We were talking about the Mid-Continental Regional Medical Library and why it was not set up here in St. Louis. It wasn’t because we didn’t try. We tried very hard to get the VA librarian, St. Louis University, Washington University, Nina Matheson (then the Missouri Mental Health Institution and she was in on it), and a lot of the hospital libraries around here, to work together to get it set up. The small hospital libraries, most of whom were under non-librarians, didn’t know what to do, weren’t interested in doing it, and thought it was all a mistake. Frank [Francis B.] O’Leary refused outright to have anything to do with it unless he was made Chairman. We made him Chairman of the Committee, and then he wouldn’t even call a meeting. Finally I just gave up on it.
In the meantime, Brad Rogers had gone to Colorado, Bernice Hetzner was in Omaha, Dean Schmidt was in Columbia, Missouri, and Earl Farley in Kansas. We decided that we just had to do something, and if it wasn’t going to be in St. Louis, it’s got to be somewhere. NLM tried very hard to get us to do it, so we got together. And Bernice Hetzner had a new dean – Whitock, I think his name was – who was determined it would go to Omaha. They were just about to open their new building and he put a political clout on this and got the Congressman involved in it, and before we knew it the administration was in Omaha.
Now all of us realized that as nice as Bernice was, she really wasn’t the person that one would want for such a position. So we devised a system, which lasted a few years, for decentralizing it and each of these libraries was given a different responsibility. We were responsible for automation, and we brought out two union lists for which each of these four libraries put in a thousand dollars. (That tells you how cheap things were in those days.) We had a printed list – I can see it from here, it’s that green book. After a while, NLM got much more messy about money and said it all had to be done through whatever library was the administrative head. Colorado was the MEDLARS Center, because that was before MEDLINE, and Kansas was in charge of interlibrary loans, and Nebraska was supposed to take care of the funding and general administration. We were automation, and I’ve forgotten now what Dean Schmidt was. But each of us had one specialty that we were going to be responsible for. But that died as NLM centralized it more and more. Then when Bernice left and Dave Bishop came in, it was an entirely different thing. Then nobody complained because Dave Bishop was capable of running it.
And how has it prospered to these days?
Well, at the moment we are involved with them in what is known as OCTANET. OCTANET is a proposal of Millard Johnson’s, which has now got not only our region involved but the National Library of Medicine as part of the work, in which the region will pay for TELENET as a communication link of the seven libraries who are the resource libraries for the area, and then later maybe others. We’ll put on it to start with the serial holdings of these seven libraries, six of whom are in PHILSOM already; so it’s just a matter of turning a button and there they’ll be. Then it can be used as a interlibrary loan device because we will have a form there. And once you find out what library has it, you just can put in your request for it and it will be sent to you without any further work on your part, or if it is at the binder’s or somewhere, it will be shunted along.
Was that similar to the OCLC ILL subsystem?
Well, it’s much more exact, and it’s only medicine. The holdings that we have are much more detailed so that you can know immediately whether the library has it or not. It will also do check-ins for those libraries that wish to spend their money for the communication cost, but that’s a lot cheaper than coming to St. Louis on Bell Telephone. It’s four and a half dollars as opposed to twenty-three cents a minute, I think. We’ll get places like Salt Lake City and Denver and Portland, Oregon in on it, which wouldn’t have been economically feasible before. In addition to that it has other things. It will keep fiscal accounting for you, tell you about binding, and about, subscriptions; it’s all the things that are already in PHILSOM. It will give you message capabilities, so you can write messages back and forth and use notes to all the other people on there. Now, NLM has gotten into the act because it wants to try it out as a pilot, so that things which are requested and are not in the Region will automatically go to NLM without anybody’s having to write out a slip or so on. We may try it by putting in some money too.
It sounds like it’s really taking off.
Yes. I think it’s going to be very good, and that means that many of the libraries which are in PHILSOM III (our PHILSOM, not the New York PHILSOM) who are in batch mode will go on line at not very much more money than they’re paying for it now.
You were a member of the Missouri White House Conference on Libraries Pre-Conference. How did the deliberations of this group go? Were you displeased or pleased with their concerns and priorities?
I was very displeased, because all it was was small public libraries. I could never get them very interested in anything else besides their local school or public library; and censorship was a great problem. I was much disliked by the time the thing was over because I kept wanting to broaden it and they kept wanting to keep it small.
Were you very disappointed at not having been chosen for the major conference?
I’ve been to enough of those conferences, it really didn’t matter particularly.
Were you the only representative of special or health sciences libraries?
There was one hospital librarian from some small town in upper Missouri, and there were a couple of special librarians – one from Monsanto and one from one of the banking libraries here.
Speaking of censorship, have you experienced any attempts at censorship in any of your libraries during your career?
No, no. That’s one of the things I’ve not had to worry about.
Let’s talk some more about automation. In what ay were you introduced to automation in libraries? I assume it was probably at the National Library of Medicine.
Yes, in its early form as the Army Medical Library. Well of course, when I was at Columbia, Vannevar Bush’s work came out, and everybody began to be very excited about the possibility of that. Then when I went down to Washington, as I said, I was Officer-in-Charge of this (John Hopkins Research) group. As Editor of the Bulletin, I had published the proceedings of the Honorary Consultants and in fact I had made one speech on it at the time. So I knew that it [automation] was coming. Then Gene Garfield was there and we would talk, about that. Finally, when it really got to look as if we were going into it, as I said, the Army sent me out to UCLA for a very quick but very intensive course which was called the Mathematics of Automation, or Computers, I forget now. It certainly was a lot over my head mathematically; it was given by Hayes and Becker, but this was before Hayes was in the library school, when he was still in the Department of Mathematics. That got me a little background on it, of course; and then NLM did so much with the field that it would have been hard for me not to find out more about it.
Did any of the specific experiences at NLM pave the way for your program here?
Well, all of them.
Would it have begun earlier here if you had found the library in better shape, because you had to take care of that?
Well as I told you, it began the day I came back from Japan, and that hardly could have been any (laughs) faster than that.
Right. Did you find much resistance on your staff?
Excuse me, if I may amplify on that.
I was the first one who tried to get IBM equipment in the Medical Center, just as I was the first one to have a Xerox machine in this medical Center. I brought a new world to St. Louis (chuckles); I don’t know by how much, but I remember the difficulty I had in finding anybody here who knew anything about automation, punched cards, IBM machinery when I first came. That’s when I got to know the people in the Computer Center on the main campus. That was such a small shop at that time that on Saturday mornings in slacks I used to go out there and run PHILSOM. We grew up together. Now, of course, I don’t understand it at all. It’s way beyond me.
Did you have trouble persuading the administration the use or the value of this?
No, I made lots of mistakes, but as I told them, you know, this is an experiment. It may work, and it may not. When it came to closing the Card Catalog, we tried it several times and each time we saw it was unsatisfactory and brought back the Card Catalog. At one point, I asked the dean to appoint an ad hoc committee to help me decide whether one bit of automation we were engaged in was worth it. We decided it wasn’t and we stopped doing it. No, I think they just accepted it.
Did your staff accept it as well, the idea of automation in the library?
I think the ones that stayed (chuckles) were excited about it; the ones who didn’t like it left.
Would the PHILSOM project have been carried out at that time if Irwin Pizer had not been here as Research Assistant?
It’s hard to tell, you know, what would have happened if? He certainly had a drive and an understanding that might have been lacking in someone else.
But the basic idea for PHILSOM developed between the two of you, did it?
Well I think it was in the air. The week that we did the first PHILSOM, I took the output to a meeting in Washington where Verner Clapp from the Library of Congress was, and I showed it to him proudly and he pulled out of his briefcase one that was done in San Diego. I forget the name of the fellow who was down there. But it was almost exactly the same, and neither one of us had realized the other one was doing it, so I think it was just in the air.
You noted in your first report on Mechanization of Library Procedures [in the Bulletin of the MLA] that methods worked out in an average size library could be more easily adapted to other small libraries than methods from the giants. What type of response did you have from other, meaning the small size libraries? Do you recall?
Well, yes. We ran a series of five workshops on automation in the small and medium sized library. I was interested when I was listening to Louise Darling’s interview that she talked about coming to one of them. Ralph Esterquest would come, and other people. It was always a large group. We had to restrict it; I think 65 was the largest, because we gave them hands-on experience. In those days, hands-on experience was unusual. But it was an enormous job for us, of course. By the fifth or sixth year, the library schools were beginning to get into such courses and we felt that it was more appropriate for them to do it. I’m not sure whether we were right in that or not. But everybody was very interested; that was the period in which everybody had great hopes for automation. We’ve now seen some of the bad points as well as the good points, and the costs and ease, et cetera, which was not true previously. But at that period, everybody was euphoric about it.
Had you anticipated that PHILSOM would eventually become a network?
No, and interestingly enough it was Bernice Hetzner who got us into the network. She and Earl Farley thought they might like to come in on it, and so we got our computer people to figure out how to do it for more than one library and then how much to charge for it. When we presented it to them, they wouldn’t buy it. So there we had the program for several years, and we were still the only ones using it. Then Utah came in and the University of Missouri came in. For a long time there were just the three of us, and then it began to burgeon and now we’ve got, I don’t know, sixteen or seventeen. But every time that we change it, to make it better, it costs us in our research budget. That’s what our research budget is for; we do that along with other things. When we were able to go on-line, that was a great advance. The cost of on-line work is the cost of telecommunications; the rest is cheaper to do on-line than to do it batch and printout, if you’re next to the computer. But if you’re in Portland, Oregon or Salt Lake City, or San Antonio, that’s a lot more expensive; and so we have done two things. We have made nodes. There is a node in Washington run at George Washington University where they have exactly the same equipment that we have here. They take our program and they run part of it, and we run the part that’s batch still and it’s cheapest to run batch.
They run it there for Georgetown and George Washington and, they hope, Johns Hopkins in Maryland, and any other library that comes in. We are now also rewriting it. If they can’t use the TELENET system which OCTANET is going to give them, we’re rewriting it so they can do some of it locally on whatever machine they have and the rest of it here, which would give them the capability of seeing at any moment everything they have, while we would still do their accounting for them and their subscriptions and their binding slips, and so on. So it’s a continually changing program. When Jacqueline Felter was at the Medical Library Center of New York – you know we used to go vacationing together – I think it was up in Alaska. We were sitting and having a couple of martinis (chuckles) together and she was saying that she had gone about as far with the programs that had been set up for, the Medical Library Center at New York as they could, and she needed some new projects rather than to continue to polish the old ones. I said, “Well, why don’t you do PHILSOM for everybody?” Well, she came and she liked it and she took it over and they had to do some changes because they had different equipment, and so on, but they’re working. But that was the old PHILSOM. Since then, we have gone through two or three different variations and updatings of the system. But the Medical Library Center has not. So they are offering an outdated system which is at least, I would say, seven or eight to ten years out of date. But the present director is not interested in changing. When Jean Miller was there, she wanted to change it and if she’d stayed a little longer she would have had the money for the equipment to do it. But she left, and the new fellow came in and isn’t interested at all. Still, that makes one in every five medical school libraries in the country [that] use PHILSOM, but they don’t all use the latest version of that.
Did you have any hopes for any part of PHILSOM that didn’t work out, that you haven’t reported? I know you have reported some of the problems that you did have, for example, the Book Catalog situation.
Yes. Well now, PHILSOM is separate from cataloging. Yes. In this on-line system, we thought that the cost of telecommunications would be manageable. We knew the cost of computing was going down; we didn’t think that the cost of telecommunications would go down equally, but we didn’t think it would go up. What it has done is go on up, or at the best, it has stayed the same, which makes it more expensive. The technology is there, but the cost is not there. That’s a great disappointment.
You received an unexpected reaction from the Library Community Report on the failure of one part of your automation program, that is, the Book Catalog, as you were to report it in 1978 publication. You suggested some of the reasons there. Can you suggest a way in which this fear of reporting failure could be overcome, or do you think it is part of human condition and little can be done?
I think it’s a matter of money. If an individual or a group has a cushion of money so that if they make a mistake they can throw it out and start all over again, they’re more likely to be willing to try and make a mistake. I was thinking of that just a few days ago; I bought a pair of shoes and I didn’t get around to wearing it for longer than I should have, and when I put them on they weren’t very comfortable, but it was too late to take it back. Well I said, “To hell with it,” and I gave it to Goodwill. Now, if I couldn’t afford to give it to Goodwill, I would have had to live with those uncomfortable shoes.
Well, is there anything that I haven’t asked you about Washington University School of Medicine or your automation program?
Well, I am just writing now the twenty year report of my time, and I have been thinking about some of the things that have happened. I guess we have time for me to talk about them. There are three problems which were here when I came and which are still here when I leave twenty years later. One is the space, only that problem’s gotten worse. One of the things which I think I have been most negligent about is persuading them that they absolutely had to have a new building because by making the poor space fairly easy to use, I have not gotten them so uncomfortable that they are going to do something about it right away.
The second problem which began almost as soon as I arrived and has not gone away is a problem we’ve already talked about, and that is how to get a staff which stays current with the technology, the literature, and which understands how scientists work and think and who are willing to try ways to provide that service. Because we are the biggest and best medical library in the area, our staff gets complacent and they think they know it all. Many of them are married and have responsibilities and can’t get away. Once they are through with this job they can’t go on to think about professional matters. They have to think about the children’s school and getting dinner. I needn’t tell you all the problems which this involves. While I sound like a male chauvinist, it begins to bother me that women don’t have the choice that men have of taking their work home with them and thinking about what they’re doing.
The third problem is the way to communicate, both ways, between the library and the members of the Medical Center. There are a number of facets to this. As the institution gets larger, it becomes more difficult to get any news percolating through it. We put out, for instance, Library Notes. This used to be something which people would talk to me about, “I saw in Library Notes that XYZ.” Well, although we put out three or four times as many copies, there are six or seven times as many people. So information doesn’t get out to them. Then there is always the need for a library to know in advance of when something is going to happen in the Medical Center that it will happen, so that the library can tool up and be prepared for it; to get the collection, to see that the work is ready for the users. This is done partly by cocktail parties and partly by committees. But there are only so many committees that any individual could be on. Cocktail parties are hit and miss and you get a certain group and you get invited to the same cocktail party – the same group of people at the cocktail party – and you never get the new people. These are the three major problems which I see as the problems of the past and which are still with us today.
Let’s talk some about your training program in Computer Librarianship. Early in your career, you were deeply involved with the development of the concept of internship in the MLA, on the Training Committee and later on the Standards Committee. I suppose it was this interest coupled with your interest in automation that brought about the program here.
Yes. It seemed to me that there were a number of places that were capable of giving straight medical library internships, and indeed they did – UCLA, NIH, Johns Hopkins and a few others. But there were very few that could give the specialized training in automation which we could. Apparently, the NLM thought so too, because they paid for it.
Did the people who participated in this program actually have specialized training in medical librarianship or was it that the focus was strictly on the computer aspects?
It was on computer aspects; they used this library as a laboratory, therefore medical librarianship was what they had day-by-day every day. But that was not the main purpose of it. The main purpose was automation. We required of them that they have a degree in librarianship and mathematics through calculus. Those were the only requirements.
Did the outcome of the program meet your goals?
Well, the people went off to do fairly interesting things in automation, and some of them then became directors of libraries which included automation in their projects. Some of them just went back into ordinary librarianship and some of them left librarianship completely. There were two who went in for a Ph.D. We only had twenty-one or twenty-two, I think, trainees in the seven years. No, we must have had more than that – twenty-seven maybe – but less than thirty for the whole period. (We started with three and we gradually built up to five.) We had it jointly run by the library, the Computer Center, and the university. We tried to get a faculty member who was interested in having some particular research project done for which automation could be used. We had some who worked in biology, and one who worked with a psychologist, and so on. So they saw automation in more than just libraries.
Was it difficult to find these projects?
Not especially; I don’t really remember any difficulties. I used to get help from the computer people who knew what the people on the Hill were interested in – on campus, the main campus. But mostly, they were glad to take part in it because they got something done for them which they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. And then our trainees got an idea of things that were going on that they wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere. We also gave them tuition for courses so they took formal courses as well as this kind of informal learning on the job, and then we had seminars. So they got, I think, a fairly rounded view of things.
Other than federal red tape, what were the most difficult parts of the program to carry out?
Well, the most difficult was probably getting a Director of Training because it was not a full-time job and therefore you had to split up somebody, and to find somebody who was really knowledgeable in automation and who still could do other things was quite difficult. The second difficulty was getting the staff of the library to realize how much time they had to put in to make this a workable project. I was continually after them – “What is your plan?” You know, you can’t have the fellow just come in there and say, “Oh yes, today was the day you were supposed to come here. Now let’s see. What can we do with you?” I was determined we weren’t going to have that kind of a program. So I insisted upon outlines of what people were going to tell the trainees and how they were going to set them to work, and so on. Then I insisted that every trainee have one project which would result in a publishable paper. That sometimes caused problems with the staff as well as here. We evolved the program as we went along. Toward the end, we had a formal last day in which we got the trainees to report on their projects and then I gave them a certificate with a bow attached to it and all the rest of it. But we hadn’t done that at the beginning because we were learning as we went along as well as they.
Do you think the trainees were a peculiar breed of librarians?
Well the very fact that they were trained in mathematics up through calculus would make them a peculiar (chuckles) breed of librarians. If you mean personality-wise, we got everything. We got them from very uptight to very wild. One of them who left librarianship to learn Transcendental Meditation in the Alps never came back. That was probably the farthest out we ever got. We trained one for the CIA, too. I never did know what he was doing, but he had something to do with their automation at CIA.
About what proportion of your trainees actually stayed in medical/health sciences librarianship? Do you know?
I think a large percentage of them. I’d have to figure it out, but—
What would you have liked to change about the program?
Well, I think I would have liked to have a little more knowledge of educational technology. I don’t really know how to run a school. By the time you have five trainees, you’ve got a school.
Do you think that’s a problem peculiar to internships in general – that most people who run them haven’t had that kind of a background?
Well I think that’s certainly one problem. I don’t think they realize how bad a program can be if they don’t pay a great deal of attention to it. I would like to have had a little more laboratory for the trainees because they always had to use the medical school libraries – the laboratory – and there’s only a certain amount of that that you can let them play with. (Chuckles) It would have been nice to have had more of that.
Did you make any special preparations yourself, that is, in the way of formal course work or such, for the program?
Did I learn how to teach?
Well, any particular aspect of the program that you felt necessary to do any preparation for.
Of course I’d been giving these workshops for four or five years before, so I’ve had some idea of what problems would come about. But I guess I was too stupid to know I needed to have some (chuckles) preparation, because I was not doing any special preparation, except political preparation with the dean and the faculty and so on.
What do you consider the greatest successes of the program?
Well I think the old cliché of dropping a stone into the water is probably the [basis of] success – that it brought the idea of automation to a larger group of people than just the trainees, because as they went out from here to somewhere else, then they in turn would show what automation could be done. In a few cases – Linda Smith of the University of Illinois, for example, became a teacher in that field that spread it further.
Is there anything else about the program that I haven’t thought to ask you that you’d like to comment on?
Well it was a great surprise to have it end as suddenly as it did. I was on recruiting trip when President Nixon wiped it out, and that was a little difficult because I had already picked one or two people.
Like the Fulbright year that disappeared. (Chuckles)
It disappeared, yes. One of the side benefits that I got was that I visited approximately half the library schools every other year. I’d go to one group one year, and another group the other year. It made me realize how important an individual could be, because I’d go to a school one year and it would be in a terrible condition. The physical conditions would be bad and faculty would be uninteresting. The students would be mediocre – I’d always give a lecture and I’d get no questions afterwards, I’d get yawns during, and I knew they weren’t interested. Then I’d go back two years later and in the meantime they would have had a new dean and they were changed, the faculty and a whole new institution. I realized that an individual, the head of an institution, can make enormous differences that one wouldn’t think of ordinarily.
You have acted as a consultant in various countries such as India, Japan, and Thailand as well as the United States, in various capacities. How were you chosen to do the work for the UN and the World Health Organization assignments?
Your guess is as good as mine. I remember the first time the United Nations called me up from New York and said, “Would you be willing to go to New Delhi for six months to be a consultant to the Central Family Planning Institute?” And I said to them, “Who in India knows I even exist?” The personnel officer there said, “We don’t know. They asked for you by name and we’re just the Personnel Office. We have no idea.” She said, “Do you have any special expertise in family planning?” and I said, “No.” (Laughs) She said, “Do you know a good deal about India?” and I said, “I’ve never been there,” which wasn’t true – I’d stopped on my way back from Japan. “Well,” said she, “I don’t know.” I still don’t know. I have asked everybody I could think of. But once I was there, you see, then other people would ask for me and so I’ve been back three or four times. But why I got there the first time I don’t know. Sometimes I was sent from to UN Population Sections, sometimes I went UN Fund for Population Assistance, sometimes I was there for UN Development Program, sometimes I was there for the World Health Organization. I never twice went back to the same group. They were all in the UN family, but they were all different groups and they must have passed my name around among them. But, your guess is as good as mine.
What actually was involved on site in these consultations?
My job was to set up an institution which would make available to those who needed the information, information on family planning and population dynamics. Now unlike a medical school library, the users of this group were mostly non-medical people; they were teachers, they were politicians, they were technicians, they were public relations people, they were the government officials in public health or in the legislatures, they were the nurses – those who worked directly with the people who were going to be involved in it. So what you had to do was to take technical literature and see how it could be made into understandable data for the people who needed to use it, and also for the few physicians and others who needed to have it. You had to make sure that you got some of the professional literature. On the other hand, I was interested in getting the indigenous professional literature put into the international medical indexes, and so I worked both ways. The problems were language; in a place like India where you have seventeen official languages and fifty-two or fifty-three actual languages. When you’re talking about a professional staff, why you could give it in English because they all read and understood English, but if you were giving it to the so-called motivators or the nurse practitioners, then it had to be in a local language and how did you do that? How did you make sure that the literature coming in was actually delivered to you when you have a venal postage system where the people steal the journals and then sell them back to you on the black market? How do you run a “library” which is not really a library, when the only people to check in journals can’t read and write any language? How do you explain things in a motion picture, slide or tape where you have seventeen languages? What kind of index can you publish? One of the things I’m proudest of is an index which I started and which was kept up for many years where we shingled cards and photographed them and sent them out. What do you do in a country where the idea of loaning books and journals to anybody is unheard of? There are so few books and journals anyway that you have to make a rule that if they have one they can’t have another one until they bring back the one they have. What do you do in a country where eighty-five percent of the people live in villages where there isn’t even a road into the village? These were the problems which—
You spoke about working with “libraries.” What libraries were here?
[End of tape three, side one]
There was the National Medical Library in New Delhi which was about the size of a good sized hospital library here in the United States, but which was not cataloged. The Librarian had been trained in the library school in Ireland and was a physician and had worked with me at the National Library of Medicine for a few months. At first I thought she may have been the one who gave my name to them, but she insists that it is not so. Then there was the Central Family Planning Institute which has a nice little library and a very nice librarian, a young fellow whose Indian English I could hardly ever understand. He ran a nice little library, but nobody paid him any attention because he was a lower caste character. Some of the medical schools had small libraries, although most of them didn’t have anything very worth while, and you had to get the key and the librarian to show you. None of them had any catalogs. There was the World Health Organization regional office which had a little library and more money than any of the others, but an Indian librarian who thought it was beneath him to see that books got shelved or cataloged. He used to say, “Well you can always ask me if they want to know if this book is in the library.” His idea of classification was, “Well, the nurses asked for that book and even though it’s on parliamentary procedure, we’ll put it in nursing, because those are the people who are going to use it.”
Can you estimate the value of consultation, such as these and the ones that you have left and are no longer there to guide them?
I learned a tremendous amount. I don’t think they got very much out of it, because my ideas of what they should do were so much beyond what they were capable of doing or had the money to do or the backing of the important political figures to do. The only time I felt I had really done anything very useful was at what was then the Central Family Planning Institute. (It’s changed its name a couple of times now.) But the man who was the librarian of INSDOC, the International Scientific and Documentation Library which is run by Unesco, retired and he became the person in charge of that library. He took my report and, because he was Indian and knew how to maneuver – he was also an international figure; he’d been trained at Oxford where he got his library work – and he ran a really good library; there were a couple of good libraries in India, not in medicine – he was able to do some of the things and I really felt that through him I had accomplished some things. But I’m not sure that I really did anything except enlarge my understanding of the world.
Your trip to Japan, under the aegis of the Rockefeller Foundation and the China Medical Board, was that—?
Mostly the Rockefeller Foundation.
It took place in 1962, not long after you had come here. Can you describe how this experience was valuable for you?
For me personally? It was the first place that I had ever been to out of the Western culture, and I lived there long enough to see a good deal of it. I made some very good Japanese friends who took me along to purely Japanese things and whom I’ve still kept up with. So for me, it was a mind-enlarging experience. I saw things I’ve not seen before. I got a different perspective on what should be done and what shouldn’t be done, on the way in which traditions grow up, all sorts of things that I would never have done. I went there as the ugly American and came back as an internationalist. That was what I got out of it. Now I think they got something out of it, because they were at the point where they were prepared to get something out of it, which was not true of India and only partially true of Thailand. But their libraries today are, I would say, in some respects better than some of ours and certainly the best of them are equal to the best of ours. Part of it, I’d like to think, was due to my bringing them some of the ideas of the West. But they took them on, they tried them out, they made them better.
Well how was the library situation in Japan when you went in 1962?
Well, they were still much involved in rebuilding after the War, although that was quite a number of years after the War. For instance, the library at Hiroshima was at ground zero when the atomic bomb fell, so in one minute they lost the entire library and all the staff. It happened to be on a little hill and people getting away from the bomb ran up that hill and died right along there. Well they had to start from scratch to build up their library. There were a lot of other places that had been bombed out – not by atomic bombs – though Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still pretty badly off by the time I got there.
The libraries there were on the German system. If I may tell you a little bit about the history of Japan to underscore what I’m about to say about the libraries. Around 1860 when the Meiji emperors came in and opened Japan to the west, they sent a committee around the world to look at the ways in which other countries handled problems that they had in Japan, and then to make recommendations about the best ways to do it in Japan. When it came to the politics, they decided the American system was the best and so their Diet is based very much on our Congress and other political things. When it came to education, they decided the German system was the best. Therefore, their universities, which were set up at first as Imperial Universities around 1875 or so, were set up on the German system with Seminars and Institutes rather than overall. So instead of an overall library, you had departmental and seminar libraries, and this was true in the medical school. They also used the medieval system that each Seminar, Department, Institute, so on, is a little Duchy unto itself. They came together and they agreed on certain payments which were taxed to all of them – for buildings and grounds, for water supply, for electricity, and so on. A small library might be set up, but each one of the departments would have to give a certain amount of money for that, and since they mostly had their own little department libraries, they weren’t really very interested in building up a central library. The problems are no different there than they were in Germany. If you weren’t in the department, you couldn’t get into the library, and mostly the library was the next room from the director and he put the key in his pocket. And if he went off on vacation or went home to dinner or whatnot, that was the end of it; and if you were a lowly instructor or a student you never got into it at all. Well they were just beginning to change that. There were a few schools, of which Keio was one of them, which had had American influence and were beginning to change over to that. Kitasato had been the great man at Keio’s Institute; he was the bacteriologist. He had worked in the United States, and Kitasato Library in the Keio University was an American library. The dean told me that the way they got the departments to give up their libraries was that when World War II started they began to be bombed, and he said to them, “Now if you give all your books in one place, I’ll build a bomb-proof shelter for it.” It never got back to them; they just made it into their library; so that was the way they got that.
Now that was the way the libraries were when I got there. They had some very good people as librarians and they were making do with really inadequate quarters and so on. There were problems with the change in the educational system, so that people who had been trained in the old system didn’t have any civil service status in the new system, and people trained in the new system didn’t qualify under the old rules. People who were in the library school at Keio, which was set up by the American Library Association after World War II, were classified as clerks rather than as librarians. There was all this politicking going on. My, what a long answer.
Well, then the medical libraries were in the same situation because they were part of the university. They were branch libraries, were they?
Yes. They were mostly branch libraries, but they were bigger – like in the United States, they were bigger. I did two things, however. I taught at the library school there and gave that special seminar which they had for three years. But part of my job was to make a survey of the medical school libraries in Japan for the Rockefeller people because for five years or so, they had been giving money to these schools and they wanted to know how the money had been spent. So I spent the first two or three months while I was there going around – I visited every other medical school in the country. I started up in the north in Hokkaido and worked my way down to Nagasaki. That was invaluable for seeing the country, because very often I had to stay at Japanese inns where nobody spoke any English and I was the only foreigner. The children on the street would stare at me, and so on. Nothing fit me; the chairs were too small, and so on and so forth. That was the way I got to know Japan.
Were you able to recommend changes for the medical libraries? Did this come out of the report you made to the Rockefeller people?
Yes. The report I made to the Rockefeller people said in essence, “If you give the Japanese librarians a little leeway, they’ll do alright. The thing that they’re having trouble with is the people they’re serving, who don’t know what a library is or should do. The best thing for these libraries is for you to send the young medical instructors to the Western world to work there for a while and see that a library can be helpful for them, and then when they go back and gradually as they become heads of areas they will insist upon a library like that.” So that, in essence, was what I said. I also did some lecturing in the history of medicine while I was there.
Oh, did you?
That’s where I learned how to bow.
Oh really? There’s a special technique involved?
It’s a special technique that’s involved. Just before I was supposed to speak to the Japanese Society for the History of Medicine, the girl who was my interpreter at that time – they took couriers who interpreted different people – who had been a University of Michigan graduate, said to me, “I hope you don’t mind, Dr. Brodman, but you’re going to be talking to an important group of people tomorrow (or next week or whatever) and really, you’re not bowing right and it’s a disgrace, and if you don’t mind I’d like to take you into the stacks (laughs) and teach you how to bow.”
It’s too bad this isn’t on video tape.
I was much abashed. (Laughs) I went back into the stacks and we practiced bowing. As a woman, of course, I had to bow lower than a man; also, where a woman puts her hands when she’s bowing is different from where a man puts his hands when he is bowing. The woman may not stop bowing until the gentleman stops bowing, and I said, “Well now, how do I know if I’m bowing whether he is continuing?” She said, “Well, you have to look up like that.” When it actually came, I was introduced in Japanese so I didn’t understand one word except “Brodman,” and when he got through I bowed and he bowed and I kept looking up, and finally I got to thinking about those toys that you give to children with sand on the bottom. And I began to giggle and (whispered) that’s terrible, that’s an awful insult, and I just thought, “If he doesn’t stop soon (laughs), I’m going to make a fool of myself!” But luckily, he did stop.
Do you have any suggestions for people who undertake consulting activities such as the ones you have?
Now are you talking about international or national?
Well, either. International, certainly.
Well, first of all, learn the history of the country you’re going to. Read up about its modern life as much as you can, but I think the history gives you the key to why they do things and how they do things, and gives you a framework in which to set the present things. Secondly, learn half a dozen polite phrases in their language. “Kore-wah yoi desau.” I can still remember that. That’s the Japanese for, “This is very nice,” and you can say that about the meal, the house, the library, the clothes the person’s wearing, the children, or anything. It’s amazing what that little phrase will do for you, and if you learn half a dozen things like that, “please,” “thank you,” and so on, that will soothe your way around.
Don’t think that the American system is the only system possible to get the same results, or even the best system, or that even the results are the ones that should be attempted. For example, in the Western world, in America, it’s important that things be done as efficiently as possible and with as few people as possible. In Asia, people are cheap and expendable, and machines are expensive and difficult to get. Besides, there’s a social question – if you have a lot of people who are unemployed, would it not be better to divide up the job into seven and have seven people doing a little bit than to have one doing it all and six people out of work? These are social problems [about] which people going abroad should think. “What is the particular situation here that I should pay some attention to?”
What of your many consultancies in the United States have you enjoyed the most? Do you have one that you remember that’s particularly memorable?
Well yes. I have one that I enjoyed the most. I don’t think it did any good. (Laughs) I enjoyed it greatly. That was a consultantship that I did at University of North Carolina for the [US] AID, the International Development group. It was at the Population Council at the University of North Carolina. They were asking for continuation of a grant that they had used for this library (which was an international one); they’d bring in people from South America and train them and send them back and they’d go places. And it turned out that the AID fellow, who sat in on the evaluation, and the two other members of the evaluation team, one from – well she’s now in London, I’m not sure whether she was in Paris at that time or London, and one from Manila and the librarian and I – it turned out we were all very much on the same ball, and what’s more, to my surprise, we had all studied a lot of Latin and we were making puns at dinner after a couple of drinks in Latin. (Laughs) Well it was lots of fun. The results were not accepted by the University of North Carolina; AID was happy with them, but the University didn’t ask for the money so they couldn’t give it to them. I don’t think we were very successful in trying to persuade them that it was a good idea. But that was the one I enjoyed the most.
You participated in the NIH Biomedical Communications study Section in 1974-75 and are currently a member of the—
Well no, that was 1973-75. I was Chairman in 1974 and 1975; I was Chairman two years.
And you’re currently a member of the NIH History of Medicine Review Panel. Did these groups function in a similar fashion?
How were the members chosen for these review panels?
There’s an executive secretary in each of these study sections, and that person looks around for people who are in that field and comes up with a slate and recommends it to the Director of NIH, who accepts it or doesn’t accept it.
What kind of subjects were under discussion for the Biomedical Communications Study Section when you were involved?
Automation was in a very large number; compilations and publications of indexes and abstracts; new journals in the field of biomedical communication, Mosquito News – I remember that – and God forbid I should ever forget the kissing bug. (Chuckles) There’s a little mite called “the kissing bug” which lives in South America mostly, in places where you don’t have a floor in your house but you have just the ground and maybe a stream of water running through your house (chuckles), and you don’t go in for regular cleanliness, and so on, and it causes I don’t know what kind of diseases (laughs) – I’ve already forgotten.
(Laughs) It’s hard to imagine.
But there was a fellow at Loma Linda who was determined to have the bibliography which was to end all bibliographies on the kissing bug. He’d been given seven years of money already, and he still said no, he wasn’t through; he had to go down to South America because there were twenty-two or so different references he hadn’t been able to find (laughs) in the United States. The Study Section thought well that seemed a little excessive, but maybe we’d better go and look at his (laughs) collection. So we went to Loma Linda – God, what a place and how difficult to get to – and I saw more kissing bugs than I ever had any desire to see. I met this gentleman, who said it was so important that he finish this, that if we didn’t give him money he’d stand on a street corner with a tin cup and get the money. I’m afraid we said no to his grant and I’ve often wondered what he did with his kissing bugs. (Laughs)
Do you have any other remarks you’d like to make on consultancies that I haven’t asked you about?
Well, I sometimes wonder really what good comes of them and how good my consulting has been. I have consulted in the United States for an awful lot of places. I don’t know really why they want me that often. Is it just that somebody fifty miles away can say the same thing they can and it gets heard more often? Or if I really say something that is not what they want are they going to do anything about it? There are one or two people who have called me in as consultants and then when I’ve made recommendations they’ve argued with me that that isn’t what they should do at all, and I wonder why they ask for a consultant in the first place. There are others who say, “Oh that’s fine,” and “That’s just what we need,” and so on, and then nothing ever happens. Then there are a few that come out. So I don’t know what is the purpose of consulting or how useful my personal consulting has been.
Among your many honors and awards such as the Marcia Noyes Award in 1971 and the Janet Doe Lecturer the same year and the special award when you retired as the Editor of the Bulletin, which we’ve mentioned, and Woman of the Year Award in St. Louis and your most recent award, the Estelle Brodman Fund Lecturer (which will first be given here at the university on May 18 by Eugene Garfield) – which one has pleased you the most?
I think the Honorary Doctor of Science pleased me the most. The one that surprised me the most was the Estelle Brodman Fund. I really didn’t expect that. There was one other that you don’t have down there that is coming up next month, and that’s the John Cotton Dana Award of the Special Libraries Association.
Congratulations. That’s wonderful.
I don’t know. I was surprised at that also, because apparently it was a group of local librarians who politicked for it and I didn’t know about it until they called me up from SLA and said I had gotten it. I knew so little about it – I was just out of the hospital and not yet back at work – I had to call the Reference Department and say, “Please find out what this (chuckles) award’s all about,” – I didn’t know whether it was anything important or what it was. So I guess I was surprised at that too.
Are you going to be in San Francisco to receive it?
Atlanta. I’m not going to have the SLA—
Oh, I was thinking it was ALA.
Oh no, SLA.
What is that award?
It’s for somebody who has done the most for librarianship or special librarianship for his lifetime, I guess.
That is exciting.
As I tell you, it’s only been given once before, several years ago, so I don’t think it’s very well known. But it’s amazing to me – I get letters from people I haven’t thought of for twenty years congratulating me on it, and I get letters from people I’ve never heard of and I keep looking them up and I’ve not known saying congratulations. So I guess it’s important. I think the thing that pleased me about the Estelle Brodman Fund is that it was from the people I had been working with for twenty years. If they think that I’m fairly good, that’s more important than if the people in Washington or Tokyo or Bangkok feel. We never talked about Bangkok.
No we didn’t. Why don’t you.
Well, in Bangkok, there is a medical school library at Siriraj Medical School whose librarian belies the usual picture of Asian women. She looks just like a little Asian woman – polite and so on – but she’s got a mind of steel (chuckles) and the ability to get the Dean, the court domo major, to do all the things she wants to do. She got a library degree at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, and then got a Masters at Columbia University, and then came to Washington for six months while I was there, when I was in charge of the international program – we took turns on that. I remember the day she was going back to Bangkok from Washington it was snowing, and I didn’t really want to drive out to the airport and I spoke to her and before I knew it, I was taking her out to the airport! She was the one who persuaded the China Medical Board, which had paid for her new building to put in air conditioning, although they had a rule against paying for air conditioning anywhere. She’s just got a beautiful library, teakwood, and she designed the furniture herself, and had local artists put it up; oh just wonderful. She decided that she wanted toilets in the Western style and [for them to be] kept clean. The only trouble was that she made the mistake of putting the main toilet in the library where you could get to it without going into the library. She was complaining to the cleaning people that it wasn’t kept clean, and they kept saying, “But all the people in Bangkok (laughs) are coming in.” And there we were, seven thousand miles from home, and there I was talking to her about the problems of keeping toilets clean. (Chuckles) But she has a beautiful library and I was there several times as a consultant and guest, and I taught there when the United Nations had a three week course for population librarians who came all the way from Australia and New Zealand up to Korea. Bangkok is the city that makes me very sad. When I first knew it, it was a beautiful city, full of canals. It was called the Venice of the East and it was indeed that, and an architecture of its own. Gradually, it has become an international city, with the canals filled in. The traffic pattern’s just impossible, and the GIs who used Bangkok as a Rest and Recreation Center have made it the prostitution capital of Southeast Asia. It’s just sad to go back each time and see how this beautiful pearl has become such a horrible place. Well, so much for Bangkok.
You served on the Council of the American Association for the History of Medicine from 1967 to 1969. How did you find this group? Very few women have served on the Council, and to my knowledge only one other librarian, Martha Gnudi.
Didn’t Louise Darling serve on it for a while?
If she has I didn’t know about it.
Well, I’m not sure, but it seemed to me she was. Well, I just served out somebody else’s term. Somebody who either died or left – I forget now. It was when Brad Rogers was Chairman and he just appointed me. I actually didn’t go to very many meetings because one of those years I was in India, so I think I only went to two meetings of the whole thing and I don’t know what they talked about. It wasn’t anything that was very meaningful to me.
At approximately the same time, 1966 to 1968, you served as a member of the President’s Commission on Libraries. Were you satisfied with the approaches taken and the decisions made by this group?
Let me say that that group was another one of those wonderful discussion groups that I enjoyed tremendously. We met once a month, either in Washington or elsewhere, but mostly in Washington. On the Commission we had deans of medical schools and we had heads of large university libraries and we had people from the pharmaceutical firms and we had the Chairman, the President of Duke University. I was the only woman for a long time, and then they gradually added two more women, three more women I guess. There was some politicians, ex-Congressmen on it. The level of discussions of problems was so much higher and more exciting than what I was used to, that I really looked forward to going there. I’m not sure that any meaningful decisions came out of it, it’s that book over there, that blue book, the Report … Part of the trouble was that the Chairman got sick in the middle and couldn’t do very much and part that there was a very weak staff. The executive secretary or whatever they call the staff man was not very good. We only had fifteen months, I think, or eighteen months at the most, for the Commission to make its recommendations. It got closer and closer to the deadline and nothing was done. Finally, they got [Frederick] Wagman from the University of Michigan, who’d been at the Library of Congress to write a draft report, and then we all took parts of it and worked on it. The discussions at the meetings were much better than the reports. We also commissioned several reports, one from Mathematica. Each of us had a group [of Reports] that we were responsible to see through and the ones that I had— One was from Mathematica on the economics of libraries; and one from SDC on the future of automation in libraries and there were a couple more, but those two stand out in my mind that I was responsible for. That was interesting, working with companies like that. The committee kind of petered out and when they actually presented the report to the President (Lyndon Johnson], they had to do it whenever he was free and so only the people in Washington could be brought together in a hurry and as far as I know nothing has ever come of it.
Well, my last question is, do you think—
Excuse me. I might say something about that Commission too. I was in Florence, Italy when I got the cable asking whether I would accept appointment on it. I was traveling with a group of people from Washington University and I was a nothing on that group until I got that cable from the White House. (Laughs) Then all of a sudden I became very much more important than I had ever been before. Excuse me, go on.
Do you see this type of body as a reasonable mechanism to effect changes in society at any level?
Only indirectly. They can point the way to which those changes should focus; but then it’s in a society, particularly a society like ours, where you need to persuade people that it is something they should do, and you need to work out the details so that it can be done including the funding for them. I don’t see that such a body could do that. They can just present the plan and all the reasons for trying it out, but it’s a different kind of a group that must take it on from there.
In 1965 when you were President of the Medical Library Association, the Journal of Medical Education printed the Guidelines for medical school libraries for which you wrote the introduction which you had given as a presentation at the 75th Annual Meeting of the Association of American Medical Colleges. Along with Ralph Esterquest, Tom Fleming, Bernice Hetzner, Dave Kronick, and Paul Sanazaro, you were a member of the joint committee which prepared the Guidelines. You specifically prepared an appendix on the use of computers. Where and how did this committee do its work?
First of all, Sanazaro and Kronick were not on the committee. Sanazaro was the AAMC representative and took care of the administrative problems and so on, though he was very helpful and I got to know him and like him very much. David Kronick came in to write the Report after the committee had made its decisions, so he was not in on the committee. You’ll have to ask Louise Darling how that committee came into being, because she was the one who appointed me as the MLA representative on it. I was Vice President; she was President. How she picked Tom Fleming, Ralph Esterquest, and Bernice Hetzner, I’m not sure I remember, if I ever did know. But she wanted an official representative from the MLA and since I was Vice President/President-Elect, that’s how I got onto it.
And where and how did the committee meet?
Well, the committee met in Chicago. That is, theoretically it met in Chicago. We would fly in to O’Hare Airport from all the parts where we came from; we would get on a little Flying Carpet Motel (chuckles) bus and go to a little town where the Flying Carpet Motel was, somewhere near the airport; we would deliberate for a day or a day and a half or two days at the most; we would get back onto that bus and go to O’Hare – and we never saw Chicago the whole (chuckles) year. We met, I think, about once every month or thereabout, so we had lots of meetings. One of the things that we decided which I think might be of interest is the methodology. You were talking about how do such commissions and committees work? We were trying to answer the question, “What makes a good medical school library?” You can talk from now until Doomsday without really collecting any data which gives you any insight into the answers to that question. We came up with something which I don’t think has ever been done before or if it has I don’t know about it; that is, we picked out a group of medical school libraries that we thought were very good and a group that we thought were very poor, and we arranged to go and see them with a whole list of criteria which we were going to examine in comparison to their goodness and badness. That was a very interesting experience and I think a useful way of seeing if there was any correlation between what we thought made for a good library and what actually did make a good library. One of the questions had to do with “Do you need a good library at all?” We particularly asked that question at the University of Pennsylvania, where they didn’t have any kind of a library really at all, and yet they turned out very good physicians. All of that was in our deliberations and our thinking, in our report.
Well did you find that there was a correlation?
We found that the correlation was with the caliber of the chief librarian; that you could forget about everything else, but if you could measure the chief librarian against a whole series of things, the best ones ran the best libraries.
Which comes back to what you were saying very shortly ago, that that individual is the one that makes the library go.
I think that’s true.
To get back to this Guidelines Committee – as a group, did you find that some members of the committee were better suited for the job than others?
Sure. Some had better minds than others. (Chuckles)
Was the report really a consensus from this group or—
Yes. I don’t think anybody disagreed with any of the things in the report. But again, each of us had a different section of the report and we were specialists in various things. I think Ralph Esterquest had space and layout of libraries, for example, and means of accounting for money and things of that nature, very different things.
Was the reaction from the medical library community about as you expected?
No. I was very surprised—
[Interruption in tape]
What were we talking about before?
We were talking about the reaction from the medical library community to the Guidelines.
We brought the Guidelines to an MLA meeting right after we had finished it, [as a] matter of fact, I think before it was even printed. We had a meeting in which we asked for comments, and I was surprised at the fervor with which they took their knives to the report and to us. We thought we had been rather kind to medical librarianship and medical libraries and librarians, but they apparently didn’t feel so at all and they wanted us to take it back and rewrite it. I think we did do a few changes, but I don’t think we rewrote it at all, and I don’t think they ever really cared for it.
What was the major objections that were raised?
They thought it was too restrictive; the standards were too high.
[End of tape three, side two]
They thought the AAMC Committee Report had too restrictive and high standards and that we had dealt with larger issues without considering some of the lesser issues. I had a feeling it was more a gut reaction than a logical reaction, so I’m really not quite sure that that’s the way they felt, but that’s the way I got the feeling.
What was NLM’s reaction, particularly in light of the application of the Guidelines to construction and so forth under the Medical Library Assistance Act?
They didn’t believe in it at all. That was because a group of librarians had done it, and they got [Merlin R.] DuVal to do another one, which had a different point of view about it. Later, they asked Hal Bloomquist to do a report on medical school libraries. Bloomquist had been in Brazil with Joan Titley [Adams] and Marty Cummings doing something for the Pan-American Sanitary Bureau – this I got from the interview with Harold Bloomquist; I hadn’t known it before. Bloomquist got to know Marty Cummings very well and the two of them hit it off very well. I must say I was surprised; I didn’t think that their personalities were like that, but apparently they did, and they continued the friendship even after that. And apparently Marty Cummings asked Hal to do a number of things until Hal got unable to do some of the things. One of them was his report on medical school library needs.
What about the current AAMC study under Nina Matheson’s direction?
What about it?
What do you think will come out of that? Will it be another report that is not accepted by the library community and not implemented, or can you even guess?
Nina Matheson sent me a copy of her outline and protocol and asked me for comments. I wrote back that I had a feeling that they were answering last year’s questions instead of next year’s; that the problems that medical libraries were going to face in the next few years were likely to be a compound of economic and social conditions rather than of determining what should be done and working out the methods for doing it, and consequently I didn’t think the thrust of this was going to be very productive. I’ve not heard another word from Nina and I can understand why not.
You don’t mention the Guidelines in your MLA Board Report, yet they were issued that year that you were President.
Well I guess it was not our Report; it was a report of the AAMC. I just happened to be on the committee. I don’t know why I left it out really.
Have you had any experience of—
Excuse me. You asked a question at the end of the one on the AAMC which you didn’t ask me now, and that is, “What do you feel in general about attempts to produce standards for any institution or profession?” I have mixed feelings about that. I think standards are important, but standards have got to be changed so frequently with the changeable situation that it’s hard, it’s like a manual of operations – they get out of date long before you get around to producing a new set of manual sheets or a new set of standards. For the poor institution the standards are very important, because it gives them a goal to which to climb. For the good institutions, it’s hampering because it confines them to situations which might not be true at the moment. You need that flexibility in a world of uncertainty that standards may not give you.
Have you had any experience of sexism in your career other than the overt philosophy expressed at Columbia we’ve already discussed?
I have a side bet with an emerita professor of anatomy here, who is a ERA from the year 1904 or something (chuckles), that now that I have brought this library to the standing which it is that my successor will probably be a man. I understand that the Search Committee is not quite as sure as I am, but they have interviewed six people – four of them men. I think that sexism is a pervasive matter in our culture. If you are a reasonable creature, you realize that and accept it as one of the hazards of life and just work yourself around it. I think at one point I might have fallen into the trap of saying, “Well in spite of sexism, look where I’ve gotten, and anybody who’s any good can get there too.” I’ve grown less sure of that as I’ve grown older. But it’s certainly part of our culture.
Do you think it’s getting any better? The situation, that is, that it’s a factor that people are now more conscious of?
Well it isn’t practiced in quite the same way as it used to [be] because it’s more hidden than it used to be. But there’s no doubt in my mind that it exists. The very fact that we talked about before – that a woman is expected to take on not only the professional responsibilities but the personal responsibilities of family life, in an unequal distribution of work – shows that we have sexism in our culture.
Do you feel that you gave up anything or missed anything by pursuing your career? Had you planned to have a career?
I think I said to somebody once, “I don’t know how it happened that XYZ occurred in my life; I didn’t plan anything, it just was there and needed to be done and I did it.” That is probably the only answer I can give you. Looking back on it, it may look much more logical than it was in the actuality. As [to] my feeling that I gave up anything or missed anything by pursuing my career, that sounds to me like you’re asking me the old question of, “Why weren’t you married?” If that’s not what you had in mind, what did you mean by this question?
I don’t think that that’s what I had in mind consciously, maybe unconsciously; because everyone has at some point a chance to make a decision to go one way or another and if you’re pursuing a career maybe you decide that is more important than something else. I don’t know what else you might have had in mind, so I can’t—
Well, I started out to be a doctor and I became a librarian instead. That was a change in direction. I always do things on the theory that I will continue to do them for the rest of my life so that if that’s a career, that’s a career. I never consciously thought, “Well I’ll do this and then I’ll go up in the hierarchy,” or my goal is to be the head of the library or professor or whatnot, and perhaps that’s why I’m a little surprised when these things happen to me. But as I say, I don’t plan them. There was something that needed to be done and I did it and people said, “Oh, that’s very nice. Here, let’s give you a —.” It’s like my salary. I’m amazed at how much money I make and, you know, I think, “Can I be worth that much?”
Well isn’t that part of the whole sexism thing, that is, that women still today are not raised to expect to be paid on a level with a man who has—
Wrong. I’m not talking about being paid on the level of a man. I’ve been talking about being paid at all.
Oh you mean because you enjoy what you do?
Well that’s true too. But paid at that level, whether I was a man or a woman – that would be a good salary for a man too. Most medical librarians don’t make my salary.
My next question I think you have answered earlier. Many of your colleagues have been selected as Regents of NLM. Can you think of any reason why you haven’t been selected?
Well first of all, not very many colleagues have been selected as Regents, and usually there’s only one, at the most two, librarians on the Board of Regents and they serve for three years or four years, I’ve forgotten how much it is. So that I don’t suppose there’s been one dozen at the most, maybe only half a dozen, librarians as Regents of NLM. So I don’t think that has— I have not been selected for anything at NLM. (Chuckles)
What do you see as major changes in librarianship over the period of your career?
Did I not send you that last lecture I gave on librarianship from 1940 to 1980?
I gave that at the Special Libraries Association here – the local chapter – in March, I guess. The first thing that I think has made the most change, caused the most difference, is the size. Libraries today, particularly medical libraries, have changed enormously in size with the result that they are big business now. Because they are big business, (a) they’re more likely to have a man at the head, and (b) the requirements for the chief are different; you don’t need quite as much of a scholar and a servitor as you need an administrator and a fiscal person.
The second greatest change is in the development of photocopying. This in my opinion has made much more change than the computer. I need only look back to when I started librarianship and remember how we used to get six or seven copies of a journal because people needed to take them out, which required more stacking, more cost of binding, more shelving, more people to keep track of them. It also has made a change in the way in which books are likely to last, because the constant breaking at the bindings and so on are bad for them.
Another great change is in the caliber of the staffs. The smallest hospital library today is likely to have a staff member (it’s usually only one staff member) who’s the equivalent in training and background to the average medical [school] librarian when I entered the field. The difference between the librarian of the small hospital library and the librarian in a large medical school library is beginning to crumble, and you have a continuum instead of quick break. Because you have more equipment and machinery of all kinds in the library, in a medical center or scientific center, the standing or status of the library and the librarian is greater than if they were doing the same thing with a pen and pencil. I think I had four or five other items which I thought of, but those, I think, are the most important changes, and by far size is the greatest change.
Do you find, though, that the user basically doesn’t differentiate among staff members in the library; that is, between a librarian or a clerk who checks things out at the desk?
I think in a medical school they tend to realize that the clerks behind the loan desk are a little different from the clerks behind the reference desk, but they think of both of them as clerks. (Chuckles)
Did anything happen over the years of your professional career that you wouldn’t have expected, that you couldn’t have predicted? Perhaps photocopying might be something like that?
Well I wouldn’t have predicted computers either, because I didn’t know enough about computers to realize that. I think the advances in the non-print category – computer-assisted instruction, tapes (tape recordings, video tapes, and so on) were more than most of us thought would happen ten or fifteen or twenty years ago.
What do you see in the future?
Well I see a mixture of things; I see a withering away of libraries as we have them today in medical centers like this. I think the way in which every laboratory has its own computer terminals and the ease with which it can tap into information stores is going to make it unnecessary for them to come to a library for a lot of the information which they now come to the library for, such as MEDLINE, such as the catalog. We found, for example, that by mistake our new on-line catalog was linked up somehow or other with the Cardiology Department and for weeks before we put it out for our users to use, they were determining whether we had a book or the journal or didn’t have a book or journal – and we didn’t even know about it.
But that’s still bibliographic information, it’s not—
Yes, and I think things like the encyclopedias will all be in the computer and data banks will be in the computer. I think that more information will be there and they will be able to tap into it, as OCLC is doing as an experiment; I think that’s going to come. Whether it comes in five years or twenty years, I don’t know. Pricing is going to be something that comes in here; just like the cost of long-line telecommunications is changing the use of PHILSOM, where we thought it would be on-line and now it’s costing too much. There’ll be a period in which that’s going cost more and more. I think that librarians will go out and be knowledge brokers and, with the cost of a terminal and a telephone in their home, will be able to do a great deal of the searching which is now done by librarians in libraries, and charge it off to the user.
Meaning you see them as rivals to libraries?
Well I see them as taking the place of libraries. For the retrospective material where they will have to come to the library, I see the library becoming a fee-for-service institution. It has become more and more of a fee-for-service institution even in our time – the cost of photocopying and MEDLINE searches and other database searches and interlibrary loan costs and so on that you charge back to the user.
Do you think that libraries as we know them today will exist perhaps only for recreation? I find it difficult to think of curling up with a computer.
Well how often do you see people curling up with a book these days?
Well there’s still some of us. (Chuckles)
But we’re a dying breed. The young people learning to read – what has your son learned to read? Doesn’t he learn to read on a screen?
Well yes and no, not in his classroom. He’s with a gifted class that goes out to use computers. But from that point of view, you’re right. He’s in third grade and it’s already something that they’re comfortable with.
And I think many schools are teaching reading with the IBM terminal.
What would you like to see happen in libraries in the future?
I would like to see them better able to understand the problems of the people who come to use them, because once they have the question asked, then I think they’re more likely to be able to find the answer. But if they don’t even know what the question is, then how are they going to be able to help to find the answer?
Well, are you retiring by choice; that is, are you ready for retirement?
Well there are two different parts to that question. I am retiring by choice; I was asked to stay longer and decided two years ago, three years ago, that I would not stay any longer. I picked this date because it will be just twenty years and it’s a nice round number. Am I ready for retirement? Well that depends upon what you mean by retirement. I was certainly not ready to sit and learn how to knit six months ago. I must admit that my recent illness has made me much more willing to take it easy physically and emotionally than had been true in the past. As you know (or maybe didn’t know), I became ill just after, within a week of, my coming back from the Galapagos Islands. I’ve been thinking how lucky I was not to be on a small boat on the South Pacific then. But that was the kind of thing I liked to do – to get away and see new places and try out new things, and now recently I’m not so interested in that; I just want to get settled. I’m sure that once I get all better I’m not going to want to do nothing. I have a few things which I plan to do. One of them you already know, which is the indexing of the oral history tapes. Another thing which I am looking forward to is continuing the translation of that Seventeenth, Eighteenth, early Nineteenth Century German medical manuscript that I’ve been working on for a few years, for which the MLA gave me the Murray Gottlieb Prize a few years ago, but did not publish the complete translation. I have agreed to come back to the medical school at SIU in Springfield, Illinois and give a series of lectures on the history of medicine and to work with them on some of their history of medicine programs. I have set up a program by which they can train somebody to be a history of medicine librarian. Chris Hoolihan is going to take it on while I’m not here. So, I don’t plan just to do nothing; but I don’t plan to have to get up every morning at six o’clock in the morning and work until later.
I was going to ask you what you would miss the most, and obviously you’re not going to miss that at all. (Laughs)
Well I’m glad to be away; but I will miss having a requirement to do things. I’m neurotic enough that I feel the lack of certain responsibilities. But I’ll miss that.
What about your papers? Where will they go?
Well most of them have already gone to Columbia University where their Special Collections have set up an Archives for them. They contain the reports of all these consultantships you’ve been asking me about, and my correspondence files and my personalia and some of the material which pertains to my career. To my horror and surprise, it came to something like thirteen cases full of stuff. I told them at Columbia please to throw away anything they don’t think is very important. There are some things there that I think are important in the history of librarianship that have – I just happened to collect them. But then there are some things about me—
What are the things that you just mentioned that are important in the history of librarianship?
Well I collected some things like the drafts of the Report of the President’s Commission on Libraries, and some of the early things from India and Thailand and so on, Japan; some of the development of education for medical librarianship around the world – things of that nature. The consultantships I have asked them to seal until the year 2000 on the theory that by that time I couldn’t hurt anybody’s feelings or reputation.
Some archivist is going to have a wonderful time.
Well I don’t know. I think like everything else, there’ll be an awful lot of stuff that seemed important to me but is not really and should be thrown out.
Well, we’ve gotten to the end of the questions. Is there anything that you would like to add that we haven’t covered? I’m sure that there’s lots I haven’t known about.
Well, I have found medical librarianship a very exciting thing to be involved in in this period from the end of the thirties to the present – a half century, where so many new and exciting things were going on. I would have hated to be in the field when you didn’t have a precept out of place from the time you graduated from college to when you retired. I leave medical librarianship just a little sad, because there are so many things going on whose results I won’t know. It’s a little bit like my father who died in the middle of World War II and never knew who won the war. (Laughs) I would like to know what’s going on, and yet I know that’s impossible unless you have your day-to-day thing. But I think that medical librarianship in some respects is like the tenets of the Catholic Church – they can be thought of and made part of you at the lowest common denominator or they can be considered with the greatest depth that the person is capable of having. It’s a field which can be intellectually stimulating and intellectually broadening. I have enjoyed that part of it very much.
This has been an interview with Estelle Brodman conducted May 12, 1981 in Dr. Brodman’s office at the Washington University School of Medicine Library.