Member Story: UT Southwestern to digitize History of Medicine photographs

image of medical students

The above image of medical students at their microscopes is one of hundreds in the UT Southwestern Library archives. (Photo courtesy of UT Southwestern Medical Center Library.)

– A photograph of tent facilities for sick soldiers during the 1918 influenza epidemic.

– A portrait of the first five African American doctors admitted to practice at St. Paul Hospital (or to any Dallas hospital staff) in 1943.

– An image of the first open-heart surgery performed in Dallas, at Parkland Hospital in 1956.

These images, and hundreds of others housed in the collections at UT Southwestern Medical Center Library, document the history of medicine in Dallas. Up to now, the images have only been available to researchers and patrons who visit the library’s physical facilities, but thanks to a grant from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM), the photographs will soon be available online.

TDL DSpace as Preservation Tool

The Library received a $25,000 Historic Preservation and Digitization Award from the NN/LM South Central Region to create a digital photo repository entitled Dallas Medical Images, 1890-1975. While the images will be made publicly available through CONTENTdm, UT Southwestern Medical Center is using its Texas Digital Library DSpace repository as a preservation tool for the collection, fulfilling a key component of the grant application and the goals of the project.

According to Matt Zimmerman, principal investigator for the Dallas Medical History 1890-1975  project, the Library has several goals: (1) to make the images more widely accessible by getting them online, (2) to promote the wider holdings of the UT Southwestern Medical Center Library, and (3) to preserve the images digitally

“CONTENTdm is the public face,” says Zimmerman, “but the other important goal is long-term storage and preservation. Without having the DSpace repository and the upcoming Preservation Network behind it, we wouldn’t be able to do the preservation part of the project.”

The DSpace repository, hosted by the Texas Digital Library, will serve as an archive for uncompressed master images that are digitized during the course of the project. Those images in turn will be preserved in the TDL Preservation Network, which will send all TDL-hosted digital contents to the Texas Advanced Computing Center at UT Austin. TACC, in turn, will replicate the files at its geographically dispersed partner institutions.

A Rich Medical History in Photographs

The image repository will be available to the public via a CONTENTdm instance hosted by OCLC. It will contain some 500 photos that illustrate the history of medicine in Dallas between 1890 and 1975. UT Southwestern and its partner institutions have been key players in the development of medicine in the Metroplex: its St. Paul Hospital and affiliate Parkland Memorial are the two longest-operating hospitals in Dallas, and Parkland famously treated not only John F. Kennedy, but also Lee Harvey Oswald before they died. The UT Southwestern Library holds approximately 7,000 photos in its Historical Archives and its History of Medicine Collection, from which the digital repository collection will be drawn.

The grant project represented an opportunity for UT Southwestern to begin digitizing its collections, according to Zimmerman. Previously the library had digitized a small collection of apothecary jar photos but lacked the infrastructure to do large-scale digitization. The grant will cover the purchase of a scanner and other materials to undertake the project.

Additionally, UT Southwestern’s membership in the Texas Digital Library provided the institution with the ability to preserve their digital assets and to demonstrate as much in its grant application.

“It was great to be able to say that long-term preservation was being facilitated by being part of the TDL,” Zimmerman says.

Along with the digital repository, the grant-funded project will create a special Web exhibit of approximately 50 “high-interest” photos that will appear on the library’s website.

The project began in July 2010 and concludes within nine months. For more about UT Southwestern Library, please visit the library’s website at

This project has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, under Contract No. N01-LM-6-3505 with the Houston Academy of Medicine – Texas Medical Center Library.

UPDATE: UT Southwestern Medical Center Library launched the “Dallas Medical Images: 1890-1975”  repository in March 2011. Read more here.
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