There has been much press about the future of libraries and the large-scale scanning of texts by Google Books (http://books.google.com), Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org) and similar projects. An amazing array of digitized pre-1923 texts are available, pulled off the dusty shelves or drawn out from the remote storage locations of major library collections for digitization. It is difficult to tell what this explosion of information will mean for the future of historic research, and specifically research in nursing history.
For those interested in the nursing’s past a wealth of information emerges from these digitized collections. Recently while searching for early journals in the Internet Archive, late 19th century and early 20th issues of Public Health Nursing, The Canadian Nurse, British Nursing Journal, and The Trained Nurse and Hospital Review appeared. Additionally, Google Books presented very early additions of the American Journal of Nursing.
Browsing through the e-books in the Internet Archive revealed early editions of Lippincott’s Nursing Manuals, Nutting’s A History of Nursing, DeWitt’s Private Duty Nursing, Adventures of an Army Nurse in Two Wars by Baroness von Olnhausen and Louisa May Alcott’s Hospital Sketches. However, most impressive among the texts was a nearly complete collection of texts by and about Florence Nightingale.
Most importantly, found in the Internet Archive was the digitized Elmer Belt Florence Nightingale Collection from UCLA (http://www.archive.org/details/f_nightingale). It is a collection of books and other items by and about Nightingale, donated to the Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library in 1958 by urologist Dr. Elmer Belt. The collection honored the work of Dean Lulu Wolf Hassenplug founder of UCLA’s School of Nursing. The digitized collection included editions of Nightingale's influential "Notes on Nursing" (1859 and later) and her other publications as well as autographs, biographies, and letters.
Additionally, the Internet Archive contained books from a range of other libraries. The New York City Library digitized Florence Nightingale, The Angel of The Crimea: A Story for Young People written in 1909 by Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards. It was a youthful retelling of the Nightingale’s contributions to nursing. The scan was of excellent quality, as most of the Internet Archives’ scans were. It captured the look and feel of this writing (http://www.archive.org/details/florencenighting00rich). There was also Florence Nightingale: A Drama, published in 1923, a play on her life and another excellent digitization.
Google Books returned additional materials. The Journal of the American Statistical Association, Volume 15 from 1918, provided an interesting article by Edwin W. Kopp entitled Florence Nightingale as Statistician. When browsing through Books the New York State Journal of Medicine: Volume 10 revealed a September 1910 editorial written in memorial upon her death. In addition, from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine came an editorial, written in 1855, concerning woman’s suffrage, entitled A Sphere for Women: Miss Nightingale. The author, who did not appear inclined to support suffrage wrote, “If any woman is pining for a sphere, let her take passage and follow Florence Nightingale, and do good as extensively and as silently as she.”1
There were many excellent texts on the history of nursing and medicine found in Google Books and the Internet Archive. Unfortunately, neither resource made for easy search and retrieval of documents. The Internet Archive appeared to use something akin to Library of Congress subject headings. However, there was no consistency in its use.
Overall the quality of texts scanned by the Internet Archive and associated supporters were superior in quality to those found in Google Books. The Archive also provided for downloads in multiple formats. Moreover, there was also an online reader, which mimicked the look and experience of reading a physical book. Nonetheless, both collections provided an excellent service to the public and academia.
The services are highly recommended. It is well worth any librarian’s time to browse and see what valuable materials are there.
The final edited text of this article was published in In Search of Florence Nightingale: Texts in the History of Nursing from Google Books and the Internet Archive published in NAHRS Newsletter, Volume 31, No. 1, Jan 2011.