Nationally, Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences is a top-tier health sciences library. It holds one of the largest and most extensive collections of health sciences literature in North America. The library primarily serves the MCV Campus, which houses one of the oldest medical schools in the South, founded in 1838. The library, in one form or location or another, has been a part of the medical campus since 1897. Located on 12th Street—two blocks north of the Gateway Building at the VCU Medical Center and within easy walks to the schools of Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Nursing and Allied Health Sciences—the library is physically central to today’s health sciences campus. It provides access to affiliated students, faculty, clinicians and practicing health care professionals on and off campus.
In 2012, the National Science Foundation ranked VCU 79th in research expenditures in a survey of more than 900 institutions During fiscal year 2012, the VCU Libraries invested 54 percent of its funding in library materials. The majority of these collections funds were committed to journal subscription, as is typical of academic research libraries supporting a significant research enterprise with large life science and biomedical science programs. In 2012-13, VCU funded the first year of a multi-year plan to grow its libraries to meet the University’s Quest for Distinction goals. Funds to acquire library materials were increased by $922,000, and the VCU Libraries projects expenditures for library materials to total about $9.6 million in 2012-13.
For almost 20 years, the Medical College of Virginia's (MCV) Georgian-style building at 509 North 12th Street was known simply as the "College Library." In the winter of 1950, several administrators, including Comptroller Major-General William F. Tompkins, USA, retired, recommended naming the library in recognition of five members of two prominent Virginia families. The MCV Board of Visitors approved the name "Tompkins-McCaw Library" on March 10, 1950, honoring General Tompkins' great aunt, maternal grandfather, uncle, father and brother. The honorees were: