By Brandon Armstead
Tucked away on the fifth floor of the Briscoe Library is a room with large windows on its double doors. This allows one to see several objects, including a rhinestone-studded skeleton, sepia portrait of a distinguished gentleman and an entire wall of books. Here, you will meet Andrea Schorr, head of resource management, as well as Mellisa DeThorne, special collections assistant. They ensure the P.I Nixon Medical Historical Library serves the campus and larger medical community by preserving historical artifacts.
Dr. Patrick Ireland Nixon was a San Antonio physician, medical historian and founding member of the Bexar County Medical Library Association. Dr. Nixon amassed a large collection of rare medical books for the association, which were later donated to the University of Texas Medical School in San Antonio (now known as UT Health San Antonio) in 1970. Over 6,000 rare and historical books are in the Special Collections including, De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543) by anatomist Andreas Vesalius and a first edition On the Origin of Species (1859) by biologist Charles Darwin.
Schorr and DeThorne have been ensuring the library remains a resource not only for students and faculty but for the public as a whole.
“Mellisa and I work with campus constituents, the community, also people outside of Texas, and even internationally,” said Schorr. They regularly receive inquiries from researchers and institutions.
According to Schorr, “Sometimes people are doing events and exhibits about historical aspects in their towns and cities. People publishing books in history will contact us for images and information.”
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) contacted the library for archival images regarding a rare medical condition.
“We did find the images, scanned them and enlarged them for clarity. They are now going to be integrated in a process for a group in Africa doing research,” said Schorr. The knowledge stored inside the library is not only useful to the campus or San Antonio but even to those on the other side of the world.
Schorr started out as a clerk for the library while she attended the University of Texas at San Antonio pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Psychology. That was her first time getting to handle artifacts in the collection. “[ If ] the rare books that we had needed to be cataloged, or if we bought new ones, I would catalog them. That was probably one of my favorite parts of my job at the time,” said Schorr.
Schorr oversees the library’s print and electronic collections, University Archives, and Special Collections. “I work with the faculty to bring in students who are doing independent studies on a historical topic, and we’ll sit with them about selecting the books that are appropriate as their primary resource or their research,” said Schorr.
Mellisa DeThorne primarily catalogs books, manuscripts, photos, and instruments for the archive, but she also curates exhibits for the public, making her job is much more robust. DeThorne mentioned that she has always been surrounded by books.
“Libraries have been a part of my life since I was a child. Seriously, in middle school I was library aid; in high school, I befriended my high school librarian. It’s kinda like in my blood,” said DeThorne.
How the library decides which books to add to the Special Collections is determined by The Friends of the P.I Nixon Medical Historical Library. This board, comprising faculty, staff and one student member, decides which books to include in the collection. The board will either purchase a book or, on occasion, books and other artifacts will be donated.
“If it fits in with the scope of the collection, we will add it. Books can be nothing newer than the 1900s, so we’re really looking at classic, rare and in good condition,” said DeThorne.
The board’s goal is to promote the library and educate the public about the history of medicine by holding monthly lectures.
Schorr and DeThorne consider themselves stewards of the library.
“It’s a privilege to be a keeper of beautiful and precious things that will be here long after I’m not here anymore,” said DeThorne.
For Schorr, the P.I. Nixon Library provides a historical perspective. “So much of what’s being done here on this campus started from someplace. And so the Nixon Library is that opportunity for students and faculty alike, to come in and learn about where medicine started.”
The P.I. Nixon Library is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Those interested can schedule an appointment by calling 210-567-2403 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.