Sir William Osler’s beloved books

The great Canadian physician Sir William Osler kept a  pile of beloved books at his bedside which he felt  all medical students should read not only to complement their education but to enhance their humanity.

“Before going to sleep,” he counseled, “read for half an hour” from a “bedside library,” beginning with “a list of ten books which you may make close friends.”

Here were Osler’s Ten :

·     Plutarch’s Lives

·     Religio Medici

·   Shakespeare: Othello /A Midsummer Night’s Dream /Hamlet /Sonnets

·     Montaigne

·     Marcus Aurelius

·     Epictetus

·     Don Quixote

·     Emerson

  • Oliver Wendell Holmes

·                * Old and New Testaments

The Osler Project for Hospital and  Medical Libraries builds on Osler’s premise that reading broadly stretches our world view and allows us to more fully imagine the lives of others, including our patients.

Piloted at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto (summer 2015), the project began with the curation of a collection of books on the arts and  medical and health  humanities donated by staff at that hospital and  catalogued by medical library staff . These books were then displayed prominently-at the entrance of the medical library . The original Osler list was posted beside the collection, with the invitation for library users across health disciplines , to donate works that have moved them or affected their growth as clinicians and people.

 In that way, a new, living  Osler List of real, “physical” books to be held and exchanged  could be developed over time and at no cost to the institution itself.

·         The role of the medical library is changing worldwide as collections of books and journals go online and healthcare professionals access information remotely. Yet the attributes that make for empathic  healers can be nurtured effectively in library settings : reflective capacity, narrative competence, critical thinking and visual literacy. Libraries can provide a protective space and become a cultural hub for community building , creativity and imagination and multi-disciplinary exploration  and exchange.

How academic medical librarians can be involved in the medical humanities :(1)

“ Libraries can provide simple supports such as making meeting rooms available for student book clubs, hosting events with guest speakers on medical humanities topics, and offering wall space for student and faculty art. Librarians can support the medical humanities through developing collections in areas like history of medicine and leisure reading and promoting existing collections to medical humanities’ faculty and students. If narrative medicine is a focus of the curriculum, the library could offer writing workshops or essay contests. The only true limit to what librarians can do is their own time.” M. Curran


The Osler Project for Hospital and Medical Libraries  now invites other hospital , clinic and health sciences libraries worldwide to create a vibrant space for books, art and reflection .  An exciting partnership between medical librarians and students and  practitioners across health disciplines  can help to humanize hospital and educational settings. The Project seeks to counter digital isolationism and over-specialization while doing what libraries have always done-providing  an oasis for  learning and personal growth .

Please update us on your progress !

Allan Peterkin MD

Head , The Program In Health, Arts and Humanities (

Sandra Kendall MLS,

Head Librarian , Mount Sinai Hospital

Sidney Liswood Health Sciences Library




A call for increased librarian support for the medical humanities.

Curran M.

J Med Libr Assoc. 2012 Jul;100(3):153-5. doi: 10.3163/1536-5050.100.3.001. No abstract available.

PMID: 22879801 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE] Free PMC Article




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