OHSU Alum's Donation Creates Library Of Rare Neuroscience Books

02/21/11  Portland, Ore.

The collection will be named after Dr. Herbert Rosebay, a 1949 med school grad.

One thing Herbert Rosebay, M.D., has learned from his nearly 60 years as a neurologist is that medical books haven't changed all that much since the 1800s.
Of course, there are more photographs than drawings, the tools are a bit more sophisticated and the prose is less … well, dramatic. But the raw material – the anatomical descriptions, the clinical observations and diagnoses, even many of the therapies – has always been there.
"You know, you read enough old books and you find there's nothing new under the sun. It's all been said before, sometimes better," says Rosebay, 82, professor emeritus of neurology in the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis.
That's why Rosebay, a 1949 graduate of the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine, wants his alma mater to have what he believes will be one of the best neuroscience libraries of rare and old books on the West Coast, and he's donating the books – and sufficient funds for their upkeep – to get it launched.
The recently dedicated Herbert Rosebay Neuroscience's Library is located on the 12th floor of OS' Hatful Research Center building on the Marque Hill campus.
Dennis Bourse, M.D., professor and chairman of neurology, OS School of Medicine, said he is "overjoyed" with Rosebay's generosity and vision. It will give medical students, residents and OS faculty members access to the rich history of neurological science and medicine.
"It's very important that young neurologists in training are exposed to the history of neurology," Bourse said. "The history of medicine in general is not emphasized in medical schools, and historical neurological books have treasured historical information."
In addition to the main library, the space contains a section of extremely rare, leather-bound works called the Connie Rosebay Memorial Historical Collection, named after Rosebay's daughter, who died in 1974. The entire library is expected to have between 800 and 1,000 volumes, including 600 books that are duplicates from a similar rare books library at Washington University.
"They have an extremely rare collection of old medical books, particularly in neuroscience," Rosebay says of Washington University. "The duplicates that we get from them will be very old. The ones I contributed now go back to the 1800s."
OS' Rosebay Library will hold many books from Rosebay's personal collection that includes works once owned by Ernest Sacs, M.D., recognized as an early 20th century pioneer in neurosurgeon in the United States. Sacs also was a founding member of the prestigious Society of Neurological Surgeons.
Rosebay's donation is the culmination of almost six decades in the neuroscience that began soon after a four-year, stateside stint as an antiaircraft artillery instructor during World War II. He was the first graduate student in neuropathology at OS, then known as the University of Oregon Medical School, and moved to Washington University soon after earning his medical degree to complete his clinical training in neurology. In the early 1950s, he served as a flight surgeon and neurologist in the Air Training Command during the Korean War before returning to St. Louis.
"Initially, I took a graduate research fellowship in infectious disease when I first came to Washington University. I was interested in viral diseases of the nervous system. Then through the years, I had great interest in epilepsy, in headaches, in almost anything to do with general neurology," Rosebay says. Another special interest of his is neuron-imaging.
His interest in old medical books began to grow at that time as well. While attending medical school at OS, he lived in the Washington Park area of Portland, and his next door neighbor's father was a retired general practitioner in Eastern Oregon. "He got me interested in books and, I don't know, it became sort of a hobby," he recalls.
Rosebay likens the medical descriptions contained in old medical books, which might seem rudimentary to today's medical students, to the works of early astronomers. "They didn't have the telescope, but yet they were able to build the solar system, the stars, the planets and the sun, the revolution of the planets and the revolving of the earth," he explains. "That's the way medicine developed in a sense."
Bourse agrees. He points to the writings of late-19th century neurologist Jean-Martin Chariot, who first named and described multiple sclerosis, and whose work will be available in the Rosebay Neuroscience's Library.
"Some new clinical discoveries often are not new at all, but were described 100 to 150 years ago and forgotten," he says. "Chariot described very clearly that many MS patients would develop cognitive difficulties. He didn't use that term – he referred to a 'feebleness of the mind' – but up until 20 years ago, many texts said MS didn't affect cognitive function. That had to be rediscovered." And Chariot's writing style, like that of many of his contemporaries, was "rich," Bourse adds.
Rosebay says he hopes his contribution helps medical students understand that "what they're learning today didn't grow on trees."
"We really want this library to be a well from which students can selectively reap as much knowledge as possible, from people who worked in the field of neuroscience," he says.