A Penn Libraries and Penn Dental Medicine collaboration

A look back at the history of the Dental Library sheds light on the formation of the new Center for Integrated Global Oral Health.

A new endeavor at Penn Dental Medicine highlights the interconnected relationship between science and library, scientist and librarian: the Center for Integrated Global Oral Health (CIGOH). Penn’s Dental Library plays an important role in this collaboration.

A bookplate ddepicting Saint Apollonia, patron saint of dentistry.
A bookplate from the collection of Hermann Prinz depicting Saint Apollonia, patron saint of dentistry. (Image: Courtesy of Penn Libraries)

CIGOH aims to “unite health researchers, educators, and practitioners at the University of Pennsylvania and beyond in seeking creative solutions to address unmet oral health needs related to the worldwide prevalence of caries, periodontal disease, oral cancer, and craniofacial deformity, which impacts more than 3.5 billion people annually.”

The Penn Dental Medicine Library is a legacy of Edward Cameron Kirk, dean of Penn Dental, 1895-1917; Hermann Prinz, professor emeritus of pharmacology; and Ann Louise Reazin, the Dental School’s first librarian. Michael Glick, a vocal advocate for librarians and libraries, is the executive director of CIGOH. The Center is also home to the newest Cochrane Oral Health Collaborating Center, headed by Alonso Carrasco-Labra, a leading authority in evidence-based health care at Penn Dental Medicine. Faculty and staff in these relatively new areas have already become well acquainted with Dental Library staff and have utilized the services of the Research Data & Digital Scholarship team, interlibrary loan, and electronic acquisitions.

Kirk founded the library with his donation of 4,000 texts, including the oldest dental book in the world and the oldest dental book in Spanish. This formed the basis for what was considered the most comprehensive collection of its kind at the time. Kirk also solicited donations of collections nationally and abroad. Prinz and Reazin worked closely to organize the collection, including the creation of a unique classification system to meet the needs of dental medicine, based partly on the Dewy Decimal system. Prior to this new hybrid classification system, one would need to look at individual journals or a book’s table of contents to determine the subject. The organization and classification of information was revolutionary, as it opened up the collection to clinicians and researchers in a manner that was not possible before.

Thanks to the work of Prinz and Reazin, clinicians could search by subject and find all texts that covered the area. This catalog they created is akin to creating a new search engine today that includes all that is known about dental medicine. Notably, their classification system was much better than ChatGPT, which does not hold—or synthesize very well for that matter—anywhere near all the dental evidence available in books and journals today. Their catalog was based on the most comprehensive collection of dental medicine text of the time.

This story is by Laurel Graham. Read more at Penn Libraries.