As we wrap up our 2023 Digitization Project Grant, we are pleased to share a final batch of newly digitized materials – a selection of textual records from the Beth Israel Medical Center alphabetical files, including over 80 World War I letters.
The Beth Israel Medical Center alphabetical files represent a miscellaneous assortment of textual records from throughout the hospital’s history. Each file provides a small insight into one aspect of its organization, which taken together provide a rich material history of the institution. The selection chosen for digitization emphasized materials through the completion of the campus in 1969, and provides insight into the hospital’s management, campus planning, and newsworthy happenings.
Like the annual reports and Board of Trustees minutes, organizational and management records in this selection provide insight into the day-to-day decision-making at Beth Israel for things large and small. The digitized material includes the Rules and Regulations of the Beth Israel Dispensary (1907), excerpts of minutes from the Phillips School of Nursing (1905-1912), minutes from department head meetings (1931-1935), by-laws of the Beth Israel Hospital Association (1947-1960), and directories for the house staff and visiting staff (1950s-1960s).
Campus planning is also a major theme in these materials. From Dazian Pavilion (construction started 1922) to planning for the Linsky Pavilion (opened 1966) these materials closely track the progress, reasoning, and decision-making surrounding the evolution of Beth Israels footprint in the Lower East Side. Of note are a group of articles written by Louis J. Frank, Beth Israel Hospital Superintendent, which describe a range of his theories on hospital management at the time of the construction of the Dazian Pavilion. Topics range from medical humanitarianism to facility planning, from European hospital design to vegetarian hospital food services.
Newspaper clippings (bulk 1909-1933) and press releases (1967-1968) also make up a significant amount of material and would be helpful to anyone interested in events at Beth Israel during those years.
You can browse all the alphabetical files digitized as part of this project here. (Note that some clippings and articles by Frank are still under copyright. The materials will become available as soon as they reach public domain, largely on January 1, 2024.)
World War I letters
Included in the alphabetical files are three years’ worth of World War I letters (1917-1919) to and from Louis J. Frank. The correspondents are largely Beth Israel doctors deployed to military hospitals on the front lines in France.
Major topics include daily life of those serving in the war, surgery during battle (particularly limb salvage and amputation), x-ray training for military doctors, and reactions to the Armistice. News of Beth Israel is also frequent, particularly medical and nursing staff shortages, the needs of future and current military patients, accounts of various Beth Israel doctors at home and abroad, and the status of the new Beth Israel hospital building (future Dazian Pavilion). The Influenza Epidemic of 1918 is mentioned throughout, and there are also several references to the Mount Sinai Hospital unit.
These letters are a valuable resource to anyone interested in the role of American doctors serving in World War I. You can browse the letters here.
The Arthur H. Aufses, Jr. MD Archives is pleased to share that we recently received a 2023 Digitization Project Grant from the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO) to digitize a selection of material from the Mount Sinai Beth Israel collection. METRO’s Digitization Project Grant is designed to support digitization projects for METRO members to enhance the quality and accessibility of library and information resources in the metropolitan New York region. The selection for this grant will be the largest body of digitized materials related to Mount Sinai Beth Israel (MSBI) to date.
Selected material spans from across the history of MSBI. Beginning as a form of Jewish mutual aid to care for marginalized workers and their families living in tenements, the hospital grew to treat and research many of the most pressing issues of the time and the history of the hospital is deeply intertwined with that of the neighborhood. Over its 133-year history, this has included caring for the sick during the Influenza Epidemic of 1918; the development of the Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program in the 1960s, one of the first ever methadone clinics; being an early responder in treating and caring for patients during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s; and responding to the present COVID-19 pandemic. The Beth Israel records broadly document the history of the hospital, and the digitization of this material will allow Beth Israel to be more easily included in historical research related to the broader scope of healthcare in metropolitan New York. At the grant period’s end, more than 7,000 pages of material will be newly available through our catalog.
A big thank you to METRO for their support! You can learn more about past grant recipients and their projects here.
Authored by Stefana Breitwieser, Digital Archivist
This is a continuation of a guest blog post by Colleen Stapleton. Colleen is a Patient Navigator with the Liver Education and Action Program (LEAP) at Mount Sinai, where she works to improve linkage to care for patients living with Hepatitis C. You can read the original post here.
My first day scanning, the team and I addressed the technology involved in making our Mount Sinai News collection available online. I learned about the scanning specifications to best archive our newsletters digitally. These specifications included 300 dpi (dots per inch), “do not scale,” and others particular to our scanner.
I also learned how to navigate the interesting physical space of the IT office, where the scanner was placed in a small kitchenette. Since I was scanning during lunchtime, I saw a few lunches popped in and out of the microwave. I learned that I could go ahead and put the precious paper newsletters on a non-descript plastic yellow barrel drum object, but under no circumstances should papers be placed on the potentially wet nearby water cooler!
Starting with November of 1958, I began electronically piecing together our carefully preserved collection of Mount Sinai Hospital history.
Gently unfolding each 60-odd year old newsprint was both a physical challenge and delight. I soon fell into the rhythm of scanning the first page, then the second, then switching to scanning the inserted third and fourth pages. Since the newsletters are not stapled, in total I would carefully reverse the seams of two folded pages, then finish up with the back section of the first folded page.
After a few sessions, I noticed that the newsletters were getting considerably longer – some included 12 pages! This 12-page spread would include a total of three seams, and so unfolding and folding would come to resemble the act of taking apart and putting back together a precious Russian doll.
My first day at the scanner I became aware that any file containing more than five pages could not be sent via email to our Archives team account. I made the decision at this time to scan four pages at a time, sending the files to the Archives account in pieces. I soon saw the stacks of newsletters flowing from the “un-scanned” to the “scanned” pile.
After each session I would return to my desk and make sure every issue was represented and the scan quality was good. The various parts of each issue were then virtually ‘stitched’ together. Though some months came and went without Mount Sinai Hospital News editions, each newsletter is marked chronologically with issue numbers.
The first Science News insert of the new Mount Sinai School of Medicine
One of my favorite developments in my scanning came with the advent of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine Science News, an insert that was developed as the medical school was founded and produced more and more significant scientific discoveries. There was also the Mount Sinai Medical Center News title change in November-December 1969 to correspond with the newly built school of medicine. The history of Mount Sinai was expanding before my eyes and I had to ensure my metadata reflected these changes!
Moving Forward with Metadata
After scanning part I of the MSH News archive, the team met with the Aufses Archives’ Digital Archivist to clarify our strategy moving forward. We confirmed our goal of making the Adobe PDFs of the News pages available online, creating a digital index of all MSH News electronic files, as well as providing readers with a search function powered by Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to more easily search the newsletter files.
We identified questions to the tune of “How should we put the PDF files online?” and “how can we most easily create an index to the publication?” We ultimately decided to OCR the PDF documents with Adobe and then dump the words into a database program used by the Aufses Archives called DBTextworks. We started with a few pilot issue files and we identified any necessary metadata fields for our project.
So began an exciting new phase: cleaning and inputting metadata. Unfortunately, this was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to stay home, and we have not been able to continue the scanning. However, the work continues with the efforts of a fantastic new summer intern working remotely — soon all of the scanned issues will be described and searchable.
Stay tuned for more blog installments exploring this digitization project along with coverage of the many unique historical Sinai snapshots found in the MSH News!
This is a guest blog post by Colleen Stapleton. Colleen is a Patient Navigator with the Liver Education and Action Program (LEAP) at Mount Sinai, where she works to improve linkage to care for patients living with Hepatitis C. Colleen is an advocate for innovative health literacy strategies and a volunteer with the the Arthur H. Aufses, Jr., MD Archives at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, where she hopes to complete a history project mapping women’s contributions to the hospital.
Every Tuesday and Thursday before the global shutdown due to SARS-CoV-2, I left my office on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and walked a few blocks down to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the Annenberg Building on 5th Ave. The building, part of Mount Sinai Health System’s main hospital complex, is a labyrinth of offices and meeting spaces. On the 10th floor, next to IT offices and tucked behind the Otolaryngology suite, is the office of the Arthur H. Aufses, Jr., MD Archives.
I started volunteering with the archives as a way to keep in touch with my personal interests while working as a patient navigator on a public health project in the Mount Sinai Hospital Liver department. My interest in medical devices, most notably the Dalkon Shield IUD tragedy, had introduced me to historian Susan Perry’s fantastic project that took shape in her 1985 book Nightmare.
Perry’s work inspired me to scheme: how could I sharpen my historical eye? How could I hone my training in visual history and explore my personal investment in the stories of women in medicine? What I found in my project scanning and cataloguing Mount Sinai Health System newsletters, however, was much more upbeat than the project that had originally inspired me.
When I reached out to Mount Sinai’s archive I was generously invited to join a team dedicated to preserving the accomplishments of Mount Sinai providers, scientists, and workers. My lunch-hour task would be to make the Archives’ collection of newsletters more accessible to our archivists, and if possible the Archives’ online readership.
The first issue of The Mount Sinai Hospital News, which ran from 1958-1982
The Aufses Archives has many collections of newsletters. I am starting with the “Mount Sinai Hospital News.” The series consists of several large folders containing two sets of the title. The first newsletter set, set “one”, is known as the “preservation set.” As such, it isn’t handled frequently and contains the best copies. Set “two” contains the copies of the newsletter that are meant to be handled. This handling may occur when inquiries come in from several sources, including relatives of nursing school alumnae, providers previously employed by the hospital or medical school, and hospital or school departments sourcing historical projects, among others. Both sets are stored among the other contents preserved by the Archives.
The archives are not a museum, and so they contain mostly paper-based items and files pertaining to the history of the hospital and medical school. In addition to the collection of newsletters, the Archives includes photographs, meeting minutes, office files, and miscellanea. The collection does house selected objects, including some medical devices, dolls, and even a moulage kit from the 1990s recently passed along to the Emergency Department for use in emergency drills. One of the oldest objects, a ledger indicating notes from one of the first Mount Sinai Beth Israel board meetings, is written by hand in Yiddish and dates back to the 1890s.
At the start of the project, the team discussed plans for indexing a collection of newsletters. Would we keep an Excel file of key terms, titles, and dates? Could we also digitize the newsletters? After thinking about the “what” that we would like to make available, we discussed the “how” and “why” of the project. How would the Archives’ online readership access tools to search the newsletter collection? Would we be able to leverage resources to make every issue available online? What were the costs and benefits of spending time uploading each issue digitally?
I was happy to volunteer my help with scanning the newsletters, due in part to my history with an old archive project at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, NY. As a curatorial intern I had been dying to scan the museum’s collection of newspaper clippings highlighting exhibitions and visits by Yoko Ono and John Lennon among other fascinating historical happenings! As it happened, our crew in Syracuse was limited by resource shortages, and scanning would have to be pushed to the next summer.
After some thought and research into searchable PDF text formats, my inclination to scan and upload every issue into our database (then online) was accepted! I was carefully handed a small pile of newsletters, then headed into our neighboring IT office to commandeer the scanner for an hour. The process of scanning had begun!