Who's minding the bookstore?

Don Levy's career has taken him from reporting to academia and, now, to selling medical textbooks.

Yale Medical Bookstore manager Donald M. Levy was ringing up three hefty surgery texts when he suggested to the customer, a surgical resident, that he take a look at Zollinger’s Atlas of Surgical Operations.

Levy wasn’t expecting to make a sale: the Atlas costs $199, about what the resident had just spent. Nevertheless, the surgeon opened the book, checked the index and began reading. “This is the operation I had to do yesterday,” he said. “If I’d had this book, I would have been better off.” He bought the book.

Making that sale wasn’t Levy’s primary motive. “I don’t like being sold stuff, myself,” says Levy, a warm, talkative man who remembers customers by name. “There’s a subtle difference between offering and selling.”

Levy has managed the store at 320 Congress Avenue, which is owned by Barnes & Noble, since it opened in October 2001. He came to the medical school campus from the main Barnes & Noble store on Broadway. But before he got into the book business he spent 10 years as a television reporter in upstate New York, Vermont, Ohio and Kentucky.

A complex career path next led him into journalism education at Syracuse University; graduate studies in religion at Yale, where he received a master’s degree in 1992; and a brief tenure running his own company selling out-of-print volumes in philosophy, psychology and religion. When the advent of Internet shopping undermined his sales, he joined Barnes & Noble.

Running the store gives him a chance to draw on his interest in religion and healing. For example, to customers fresh from the doctor’s office he can recommend a mass market book on diabetes or heart disease “You’re kind of being pastoral.” he says. “You show them the section and maybe you ask a few questions.”

The bookstore offers shelf after shelf of review books and primers like Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple and Laughing Your Way to Passing the Pediatrics Boards. Also for sale are medical accessories and necessities, including one big seller, a $16 dissection kit. It contains tweezers, pick, scalpel, scissors and replacement scalpel blades in a box—“all Larry Rizzolo-approved”—a reference to Lawrence J. Rizzolo, Ph.D., one of the directors of the first-year anatomy course. The store also carries tuning forks, Babinski hammers and stethoscopes.

“I really like selling ’scopes,” says Levy after watching a student equivocate between navy and burgundy models. “It’s an important purchase, and it’s a personal fashion statement.”

Levy welcomes ideas from customers. “My customers help me manage my bookstore if I’m careful to listen to them,” he says. He started carrying cotton lab coats when customers requested them and he listens to the medical students who compare notes on various texts. “I like it when students come in really informally and pick each other’s brains,” says Levy. He began the year with four student texts for hematology. Very quickly, students had reached a consensus that Hematology at a Glance was the best.

Even when students are looking for a particular title, Levy likes to suggest alternatives. “They will come in and say ‘Do you have that blue book for ICU?’ I tell them, ‘This is the book they told you to get. It’s a great old book, but it’s 1998. This is the standard, but I want you to look at this.’ ” Then he’ll show them another guide, published in 2001. “That way,” he says, “they feel like they made a much more informed purchase than if they came in like lemmings and bought the one they were told to buy.” YM

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Gift endows library post and pays tribute to “a nurturing treasure”

John Robinson Bumstead surely knew the story of how his father became the first physician to administer penicillin in the United States. He was 17 years old in March 1942 when his father, John Henry Bumstead, M.D., was caring for 33-year-old Anne Miller. Neither transfusions nor surgery nor sulfa drugs had cured Miller of a streptococcal infection. She was dying and Bumstead was desperate. His colleague, physiologist John F. Fulton, Ph.D., M.D., had befriended the Australian researcher Howard W. Florey, Ph.D., and helped him come to the United States to begin production of penicillin; Bumstead asked Fulton to obtain a sample of the still-experimental antibiotic. It worked, and Miller lived to be 90.

When he died in July 2003, the younger Bumstead remembered in his will the medical library, as well as Connecticut’s historic Mystic Seaport, where he was a librarian, and New Haven’s St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, where he was a parishioner. Bumstead left $1.2 million to the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library. Director R. Kenny Marone, M.L.S., used the gift to endow a librarianship at what she calls “one of the premier medical historical libraries in the world.”

Built in 1940, the library was established by three men who donated their collections of tens of thousands of volumes of medical literature: neurosurgeon Harvey W. Cushing, M.D.; Swiss tuberculosis specialist Arnold C. Klebs, M.D.; and Fulton. Cushing, says librarian Toby Appel, Ph.D., M.L.S., saw the library as “the heart of the medical school,” a uniting force in an age of increasing specialization. Thanks to Bumstead’s gift, Appel is now the John Robinson Bumstead Librarian for Medical History.

The two-story room that holds much of the 125,000-volume historical collection has a vintage air, with a vaulted wooden ceiling, twin balconies and a fireplace. “There’s something special when you can walk in and see Volume One of The Lancet,” says Marone. “We just have marvelous resources.” Among those using the historical library now is medical historian Michael Bliss, Ph.D., at work on a biography of Cushing.

Surgeon, historian and writer Sherwin B. Nuland, M.D. ’55, HS ’61, is among those who have written about the room and its “treasured stacks.” In Doctors: The Biography of Medicine, he writes: “Of all the libraries in all the educational institutions of our world, there is none quite like this one. … a sanctum containing the lore and the collected reminiscences of the art of healing ... a nurturing spring for renewal and strengthening of purpose.”

Bookshelf focuses on books and authors at the School of Medicine.
Send suggestions to Cathy Shufro at

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