Marilyn Gibbs Barry and Michael J. Torrente published oral history
One in a series of Bethesda 11 interviews.
A more extensive summary of the Bethesda 11, including agenda and references, is available.
On January 30–31, 1978, hospital librarians from around the United States were invited to the National Library of Medicine (NLM) for the “Hospital Librarians Conference” to discuss the needs of hospital libraries and the relationship between them and NLM. As representatives were included from hospital libraries in the then eleven regions of the Regional Medical Library (RML) program, the meeting was later dubbed the “Bethesda Eleven” (or subsequently Bethesda 11). It resulted in ongoing dialogue between hospital librarians and NLM and modifications to NLM programs.
The hospital librarians who attended the meeting were the following.
Region I: Jacqueline Bastille, AHIP, FMLA, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA
Region II: Judith M. Topper, AHIP, FMLA, Lawrence Hospital, Bronxville, NY
Region III: Betsy Schreder, Veterans Hospital, Wilkes-Barre, PA
Region IV: Alice Sheridan, Fairfax Hospital, Falls Church, VA
Region V: Barbara Coe Johnson, AHIP, FMLA, Harper Hospital, Detroit, MI
Region VI: Marilyn Gibbs [Barry], AHIP, DeKalb General Hospital, Decatur, GA
Region VII: Judith Messerle, AHIP, FMLA, St. Joseph Hospital, Alton, IL
Region VIII: Sarah Hill [Memmott], St. Luke’s Hospital, Kansas City, MO
Region IX: Jane A. Lambremont, FMLA, Earl K. Long Hospital, Baton Rouge, LA
Region X: M. Faye Meyn, Sacred Heart General Hospital, Eugene, OR
Region XI: Kay Kammerer, Alta Bates Hospital, Berkeley, CA
In welcoming the librarians, Martin M. Cummings, director, observed that they shared the goal of improvement of information services to users in health care settings. He hoped for a better understanding of NLM’s objectives and programs and a better appreciation by NLM staff of the realities of day-to-day library operations in health care institutions. Subjects included extending online services to hospitals, improving the relevance of databases, locator tools, realities of hospital funding, federal support for interlibrary loans, the new copyright legislation, training for librarians, grants for library consortia, and audiovisual needs.
By all accounts, the eleven librarians were articulate and effective in communicating their concerns. They met informally the night before the conference at the suggestion of Messerle to discuss their approach, and they drafted and presented a position statement before the conclusion of the meeting.
The minutes include twenty recommendations from the conferees. They addressed coverage and indexing terms in publications and databases, interlibrary loan, training, communication with hospital administrators, and outreach.
The “Summary Statement of Hospital Librarians” presented at the conclusion of the conference pointed to two areas of concern for the future of hospital-NLM relations: the continuation of direct communication and financial and technical support for tools and mechanisms at the hospital library level. They noted the importance of awareness of and involvement in NLM planning to achieve broad-based constituent support and of input by hospital librarians in RML plans and programs.
Although the Bethesda 11 ceased to be a formal forum for communication with NLM, discussion of the conference recommendations continued, and NLM staff came to conferences to meet with librarians. At the following Medical Library Association (MLA) Annual Meeting in Chicago in June 1978, the Hospital Library Section (now called Hospital Libraries Section) meeting addressed the role of NLM in relation to hospital libraries and the library’s response to the recommendations. The MLA/NLM Liaison Committee meeting at the 1978 meeting also covered items presented by Bethesda 11 members, including the scope of Abridged Index Medicus, the local and subregional union list, and NLM commitment to hospital library development.
At the 1980 MLA Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, the section program was a panel on “NLM and Hospital Libraries: An Update.” In one of the hospital librarian replies, Messerle focused on improved and expanded communication as the primary concern of respondents to a section survey: the need for basic unit (hospital library) input in decision making at the NLM and RML levels, more downward communication on issues affecting the basic unit, and sharing of resources across regional boundaries. Cummings committed to promoting increased representation for hospital librarians in network decision making.
NLM prepared a status report on responses to the twenty recommendations for the 1978 MLA Annual Meeting and updated it for the 1980 meeting. It reported that Abridged Index Medicus had increased the number of titles of primary interest to hospitals in 1979 after collecting data from various hospital sources. Outreach to hospitals of fewer than 200 beds had increased, including 44 resource improvement grants. Policies were revised to allow single institutions and consortia to compete for grants on an equal basis and to provide higher personnel support for consortia.
The Bethesda 11 meeting is also credited with new program directions, including a decision to actively encourage hospital libraries to become MEDLINE search centers and for changes in plans for online training, serial holdings data, grant programs, and NLM and RML advisory mechanisms. The decision to approve the inclusion of hospital library holdings in SERHOLD, the database that would underpin automated routing of document delivery requests and union listing, was bolstered by the reception of the idea at the meeting.
The meeting was seminal in raising the awareness of both NLM and hospital librarians about each other’s perspective. As the librarians noted in their summary statement, “Since the environments in which we function and the places from which we come are so different, we feel that regular opportunities for direct communication are necessary if we are to achieve the genuine understanding of one another’s problems and concerns that is essential for progress.” The focus on hospital libraries and their involvement in NLM and RML planning increased after 1978, and acknowledgment must be given to the impact of the conference.