By Tom Clegg
As director of Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania, Julie Fairman, PhD, RN, FAAN, has met scholars from as far away as Australia and Germany to use the center’s archival materials in Philadelphia. Although Fairman enjoys having such visitors, she recognizes the need to make the center’s collections more accessible and convenient for scholars and researchers who travel long distances to Philadelphia. In November, the center launched a three-year, $750,000 fundraising campaign to sustain and expand the center’s world-renowned nursing research and historical archives and put more of those materials online.
“The more we put online, the less scholars have to travel from Germany, for example, to use our collection,” said Fairman, who has been involved with the Bates Center since 1992, the past six years as director. “So while we love people being here, because it makes the place more vibrant, what’s happening is a lot of [other] repositories are putting all their collections online.”
Fairman, professor of nursing and chairwoman of the department of biobehavioral health sciences, said the Bates Center campaign is part of a National Library of Medicine initiative to put such collections online, but it’s not as a simple as just taking photos and downloading them to a Facebook page.
“In order to do that, you have to have your finding aids digitized, you have to start having your collections digitized, which is really expensive,” Fairman said. “That’s what this effort will do, help give us the capability to go forward with that kind of program.”
Beyond digitization, the fundraising effort looks to expand and sustain the center’s historical scholarship, research and archival materials related to nursing history from the late 19th to the 20th century. To raise funds, Bates Center staff and other university personnel are reaching out to individuals and groups who have supported the facility in the past.
“We’re targeting … nursing organizations that have an interest in preserving the legacy of the Bates Center.” – Antonia Villarruel, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor and dean at Penn Nursing
“We’re targeting a number of nurse scholars and special nursing organizations that have an interest in preserving the legacy of the Bates Center,” said Antonia Villarruel, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor and dean at Penn Nursing. “We’re not going cold call.”
The Bates Center hopes to expand its nurse pioneer collection, focused on ethnic and minority nurse leaders and nurses, by reaching out to minority nursing associations.
“We really are well-positioned to ramp that collection up,” Fairman said. “A lot of these organizations and people don’t have a great deal of funds to do the processing and storage, so what we’re looking for is funds to support that activity and then support the digitization of that collection.”
Preserving the history of nursing and healthcare is about more than just writing research papers, Villarruel said. In some cases, lessons learned from the past can be important in dealing with current healthcare challenges or crises.
“This recent Ebola epidemic is a case in point,” Villarruel said. “Epidemics are not new, our reactions are not new, vulnerability of healthcare workers is not new, the panic is not new. The lessons learned and the strategies we should have learned from managing and not managing those epidemics should absolutely inform what it is that we do now.”
For more information about the Bates Center campaign, visit Nursing.UPenn.edu/HistoryGiving.
Tom Clegg is a freelance writer.