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Rare Books in Science and Medicine

Highlighting rare science and medicine books at UBC. The History of Science and Medicine guide is also available.


The collection of rare books in medicine and science at UBC has evolved for over a century and continues to grow with purchases from the Molly Kidd-Timbers endowment and by donations of personal collections, such as the recent acquisition of Dr. McLean's dermatology collection.

The collection is housed in Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC).  The Reading Room has been temporarily relocated to Irving K. Barber Learning Centre room 142 due to upgrades. Information about how to access materials is at the RBSC home page.

For more information about the history of science and medicine in general, please see the guide below:

Development of the collection

There were two original phases in acquiring rare books in science and medicine. The first was the opening of the UBC under the first president, Dr. Frank Wesbrook (1868-1918). The second phase was the opening of Woodward Library with designated space, the Charles Woodward Memorial Room, for housing the “medical milestones.”

In the earlier phase there were a couple of significant gifts from  Sir Charles Sherrington (1857-1952) to Wesbrook.  The two men had been undergraduates together at Cambridge University in the 1890s and remained friends.  The first gift, which was given to mark the occasion of the opening of UBC in 1915, was an annotated and signed copy of Anatomia Humani Corporis (1685) by Godefridi Bidloo to Wesbrook. This copy was previously owned by Hawksmoor, apprentice to Christopher Wren (who himself had been an anatomist before becoming an architect), and before sending it, Sherrington had notable physicians sign the book. These signatures include those of Sir William Osler, eminent Canadian physician, and John McRae, author of In Flanders Field.

Sherrington's second gift was given to the University library in memoriam to Wesbrook, who had died in 1918.  It is an incunabulum, Valla's Elegantiae Linguae Latinae Libri Sex (1476), and is annotated with fists and contemporaneous marginalia in red.  William Gibson, who was a pupil of Sherrington’s, brought it back with him on his return to Canada in 1938. 

In addition to these specific gifts, other medical rare book acquisitions during this early period were acquired, by exchange with the Wellcome Library in London and by book buying expeditions by Robert McKechnie, Basil Stuart Stubbs and others. 

The second phase of acquisitions took place with the building of the Woodward Biomedical Library, now known as Woodward Library. The major donor for this library, P. A. (Puggy) Woodward (1888-1968), wished to show students "the milestones of science - the first time any new discovery was published".  The goal to acquire first editions of "medical milestones" gained impetus with two significant purchases; the libraries of Chauncy Depew Leake in 1963 and of Hugh Macdonald Sinclair in 1965.  These were funded from the Woodward Foundation and from H.R. Macmillan respectively.

The collection continued to grow in support of the history of medicine courses and notable acquisitions of this period include collections from Gerald Korn, Claude Dolman and the Vancouver Medical Association. In 1988 the collection of science and medicine was named the William C. Gibson History of Medicine and Science Collection in recognition of his commitment to the development of the Woodard library and service to UBC. In 2014, the rare books in Woodward Library were moved to Rare Books and Special Collections for better access and preservation.