A couple of quick gallery visits (modern art – you need to ponder? – well, not in a meaningful sense!) and it was off to my long-anticipated visit to the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland. Working in a health library, I use their open-access resources every day I go to work.
I was the only person there for Friday’s tour so had plenty of opportunity to ask questions during the overview of the work of this vast enterprise. As we got walking we passed the servers – unfortunately no photos allowed. It reminded me of an old film (?Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, must check that too) where there was ‘a’ computer that filled what seemed like an aircraft hangar. The NLM servers took up ‘a lot’ of room. A totally unnecessary but cute feature nearby was a neon display of numbers that ticks over every time there’s a hit on the NLM site. Next time I click on it I’ll picture that neon display increasing by one.
At the end I was left at the History of Medicine reading room where a lovely lady got out half a dozen books for me to see. All bar one were from the 15th century. I got to hold one that was worth $350,000 – a first edition by/about (must check the NLM catalogue when I get the chance!) Harvey and blood circulation. That other one was from 1094!!!! I got my hands on that too. A text about gastro problems (things don’t change!!) handwritten in Arabic. Worth $1-1.3million!!!! As the books were being put away, Roxanne produced a letter with a flourish. Handwritten by George Washington himself! Worth? Priceless in US terms no doubt. Needless to say, that stayed in its protective sheeting and doesn’t bear my fingerprints at all!!!
I didn’t know what to expect from the visit. But it was more than worth every minute of the considerable amount of time given to me. I also have no doubt that the promised book and package of goodness knows what will turn up in the mail at home – the postage offered spontaneously (as were the gifts) because Roxanne knew the problem of carrying things acquired while travelling, her thoughtfulness showing the rarely seen (by me) best of the hospitality and generosity for which Americans are renowned.
To end the day, because I had the train ticket and it was on the same line, I went to the other side of town to check out the Catholic competition to the National Cathedral – the National Basilica. Big, but not as big, on a hill but a smaller hill, not seen for as many miles around. And a conservative strain of Catholicism at a guess – no sign of the National Catholic Reporter for sale, though other US and European publications could be got there.