Interview with Christian Nappo on the National Librarians of Medicine

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

March 26, 2024

Christian Nappo wrote The National Librarians of Medicine and Their Predecessors, which Rowman & Littlefield will publish in July. I had the pleasure of interviewing him about the book. The interview is below.

Lauren: Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Christian: My name is Christian A. Nappo. I teach for the Lee County, Florida School District and hold an MA in library and information science from the University of South Florida. I also hold an MS in criminal justice from the University of Alabama and an MA in history from the University of Nebraska-Kearney. Finally, I just received a Master of Education from Southeastern Oklahoma State University.

Aside from the “National Library of Medicine” book, I have published three previous books with Rowman and Littlefield:

“Librarians of Congress” in 2016

“Presidential Libraries and Museums” in 2018

“Pioneers in Librarianship: Sixty Notable Leaders Who Shaped the Field” in 2022.

Lauren: Briefly summarize The National Librarians of Medicine and Their Predecessors.

Christian: This is a reference-ready book on the twenty-seven men and women who headed the National Library of Medicine. Originally known as the Library of the Surgeon General’s Office, the Army Surgeon General acted in dual capacity as surgeon and librarian from 1836-1865. The first man to hold this dual position was Joseph Lovell. He informally started the library with his own medical books. After his death in 1836, his interim successor, Benjamin King started the formal process of turning Lovell’s collection into the formal collection that we know today as the National Library of Medicine! Throughout the years, the name and functions of the Library of the Surgeon General’s Office changed. In 1865, Army Surgeon General Joseph K. Barnes hired John Shaw Billings to run the library. By doing so, Barnes separated the roles of surgeon general and librarian. Then in 1922, the Library of the Surgeon General’s Office was renamed Army Medical Library. Finally, in 1956, the library transformed into the institution known today as the National Library of Medicine.

Lauren: Why did you decide to write this book?

Christian: I wanted to write a ready reference book aimed at three audiences:

  1. Primary audience is medical librarians and graduate students of library science.
  2. Secondary audience is medical historians.
  3. Tertiary audience is students of medical, dental, veterinary, nursing and allied health.

Lauren: What are the reasons librarians should know those who headed the National Library of Medicine?

Christian: The National Library of Medicine has a long history going back to 1836. In fact, important librarian-physicians, like John Shaw Billings got their start here. You can also learn about the two recent female librarians at the library (Betsy Humphrey and Patricia Flatley Brennan). Finally, you will learn about assistant librarians, like Fielding Garrison, who helped shape the library too!

Lauren: What are two things you hope all readers take away?

Did you know Walter Reed was once a librarian at the NLM?

The National Library of Medicine is world’s largest biomedical library!

Lauren: How can knowing our profession’s history inform our work today?

Christian: You will come to appreciate a federal library that serves an important role in our nation.

Learn about a library that has been serving America’s medical experts in war, peace Depression, and a pandemic.

Lauren: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Christian: Yes, while some of the librarians in my book are historically obscure or served short-tenures, each left their own individual mark at the library.

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Dr. Lauren Hays is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent presenter and interviewer on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Please read Lauren’s other posts relevant to special librarians. Take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets.

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