries led to his nomination as an honorary consultant to the army medical library in 1943 and we have in our files his letter of acceptance duke university durham north carolina school of medicine office of the dean reply to undersigned november 27th 1943 dear general kirk i appreciate very much your letter of 22 november needless to say i shall be very happy to serve as a member of the board of honorary consultants to the army medical library it is a field in which i am very much interested and i feel very honored to be associated with the splendid army medical library thanking you for the invitation i am yours sincerely wilburt c davison from 1950 to 1953 dr davison served as president of the association of honorary consultants during this period he laid the groundwork for its conversion to the national library of medicine the library files contain a number of photographs showing dr davison active in library hall of the old building at 7th and independence except for the furniture the room had little changed during the years it still had a gothic appearance and the tiers and stacks towered massively indeed i should say almost menacingly over the visitor's heads this is the same room where osler had worked and which had known the presence of many of the greatest names in medicine since its opening in 1887 insert photograph of dr davison here in reading dr davison's many remarks at meetings held at the library under his presidency one quickly realizes that he took a genuine interest in

Page  6 6 this national resource the army medical library is woven through the lives of all of us in medicine he remarked the most important problem facing the library in the 1950's was that of acquiring a new building and it was to this problem principally that dr davison and his colleagues addressed themselves we have been trying for years ... to get a new building which is perhaps the most essential thing before the library and before the association of honorary consultants he pointed out in 1951 referring to the library's building with a leaky roof at the last meeting of the consultants davison said it is the only place that profitted from the drought we have had since the place has been dry during the summer the building was in his own words a fire trap and a sieve though fire spared the collection water did not and through the year rain and bursted water mains brought hundreds of rare volumes to a useless end the second concern of dr davison was to convert the army medical library to the national library of medicine in name as well as in fact new legislation was passed in 1956 creating the national library of medicine as the first specialized library with its own congressional mandate dr davison remarked it took john shaw billings twenty-two years to get out of the ford theatre over here to independence avenue and i hope it does not take us quite as long to get from independence avenue to bethesda it took a long time but we finally moved into a new building in 1962 from time to time we still receive requests for library services from dr davison they come from roaring gap n c and reflect that he is still reading at least a half hour a day it would be indiscrete and improper for me to tell you precisely what kind of requests he makes but i'm sure he would

Page  7 7 not object to my classifying his subject interests medical education history and humanism in behalf of medical librarians and libraries everywhere i salute and thank this lifetime learner he did more for us than we could have done ourselves