The Medical Heritage Library was initiated by the Open Knowledge Commons, which was awarded $1.5 million dollars in start-up funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to begin digitization at partner libraries. The goal was to select and digitize 30,000 out-of-copyright rare books across the breadth of medicine. Anatomy, obsterics, surgery, physiology, psychiatry, pathology, dentistry, homeopathy, anesthesia, sanitation, and public health were covered, as well as a host of popular medicine topics, such as clothing reform, medical recipe books, climatology, physician travel, and demonology. Directories, glossaries, and textbooks were also included. A subsequent project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities enabled the MHL to digitize rare American medical journals. The MHL collection was further augmented by the contributions of additional collaborators. As a result, what was envisioned as a modest and specialized collection continues to grow at a rate of about 200 new digital objects weekly. The collection includes materials from the 15th to the 21st century.
Countway’s contributions, thus far at 9,691 volumes, about 6,300 of which are from the Boston Medical Library's collection, is the largest of any contributor after the University of Toronto’s Gerstein Library (22,000+) and the U.S. National Library of Medicine (9,800+). Over the next three years, the Wellcome Library’s new digitization project will make it the largest contributor (30,000+).