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Transcript: Estelle Brodman, 1978

Please note:  The Becker Medical Library presents this oral history interview as part of the record of the past. This primary historical resource may reflect the attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of different times and of the interviewee. The Becker Medical Library does not endorse the views expressed in this interview, which may contain materials offensive to some users.

Audrey Berteau:  This is a biographical sketch of Dr. Estelle Brodman done on November 22, 1978.  Dr. Brodman, a native of New York City, received her undergraduate degree in Histology and Embryology from Cornell University in 1935.  The following year, 1936, she received a B.S. degree in Library Science from Columbia, which was followed by an M.L.S. degree from Columbia in 1943.  In 1953 she received her Ph.D. in the History of Medicine from the same institution.  She also took post-doctoral studies at UCLA in 1959 and at the University of New Mexico in 1960.  The University of Illinois Medical School conferred an honorary degree, Doctor of Science, upon Dr. Brodman in 1974.  Dr. Brodman spent two years, 1936 and 1937, as Assistant Librarian at Cornell University School of Nursing Library.  Later in 1937, she became Assistant Medical Librarian at Columbia University Libraries, where she stayed until 1949.  From 1949 until 1961, she was Assistant Librarian for Reference Service at the National Library of Medicine in Washington, D.C.  In 1961, she was appointed Librarian and Associate Professor of Medical History at Washington University Medical School in St. Louis, Missouri.  She was made Librarian and full Professor of Medical History at Washington University Medical School in 1964, and currently still holds that position.  Dr. Brodman’s teaching career has also included teaching at Columbia University, 1946 to 1951; Catholic University, 1957; and at Keio University, Tokyo as Visiting Professor in 1962.  She has also taught at the University of Missouri in 1971 and 1973.

Dr. Brodman has been in the forefront of her profession during the years of great change in the library field.  Among her many activities, we should note that she was Editor of the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association from 1947 to 1957; Director of Special Libraries Association, 1949 to 1952; President of the Medical Library Association, 1964-1965; and held a variety of offices in the American Library Association.

She has also been active and held office in the Bibliographical Society of America and the Association for the History of Medicine.

Among her many honors, she has served as an Expert Consultant to the U.N. Technical Assistance Program in New Delhi in 1967-68; the World Health Organization, New Delhi, 1970; ECAFE, Bangkok in 1973; AID, 1974; and UNFPA, 1976.  She was a member of the Biomedical Communications Study Section of the National Institutes of Health, 1971 through 1975; Chairman, 1973 to 1975.  She was also a member of the President’s National Advisory Commission on Libraries from 1966 through 1968, and has been appointed to the membership of the forthcoming White House Conference on Library and Information Services.  She was also a member of the Library Guidelines Committee, the American Association of Medical Colleges, 1963 to 1964.

Dr. Brodman was awarded the Gottleib Award for Medical History by the Medical Library Association in June of 1977.  Earlier, she had received the Marcia C. Noyes Award for Distinguished Librarianship from the Medical Library Association in 1971.

Estelle Brodman has written two books and publications too numerous to mention.  She has also contributed to several books, including the Handbook of Medical Library Practice, Third Edition, MLA, 1970.  Dr. Brodman is a person of many talents, not the least of which is being a gourmet cook and an avid collector of Charles Dickens’ books.  She is also interested in architecture, particularly how man fashions his environment, how man conceives of himself in space.  She is also interested in the restoration of historical buildings.  And another thing, she is also interested in the way societies have arranged their political worlds.  She is truly a Renaissance lady.

Further biographical information may be obtained from the following titles: Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in American Women, American Men and Women of Science (The Medical Sciences), published by Bowker in 1975, American Men and Women of Science, edited by Jacques Cattell Press, 13th Edition, also published by Bowker in 1976.  She is also listed in a Biographical Directory of Librarians in the United States and Canada, 5th Edition, ALA, 1970.

AB:  Dr. Brodman, have I made any errors of omission in this biographical sketch?

Well there are a few things which are not quite as they should be.  On the whole, I think you’ve done pretty well.  For one thing, I was only at Cornell University for about six months, and then as a volunteer until I could find a job at Columbia University.

I taught not only in all the places that you mentioned, but I taught here at Washington University in the History of Medicine to the medical students for a number of years.  My teaching at Keio University in Tokyo was under the auspices of the China Medical Board, which had been kicked out of China when the Communists took over and were going into Southeast Asia.  They wanted to raise the level of medical practice in many of the countries in Southeast Asia, including Bangkok, Taiwan, and Japan.  Indeed, I was consultant to them for Taiwan and visited there several times to help them decide about helping the library there.

I never had any position in the Bibliographic Society of America; I’ve always just been a member.  I’ve been a consultant to a great many places that you didn’t mention, though you mentioned some; such as the Carolina Population Council under the USAID auspices, the University of Utah Medical School, Vanderbilt Medical School, Roswell Park Hospital, and a number of others.  The White House Conference has nothing to do with the President’s Advisory Commission on Libraries, nor with the Governor’s Conference on Libraries.  The Governor’s Conference on Libraries is a preliminary to the White House Conference.  I’m on the Advisory Board to the Governor’s Conference.  Whether I will be selected to go to Washington is still unknown, of course.

I had a number of other awards beyond the one that you mentioned.  One of the ones that I am fondest of is the special award which came to me as Editor of the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association when I quit being Editor in 1957.  That was one time when I was so astonished that I was speechless, and I don’t think many people have seen me in that state.  And there are also a great many biographical sketches of me beyond the ones which you indicated, and I have written many more chapters of books than the ones that you have indicated.  Anybody who wants further information should see Mrs. Kulifay for a complete list of my writings.  Otherwise, I think you’ve done very well.

Loretta Stucki:  Dr. Brodman, your undergraduate degree from Cornell University was in Histology and Embryology.  What prompted you to pursue a degree in Library Science in the following year?

Well, I was a pre-medical student, and when I didn’t get into medical school I had to decide what else I wanted to do.  Librarianship sounded interesting because I’d been interested in libraries before; and I must admit, embarassedly, that I had an argument with my mother, who wanted me to be a social worker.  I said I didn’t want to be a social worker and mess in with other people’s lives.  I said I’d rather be a librarian.  She said, “Well okay, be a librarian.”  And that’s how I got into library school.

LS:  During your 12 years at Columbia, did you select a mentor or a role model, or did you fall into one?

I think that when you look back on it, your life seems much more studied and arranged than it is as you’re living it.  No, I did not have any plans.  I didn’t have any grand ideas of what I wanted to be or what libraries ought to be or what not, nor did I have a role model or a mentor or anything.  But looking back, I just did what came natural, what needed to be done and was obvious to me, and so I did it.  Then I went from one thing to another without any great plan.  Looking back on all of this, I would say that my professional life probably falls into three categories.  In the first, in which I was learning – learning everything that needed to be learned, both about the technique of librarianship and about what libraries existed to be.  Then the second part of my professional life consisted of putting some of this into effect, but perhaps on a broader scale, on a national scale.  Then, finally, I got to the point where doing the things was more or less automatic and I could stand back and reflect about what I was doing and what libraries in general were doing.  But certainly at the time, I had no idea that I was going through all these various stages.

LS:  When did you become interested in the research aspects of information science and bibliographic control?

Well, I don’t know that I ever was not.  To me, research is just another way of looking at the world.  If you’re interested in libraries and you’re interested in the research aspects of libraries, if you’re interested in bibliography, you look at them and you say, “What would happen if?” or “Why did this happen and how can it be changed?”  It sounds better to say research, but it’s just a child’s examining the world.

LS:  You were Editor of the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association from 1947 to 1957.  How did this position influence your professional career?  Was it a turning point for you, or a starting point?

Well, again, there were no turning points or starting points in my career.  The medical library field forty years ago was very different from what it is today.  For one thing, it was enormously smaller and you got to know everybody faute de mieux, because they were just around and you were around.  You could keep up with things very easily.  You went to meetings and all the people who were there were the people who were doing things.  For example, in the thirties the number of people who came to a Medical Library Association meeting was about sixty people, as opposed to about 1,200 to 1,800 now.  So you can see what we’re talking of [was] an entirely different kind of thing.

Moreover, there were a great many more physicians who were still involved in medical librarianship and medical libraries.  The contact with them got you to know the important people in a lot of fields.  That’s the way I got to know John Fulton, the great physiologist – because he was also interested in the history of medicine and in medical bibliography.  In fact, we published our books on medical bibliography about the same time.

So, when you get to know everybody, when there was a job to be done and few people to do it, you got asked to do all sorts of things.  This is the way I got into being Editor.  They needed an assistant editor one year.  And so one morning, early in the morning, somebody called me up when I was still asleep and said, “Would you be Assistant Editor?”  I said, “Sure.”  Next year, the Editor retired and so I became the Editor.  I stayed there until 1957.  But I didn’t make any decision to be Editor.  I made the decision to stop, because at the end of ten years I thought they needed new blood.  If you’re not careful, you could make of a professional journal what Carlyle called “the lengthened shadow of one man,” and I was determined not to do that.

LS:  When did you first get into grants to support your research?  [Was] that something that came later in your career or were you able to get grants—

Well grants were not available until the Medical Library Assistance Act was passed.  Consequently, since I was involved in setting up the Medical Library Assistance Act, it couldn’t have been until I came here that grants were available.  I left the National Library of Medicine after spending one year bringing together the material which was the basis of the Medical Library Assistance Act and drafting some of the legislation.  Then it took a few years after that, so that it was really about 1964 or thereabouts when Grants were first available.

Barbara Halbrook:  What caused you to move to NLM?  Did the job just become available, or was it something you were looking forward to?

Well there were a whole series of things.  Probably the most important was that for the last year that I was at Columbia University in the Medical School Library, I was Acting Librarian.  Tom Fleming, who had been the Librarian there for many, many years and who was one of the best teachers I ever had and from whom I learned a remarkable amount on medical librarianship, went down to the main university campus to be the Assistant Librarian for the whole university.  They brought in some fellow who turned out to be an alcoholic.  He lasted for about two years, and then he got another job.  They asked me to be Acting Librarian, and I was Acting Librarian for a whole year.

Then when I said to them, “Well, how about making me Librarian,” they said very blandly, “Well we never make women Librarian of a large university departmental libraries.”  So I thought this was kind of a ridiculous situation.  They brought back Fleming, who then came back to be the Medical Librarian, so I went down and got my Ph.D. then and got a little money teaching, and ended up looking for a job.

At the time I was teaching, Brad Rogers, who was going to be the next Director of the National Library of Medicine, was one of my students.  He asked me if I would come down and help in the reorganization of the National Library of Medicine.  So I went down there.  I had used up all my money; of course I was living at home, so it was no great thing.  But I remember that I went down there, got an apartment and bought a car, and I had $9.00 left in my checking account [chuckles].  For a long time it was hand-to-mouth until I could get back to being a normal citizen of a professional group.  So, that’s how I got to the NLM.

BH:  What were your responsibilities at NLM?  Could you tell us something about NLM as it was when you first went there in the early fifties?

NLM had been one of the most progressive libraries as the old Surgeon General’s Library in the 1870s and 1880s.  But it had long fallen into a period of lethargy and great disorder.  It was the World War II that brought to the surface the fact that the then Army Medical Library was not able to serve the Army Medical Corps, which was struggling with such things as Tropical Malaria and Rinderer Disease and Black Water Fever, and not getting any help at all from the Army Medical Library.  So, under the aegis of one of the Army Directors, Colonel [Harold] Jones, they revamped the system for the Army Medical Library – in which they allowed the Director to stay more than just two years (which had been previously done), gave him a lot of extra positions, and allowed him to hire professional librarians.

I was the third professional librarian that they’d ever had at the NLM.  The Head of Cataloging came.  They had no classification scheme at all, and they had no card catalog; they had nothing but the Index Catalog which was about twenty years out of date.  They spent most of their time looking for books which they knew they had because they were listed in the Index Catalog.  They knew they needed to change things, and so they decided to ask for volunteers from the Army Medical Corps to be permanent Director of the Army Medical Library.  They chose Brad Rogers, and then they sent him to library school.  When they sent him to library school it was Columbia University that he came to, and that’s how he came.

We used to sit and talk about what we should do; I did write a little bit about that for a speech I made which was never published.  In anticipation of this question, I got it out and I’d like to read you a couple of paragraphs:

“There are few practicing librarians around today who can remember the sleepy, unimportant, confusing and confused Army Medical Library of the 1940s.  But hardly any biological librarian today is not touched by the work of the National Library of Medicine, the same institution under its new name.  It has become a leader and an innovator and a force for biomedical and library advances.  And the change started to come about in the 1950s and the 1960s.  Many people and many external factors were responsible for this phoenix-like change.  But two things were absolutely essential: people with vision and drive and executive ability, and money.  It is a cliché to say that wars bring some good in the train of their destruction.  But it is certain that World War II was central in convincing governmental and civilian leaders of the need for up-to-date biomedical information.  Where such information was available, armies fought better, and the cost of morbidity and mortality was less than where the information was lacking.  It was therefore cost-effective to give the then Army Medical Library money to purchase more and more widely in biomedicine than it had done for over half a century, to find people to do all the work which was required for such a collection, and even to assign Army officers of high rank and proven ability as Directors of the Library so that the money would not be wasted.  People with dreams and people who can translate dreams into actions are also needed in such great demand as Colonel Harold Jones, Joseph McNinch, and, more important, the then young Major, Frank B. Rogers, were the catalysts who brought about this reaction.

“There was so much to be done, one could start anywhere and make profound changes.  Because so little had been done for so long, the then current methods of librarianship could be used with startling good results.  I need only mention classifying the books in the collection or standardizing interlibrary loan forms to give you an idea of the fundamentals which had been allowed to slip.  Putting into effect what was standard operating procedure, bringing the Library kicking and screaming into the middle of the Twentieth Century, allowed us all some time to plan for the more daring and innovative things which would be harder to envisage, more difficult to persuade others to accept, and much more costly than previous attempts.  We were a bunch of young, enthusiastic, hard-working people who came to the Library almost at the same time, and the air of change was winey and intoxicating.  We used to sit up nights, drinking our bourbon and scotch, and discussing what we should try to do next.  What was the purpose of a national library?  How did it differ from any other large library?  What special responsibilities did we have?  How could we define what we should collect?  How make our collections most easily available to users that came in person and users all across the continent?  What should we do about lags in cataloging, indexing, publishing?  How could we take up the slack due to the demise of the Quarterly Cumulative Index Medicus?  Could we get away with the draconian decision to kill the Index Catalog, said by William Welsh to be more important to medicine than the discovery of anesthesia.  What new methods were available for use?  Could we perhaps microfilm interlibrary loans instead of sending the originals?  Could we shingle our catalog cards onto a board and photograph them to make a printed catalog that didn’t require retyping?  Would it be possible to substitute a printed catalog for a card catalog?  What should we do about the Current List of Medical Literature, privately published, the wartime expedient sized to fit into a medical officer’s jacket pocket?  Could the punch card equipment in the Surgeon General’s Office be of any help in producing indexes to a larger volume of literature in a shorter period?  Could filming, punch cards, and automated printing be united?  How could we get the medical literature from some of the new countries in the world which lacked a book selling apparatus?  How prune our own collection of non-medical materials accepted once and now difficult to get rid of?  Should we be translating the seized Nazi documents on medical experiments in concentration camps?  Who could read our Japanese material?  Even how could we persuade a clerk in the Army Censorship office that sending a photostat of the title page of a seventeenth Century anatomy text to a scientist behind the Iron Curtain would not upset the Cold War and change it to a hot one?  And finally, if we gave extensive reference service to individuals, would we be undercutting the other medical libraries around the country and thus perhaps bring them down into ruin by loss of their budgets?”

It was an extremely exciting period.  I suppose everybody who is my age looks back on some time when it sounds so exciting and we can only hope that the people today find it just as exciting as we did in our time.  My, that’s a long answer to a short question [laughs]!

BH:  I might give you another one for a long answer.  One of those daring changes and one way to handle the literature was the development of MEDLARS, and you were there at least when they started working on it.  Could you tell us something about that?

I was there all the time they were working on it.  In fact, it was completed before I left.  I was only a bystander in that – a bystander and a scotch drinker and a driver of a carpool where it was all discussed, but I was not actually involved in doing it.

It was Seymour Taine’s first idea.  He and Brad Rogers between them worked it out.  I shouldn’t say it was Seymour Taine’s first idea.  It was Gene Garfield’s first idea, and I did have Gene’s manuscript on it and I cannot find it now.  It will come back to me sometime.  But he proposed way back in 1951 that the Current List of Medical Literature use punch cards. (There was no computer at that time.)  From then, the plan of partially automating the production of the Current List so that the items appeared on punch cards with the actual citation typed in in the middle of the card, and a phototon, a special camera, was developed which would use the punch cards to indicate author, title, or subject and then photograph the item in the order in which they should come.  Then they were put on silver halide photographic film and printed from there.  This was done under a Council of Library Resources grant, and I’ve given Mrs. Berteau the report of that which came out.

As soon as the computer appeared, this interim way of automation was ridiculous, because the computer could do it a great deal faster and better and cheaper than could be done this way.  Just as I was leaving, they had designed the system which was worked out by Dake Gull and given it to GE who developed the computer to do it.  Then, GRACE, the Graphic Arts Composition something or other, which printed it from the computer – It was the first machine that was able to produce printed copy of editions, not just individual copies.  For a while, the machine didn’t appear when it should, so the first few volumes of the Index Medicus done by the computer are printed on the old IBM computer printouts.  Then it was about two years later that GRACE finally came into being.

BH:  Now, maybe a series of questions with a related answer.  Why did you decide to leave NLM and come to Washington University?  What was the administration here looking for in a librarian?  What was the level of service in the library when you came here?

As I said before, I spent the last year with Scott Adams.  The two of us and the secretary were the legislative liaison to set up the Extramural Program.  By that time, the Army Medical Library was the National Library of Medicine.  It had gone from the Army to the Public Health Service, and consequently it was possible to think of it in the same way as the National Institutes of Health were.  So we thought we could do something for librarianship all over the country by making it possible to educate medical librarians in a better way than had been done before, to give libraries a little more money to collect the material which they needed and to catalog it the way it should be cataloged, and to give services which they had not been able to do before.

At the end of that year, there was a controversy between the Director of the National Library of Medicine and the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and it looked like they weren’t going to send it up to Congress.  By that time, my old position of course had been filled and the question was did I want to stay and try and get it through Congress in spite of that, or did I want to go do something else.  I decided that I might consider going somewhere else.  But I hadn’t really even thought very strongly of it; I was still involved in it when Dr. Sherry of this medical school, who was Chairman of the Search Committee for a Librarian, came and talked to us about the possibility of getting a new Librarian.  I thought maybe I might be interested, so I came out to take a look and to interview them and to be interviewed by them.

They were in difficulties at the time because my predecessor unfortunately had developed some psychiatric difficulties, was in the psychiatric hospital, and before she had gotten to that point I guess the service of the library had gone down very badly.  The people realized that when they were doing their research they were not getting the help they needed from the library.  This was the same thing that was true of the Army Medical Library during World War II.  They wanted to have a good library which would back them up in their research and teaching, and they were willing to do almost anything; they were practically going around shouting and screaming because they were so upset about their inability to get help from the library.

As a result of this, they allowed me to come not only myself, but to bring with me three other people from the National Library of Medicine.  The staff here had gone one by one.  There was practically nobody here.  I think there were eight people on the staff when I came, only one of whom was a professional librarian.  Since we were a team who’d been used to working together, we could start doing things.  And again, the things that needed to be done were so obvious and so standard that it made a great deal of difference in a small time.  In this honeymoon period, we were able to do things like paint.  They hadn’t painted the library since it had been built.  They had thrown all their duplicates and their old furniture and whatnot down the stairs into the basement which didn’t have any stacks in them.  It was an Augean stable and it took the four of us six months or more to clean out that space.  We threw away things, we sold things, we added them to the collection, we found things that belonged in the collection that were down there.  It was so obvious when we got through that we had worked hard, that there was no question about going on from there.

They also thought that since I knew what I was doing and the rest of us knew what we were doing, they didn’t need a Library Committee.  So very soon after I came, they abolished the Library Committee and they’ve never had a Library Committee since then.  I guess they’re too busy to have a Library Committee at the moment.

Well that’s a long answer.

BH:  Okay, I think that’s the end of my questions, so—

INT:  Dr. Brodman, how did you become involved in consulting at the international level?

Well, your guess is as good as mine [chuckles].  Let me tell you the chronology of it, and tell you why I don’t know the answer to that.  I was in Washington and came up to New York for a meeting at the New York Academy of Medicine, and I forget now what the meeting was about.  But along with it was a luncheon with some of the people from the China Medical Board who were going to send some people down to the National Library of Medicine for training.  I did some arrangement of that, and the next thing I knew they were asking me if I would go to Tokyo – if I would do two things: first of all, they wanted me to make a survey of the medical school libraries in Japan which they had been helping.  For five years previous they had been giving money to some of the medical school libraries, and they wanted to know how the money had been spent.  Then they were starting on a three year program in the fields of biological and agricultural librarianship, and they wanted to bring a specialist each year to train the librarians in Japan.  So they asked me if I would be the first one, and I did.  Then I went and made that survey for them, and then I got back to Keio University and I taught there.

I introduced something they’d never heard of before – the seminar, where you sat around and drank coffee and ate cake and discussed problems in the field.  That was an eye-opener to the Japanese, who were used to having only lectures and an examination at the end in which they spewed forth what had been said in the lectures.  To be asked to think about a question, and to be asked to answer without preparation of what was going on and what they thought, was something unknown to them and, I think, interesting to them.  It was a first time I had ever been in a culture that was not my own.  While I made many, many gaffes, I learned a great deal.  I learned a great deal about how other cultures do as well or better than we do, and therefore I should not have any chip on my shoulder about how good we were or think that our method of handling problems would fit into a different culture.

INT:  Do you feel that your U.N. missions to New Delhi and Bangkok led to lasting results, that a higher level of service is being given today?  I ask that because I myself worked for the U.N., and I have seen things from the inside.

I wish I could be sure that I hadn’t wasted my time and the money of the U.N.  Certainly I learned a great deal, so in that case it had lasting results.  And as a result of my going overseas, we’ve had a whole succession of foreign librarians coming to work here, which made their influence known to a great many of the people of our staffs.  So in that way I suppose it’s lasting results.

Whether it led to a better level of service, I have no way of knowing.  Whether they would have reached the same level with me or without me, it’s hard for me to tell.  I get away discouraged because without any doubt I am a product of my own civilization, and we do things quickly and we make up our minds, and right or wrong we do them.  It’s very hard for me to accept and live within the bounds of a civilization where it may take three or four years to get a simple thing done.  To put that in perspective is almost impossible.  As a result, I keep thinking, “Well gee, I’m never going to come back here.  It’s just a waste of time.”  But then when I come back five years later, one little thing has been done, and I think, “Well, maybe it’s worth it.”  So I don’t know.

INT:  [Chuckles]  Thank you.  Would you please comment briefly on the general trends in MLA in recent years.

I’m not sure that I can comment on what they’ve been doing in recent years because it’s one of my beliefs that if you leave an organization or leave its hierarchy, you should keep your cotton-picking hands away from it.  I’ve tried very hard not to interfere in any way in what MLA is doing.  I can tell you a little bit about what I see as differences between what it was years ago and what it is now.  But what their general trends are, I wouldn’t know.

INT:  Obviously, the position which you held and [through] which you learned the most and made the greatest contribution would probably be your career at NLM?

Well now, you’re talking about two different things:  Where I learned the most and where I made the greatest contribution.  They’re not necessarily the same place.

INT:  No, I agree.

I learned the most at Columbia University because it’s a logarithmic curve.  You learn a tremendous amount when you start, and you learn lesser and lesser amounts proportionately as you go along because you’re using what you have learned, rather than learning something new all the time.  It’s a matter of different kinds of services, also different kinds of learning that you do at different times.  Now whether I’ve made any contribution at all to any of this is also open to question.  I assume that I made some contribution, but just how important it is, is hard to tell because you never have a way of measuring it.  You have no control group.  What would have happened if someone else had been in those positions?  Would it have been just the same?  Would it have been equally good, equally bad?  How do you know what contribution you ever make?

INT:  What do you see as good or bad changes in biomedical librarianship?

Changes from when, or changes about what?

INT:  Well now you’re putting me on the spot, and I intend to put you on the spot.

Well, I can’t answer a question unless it’s a real question.

INT:  It’s obvious what the good changes have been in the last twenty years in biomedical librarianship.  I think what I really intend to say is what is the converse of that?

I don’t understand the question.  Perhaps some of the rest of you can help.

INT:  Not all of the changes have been successful.  Perhaps we’re going back to the quality of medical librarians.

Well I don’t think the quality of medical librarians has changed.  In fact, that quotation I read you was from a speech which I gave which I called, “The More It Changes, the More It’s the Same: Biological Libraries over the Past Forty Years.”  We are different than the biological libraries because we are so much larger than we had been.  The fact that we are larger brings a great many changes into effect just because of size.  We have larger budgets, we have larger numbers of people on our staff, we have larger collections, we have larger responsibilities.  That, I think, is the most important change that has occurred.

If you want to know what else I think is important in the changes in libraries in the past forty years, I think the introduction of the Xerox machine has done a great deal more to change biological librarianship than the computer has ever done.  I think it has been accepted without anybody’s looking at it and saying, “Well now, gee.  What does this mean?  What should we be doing as a result of this?  How should we change our work?  How can we change it?  How are we changing it?”  It always amazes me that people talk about technology as an awful thing, and yet they accept some parts of technology without batting an eyelash.  They accepted telephones without any difficulty, they accept new hand calculating machines without any difficulty, they accept Xerox as if it’s been there since Moses put the things on the tablets.  They don’t realize that some of these other things have made an enormous impact on the way in which we run our libraries, our lives, and everything else.  It’s only when they break down that we begin to see problems.  You know, you just think about the U.S. Mail service.  It was the best mail service in the world up to twenty years ago.  And only now that it’s become so terrible are we paying any attention to it.

INT:  Very true.  What are your professional plans after retirement from your current position?

I don’t have any.  Any suggestions?

INT:  I am sure that you will not retire one day and fold your hands the next.

Well I can tell you one thing I’m not going to.  I’m not going to travel.  I’m never, never going to get onto an airplane and sleep in another Holiday Inn Motel for the rest of my life!  [Laughs].  Let me ask you questions.  What do you think has been the change in medical librarianship in the past years that you’ve been involved in it.  Mrs. [Betty] Kulifay, how has this library changed from when you came?

Betty Kulifay:  I can only speak of physical aspects of it, not from a librarian’s point of view, of course.  But as you say, we had eight people on the staff, and it was a very close-knit, homey atmosphere.  It amazes me still, when I count the number of staff members we have and we get close to fifty; it’s just hard to realize.  Watching the salaries, comparing the salaries when I came seventeen years ago and what they are today and having the same problems with them, [laughs] even though the amounts are much bigger.

Mr. [Millard] Johnson, you’re the next one who’s been here longest.  How do you see the differences?

Millard Johnson:  In regard to computers, I think that I’ve noticed three phases very distinctly: an early phase of unbounded optimism in which anything was possible; followed by a second phase of the greatest resistance imaginable – anything that suggested computers was fought tooth and nail by librarians; and finally, in the phase that we’re in now I think is probably more realistic, although history might not see it that way, in which some phases of automation are seen as successful and some are failures.  I think people have the more rational approach to automation now than at any time in the past.

Would you talk a little bit also about the education of computer librarians, since you were involved in it.

MJ:  Well my involvement was as a Trainee and then as Director of Trainees.  As the Trainee Program at Washington University was probably one of the more successful efforts that I know of – library schools have not risen to the task; no one ever comes out of a one year program in librarianship where they have to learn all librarianship with any kind of good facility for working with computers.  Maybe for understanding, but not for practicing.  Our major effort here, I think looking back on it, is a bit disappointing in that most of the trainees that we have worked with have gone out of the field.  I don’t see any rational prospects for librarians as such being practitioners employing computer systems, but they’re much more capable of speaking with computer people and working with computerized systems than they were only a few years ago.

Ms. Halbrook, you’re the next one in chronology.  Will you speak so that this turns on the light?

BH:  Well I’m not sure that I’m aware of a lot of changes.  The changes in certain aspects such as the automated data bases and so on came about the same time I did, so I’m not sure that I’m aware of big changes there, although there may be.  I think maybe right now we’re getting to a change where we’re becoming aware that perhaps bigger isn’t better; and even if it is, it’s not economically feasible to go on getting bigger and bigger.  I think perhaps right now we’re starting to make a change in terms of economics.

Speaking as a newcomer in the field, that is two or three years in the field, how do you look at the problem of biomedical libraries?

INT:  As a very recent person in the field, I would say that standardization is probably something that we’re beginning to contend with.  Now with the new addition of NLM’s schedules, with L.C.’s freezing their card catalog, libraries are faced with reevaluating standardization as to whether the difference between what needs to be done to keep standardization throughout all libraries and what needs to be done to maintain providing the services for your own specific clientele.  So I think there are many changes still yet to come.

You come into medical librarianship after a hiatus of more than ten years.  Have you seen any changes in the field?

Audrey Berteau:  It’s been much longer than ten years.  I was on the receiving end of the services given by the Army Medical Library in the late forties and early fifties. So indeed, I have seen many, many improvements in medical library services.  I have been most impressed in the short time that I have been here with the level of service given by this staff in an extremely cramped location.  I think that the training of medical librarians has advanced remarkably since Columbia first started its medical librarianship program many years ago.  I think that was in the late thirties, wasn’t it?

I ought to remember, I was the one teaching it.

AB:  [Laughs]  The emphasis on special training for medical librarianship, I think, is very beneficial indeed.

Well, I would hate to stop this without saying how exciting and fulfilling intellectually I have found medical librarianship over the years.  Like the theories of the Catholic Church, medical librarianship can be practiced at the lowest and least intellectual level or at the highest ability which one’s pia mater allows one to have.  Being able to work on problems which are intellectually fascinating and socially useful has been something which I would not have given up for anything.  Although I went into medical librarianship by chance and almost by the back door, I’m very glad that I did and that I came in at a time when so many exciting things were happening.  Weekend before last, I went to the ACRL meeting in Boston and then to the ASIS meeting in New York, back-to-back, and the difference between the college and university librarian and the information scientist, particularly in the biomedical library, was so great and so obvious that I thanked my stars over and over again that I had not ended up as a public or a university college librarian, but had gotten into this much more exciting field of biomedical librarians.

INT:  Thank you very much, Dr. Brodman.


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