Welcome to a virtual tour of the historical collections and related resources of the National Library of Medicine (NLM). This post commemorates the 40 years that the US has been responding to HIV/AIDS.
In 1981, the CDC published the first official reports of a novel infection in the U.S.—what would later be named HIV/AIDS. Communities devastated by the disease, healthcare workers, and activists mobilized in the ensuing years to care for the sick, fight discrimination, and raise awareness about the disease, while researchers made scientific advancements that eventually rendered HIV/AIDS a manageable, chronic condition for people with access to healthcare. Today, the work continues to improve health outcomes for the more than 1.2 million Americans who now live with HIV and prevent the spread of the disease through education and medicines.
NLM staff have selected these highlights from the collections for you to explore. We welcome questions! Use the comment feature below to share your thoughts.
Selections from NLM Digital Collections
NLM Digital Collections provides free online access to digitized materials selected from the rich historical collections. Materials in many formats related to HIV/AIDS have been digitized and made available here.
Images from the History of Medicine (IHM), within NLM Digital Collections, contains a large collection of Art, posters, ephemera, and other powerful visual communications developed by a variety of individuals, public health organizations, and health advocacy groups.
Explore many more related images in NLM Digital Collections under these search terms:
Books and Journals
NLM has digitized an archive of documents and videos created by NLM such as technical notes, bibliographies, reports, and lectures.
Since the 1980s NLM has produced several bibliographies and reference guides on the topic of HIV/AIDS. For example, the AIDS bibliography, 1986-1987 is the earliest we have for print monographs. This bibliography takes into consideration the many facets of AIDS. Not only does it cover books and articles from the period dealing with preclinical, clinical, epidemiologic, diagnosis, and prevention issues, it also contains references to works dealing with ethical concerns, educational strategies, public health administration, and other related issues.
Archive and Manuscript Collections
The June E. Osborn Papers—Correspondence, reports, speeches, testimonies, hearings, audiovisual material, and biographical material primarily document June Osborn’s professional career as expert advisor in urgent health and medical issues—including AIDS, virology, infectious diseases, vaccines, and public health policy—for numerous government agencies including the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Commission on AIDS, of which she was chair.
AIDS: Dr. Anthony Fauci—In this 1984 lecture, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, presents early research, findings, and questions related to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). This was a nascent field in the early 1980s, with scores of observations but few definitive answers about the geographic origins of the virus, its symptoms and transmissibility, susceptible populations, and the promise of a potential vaccine. Dr. Fauci offers a clear overview of the state of the field at the time, his lecture accessible to the layperson as well as those more familiar with AIDS research.
Infection Control: An AIDS Update, a 1987 production, begins with a voiceover and a series of news and magazine covers and headlines, some matter-of-fact, some lurid but typical for the time. The narrator lays it out clearly. “In 1981, a new disease was added to our vocabulary, given the clinical name of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Its acronym, AIDS, quickly became a household word, a word that struck widespread fear and panic.” But the video, aimed at those providing care to people with HIV/AIDS, goes on to calmly explain that the virus that causes AIDS is not easily transmissible and that standard precautions against exposure to blood and other body fluids are protective. Says one doctor appearing in the video, “AIDS is not a nosocomial infection. You can’t acquire it by walking into the patient’s room and breathing in the air.”
The library holds hundreds of video titles on AIDS and is working to digitize the content and time and resources permit. As a snapshot, this search for keyword “HIV” in the NLM LocatorPlus Catalog turns up nearly 700 moving image titles produced between 1983 and 2021.
When future researchers look back at our time, what resources will they want to explore? Of the news and information that is created and shared digitally over the web, what will remain to be examined one, ten, or even fifty years from now? This content is in a constant state of change and at high risk for loss.
The NLM HIV/AIDS Web Archive offers more than 650 websites documenting the biomedical, clinical, cultural, and social aspects of HIV/AIDS in the early 21st century. The collection’s principal themes are HIV treatment, HIV prevention, biomedical research on HIV/AIDS, clinical care for HIV patients, living with HIV, and social-cultural responses to HIV/AIDS. The collection includes websites for U.S. federal agencies, state public health HIV/AIDS departments, community organizations, international clinical trial and vaccine research sites, non-governmental organizations, advocacy groups, and a wide array of social media including blogs, YouTube videos, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and more. Here are a few:
- I’m Still Josh blog | HIV positive activist & HIV blogger from imstilljosh.com shares related videos including his personal story of living with HIV and other sexual health news and tips.
- TAG HIV Basic Science, Vaccines, and Cure Project Blog | Blog for the Treatment Action Group (TAG) project on HIV Basic Science, Vaccines and Cure, featuring entries that relate to their work, including scientific developments.
- The Black AIDS Institute | Homepage for Black Aids Institute showing a gallery of images and links to news, programs, reports, resources, information about the organization and how to get involved.
NLM Exhibitions and Events
The National Library of Medicine curates stories about the social and cultural history of science and medicine that enhance awareness of and appreciation for the collections and health information resources of the National Library of Medicine. This work encourages enthusiasm for history and nurtures young professionals in the fields of history, the health professions, and biomedical sciences.
Explore scholarship at NLM around the history of HIV/AIDS.
Surviving and Thriving: AIDS, Politics, and Culture looks at the rise of HIV/AIDS in America during the early 1980’s and the evolving response to the epidemic in the years that followed. It includes a digital gallery of more than 575 fully digitized posters, comic books, and postcards from the NLM collection. A bilingual, Spanish- and English-language site will launch in early 2022.
Against the Odds: Making a Difference in Global Health highlights stories of the people who are working on a wide range of issues around the world—from community health to conflict and disease to discrimination—to prevent illness and improve quality of life. The exhibition includes a section the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.
The C. Everett Koop Papers: AIDS, the Surgeon General, and the Politics of Public Health—C. Everett Koop (1916–2013) was an American pediatric surgeon who pioneered important improvements in the surgical treatment of children. As U.S. Surgeon General from 1981 to 1989, he turned the office into an authoritative platform from which to educate the nation on major public health concerns including smoking, violence, and, most urgently, AIDS.
In A Conversation about Graphic Medicine watch a panel discussion moderated by Patricia Flatley Brennan, RN, PhD, Director, National Library of Medicine with pioneers from this emerging genre of literature that combines the art of comics and the personal illness narrative. Participants include graphic medicine authors Ellen Forney and Michael Green, MS, MD, and MK Czerwiec, RN, MA, Artist-in-Residence at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, author of the graphic memoir Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371. Read an Interview with MK Czerwiec.
Other Resources on the History of HIV/AIDS
The tragedy of the AIDS epidemic brought about an outpouring of items, intended to educate the public about the disease and its consequences. The initial response to the disease generated ephemeral public health materials, such as buttons, posters, cards, comic books, and even lunch boxes. Since AIDS was both incurable and invariably fatal, these messages of prevention were the only effective steps that public health officials could take.
Produced by government health departments as well as private organizations, these ephemeral objects became an important medium for messages of awareness, prevention, compassion, and responsibility. Buttons and posters provided information on disease symptoms and safe practices, while comic books spun tales of the consequences of risky sex and needle sharing.
Finding Aids to Archive and Manuscript Collections
Finding aids are descriptive guides provided for the Archives and Modern Manuscripts, Prints and Photographs, and Films and Videos collections. These aids offer access points to large aggregations of materials.
- Lowell T. Harmison papers 1962-2010
- AIDS Correspondence (TRACER) archives 1982-1990
- National Commission on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome Records 1983-1994
- Quintana v. United Blood Services deposition, July 3, 1992
- Louis W. Sullivan Papers—including materials related to his two trips to Africa to investigate the AIDS crisis for the Bush/Quail Presidency prior to his becoming Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
- How to Hit HIV Where It Hurts, Immunology Interest Group Seminar Series, 2016
- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Speak on Global HIV/AIDS, Special Event, 2011
- 25 Years of AIDS Research at NIH, Special Event, 2006
- The HIV/AIDS Pandemic: an African Dilemma, Special Event, 2001
Current Health Information
For current, trusted information to help you manage your own health please visit NLM’s online health information resource MedlinePlus.
Learn more about NLM’s work in improving HIV/AIDS health information access, supporting NIH and global research, and collecting and providing access to scientific, social, and cultural documentation of the epidemic on the NLM Director’s Musings from the Mezzanine blog.
The NLM Collection Tours series provides highlights from the diverse historical collections of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) on a variety of contemporary topics in health and medicine. Some library services, such as our scan on demand service are temporarily suspended due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but staff are available to answer questions.