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Medical School Libraries Section, 1948–1998: A Brief History

Note: The Medical School Libraries Section is now known as the Leadership and Management Section.

Establishment and Names
This section was established in 1948 as the Medical School Libraries Group. The name was changed in 1981 to the Medical School Libraries Section (MSLS) of the Medical Library Association, Inc. (MLA). The first bylaws were approved in 1982.

The purpose of the Medical School Libraries Section is to promote the educational and professional growth of its members by providing a forum for the exchange of ideas and information. (Bylaws 1993).A further definition of this purpose was included in earlier descriptions of the section: "More specifically, it is formed around the special interests of librarians serving medical education in the medical school library setting." (MLA Directory 1981/82-1991/92)

 Early History
The 1948 proceedings of the annual meeting of the Medical Library Association include a summary of the report of the Medical School Libraries group symposium from Mildred Jordan, chair. This is the first listing of Medical School Librarians meetings included in the cumulative indexes of the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association (see Sources). This is also the date used since at least 1975 as the founding date of the group. However the 1948 report does not state or imply that this was actually the first such meeting, nor is there any mention of plans for future meetings. In fact, there are no index listings for the group in either 1949 nor 1950. The 1949 proceedings carried the first report of the Committee on Criteria for Medical School Libraries, chaired by Ida J. Draeger.

Additional reports from this committee followed in 1950 and 1951; and in 1951 Ms. Draeger chaired a meeting of medical school libraries for the purpose of discussing the suggested questionnaire. It would be fair to state, then, that while the group was not originally established as the Committee on Criteria for Medical School Libraries, the work of this committee was instrumental in gathering medical school librarians into an ongoing organization. By 1952 the pattern of a combined program and business meeting was established, and by the 1953 meeting a chair of the group for the next meeting was elected. Chairs and their programs between 1948 and 1981 are listed in Appendix A.

In 1975 James Williams, Shiffman Library, Wayne State University, solicited previous chairs of the Medical School Libraries Group for information about the group's founding and early activities. At the time, he was completing a questionnaire for the Ad Hoc Committee on MLA Group Structure, and received responses from the following people:

  • Mayo Drake, Louisiana State University Medical Center, Chair 1970
  • Priscilla M. Mayden, University of Utah, Chair 1968
  • Louise Darling, University of California, Los Angeles, Chair 1957
  • Estelle Brodman, Washington University, Chair 1973
  • Miriam H. Libbey, Emory University School of Medicine, Chair 1967
  • Francis O'Leary, Saint Louis University Medical Center, Chair 1969
  • Doreen E. Fraser, Dalhousie University, Chair 1961

Francis O'Leary, who states that he joined the group in 1950, had these comments about the history of the organization:

Since there has been no continuity to speak of, there is little history and little knowledge of the purpose for which the group was founded. I suspect it grew out of informal dinner meetings of chief librarians of medical schools.

Other comments about the founding include those of Mayo Drake:

I believe the group was founded, like many other special interest groups to help bring together in a single meeting members of medical school libraries for the purposes of getting to know other members in medical schools, sharing similar problems, and encouraging better cooperation among medical school libraries.

Louise Darling wrote:

Though the group was founded long before I became a member of it, my impression is that the general idea was simply to meet once a year to become better acquainted, to exchange information on problems and policies and to listen to a formal panel discussion which it was hoped would be both interesting and provocative.

However, a somewhat different viewpoint was put forth by Doreen Fraser:

The tremendous growth and development of medical school libraries made the group a necessity, since there were too many particular problems and interests and concern [sic] peculiar to the medical school setting that demanded attention of the kind not possible in a general programme.

An informative description of the organization thirty years ago is given by Priscilla Mayden:

I was appointed chairman of the Medical School Libraries Group in 1969 [sic], and at that time I was not well acquainted with MLA organization. I was informed by my predecessor that my duties would be 1) to appoint the chairman of a nominating committee for the group for the following year from membership in the city where the next annual meeting would be held; and 2) to obtain some suitable program for the group for an evening dinner at the upcoming meeting. This I did, and have seen no evidence that any chairman has done much differently since. However, Francis O'Leary, the 1970 [sic] group chairman, spoke at some length at his dinner meeting on the shallowness of the group's efforts in the organization and the need for making its program purposeful. He did not have any takers at the time.

[Note: actual dates for Priscilla Mayden were 1967/68 and for Francis O'Leary, 1968/69. The proceedings of the1969 meeting state:

Mr. O'Leary then reported on his activities on learning that type-of-libraries groups are not mentioned in the By-Laws of the Medical Library Association, but live a precarious and marginal existence.]

Miriam Libbey gives this view of the group's activities:

The group's only regularly scheduled activity is a luncheon or dinner meeting during the annual meeting of MLA. The group has engaged in special projects from time-to-time. For example, the group cooperated with the American Medical Association in 1960 in designing a survey of medical school libraries (see Bulletin 48:464, 1960). Group members also worked with the Association of American Medical Colleges in producing Guidelines for Medical School Libraries.

(The MLA members who worked on the guidelines may or may not have been appointed to the Guideline Committee as representatives of the Medical School Libraries' Group, but they did report progress to the group and presumably gave its members a chance for input.)

Doreen Fraser adds to Libbey's description of the group's activities:

At the Toronto, Ontario, meeting in 1959 it launched the initial programme which enabled Canadian members to rescue the Canadian Medical school libraries over the next few years.

 Other Early Sections
The Dental Libraries Group was established in 1933, and the Hospital Library Group in 1948. All fifteen special interest groups in existence in 1981 became sections in 1981/82. New sections established in and after 1982 include several which have overlapping interests with MSLS. These include: Library Research Section, 1982; Technical Services Section, 1982; Public Services Section, 1984 (originally Reference Services Section; name changed 1986); Collection Development Section, 1986; and Medical Informatics Section, 1988.

Chairs of the group 1948-1981are listed in Appendix A. Section officers are listed in Appendix B, beginning 1981/82; this was also the first appearance of a chair-elect who served as program chair. Secretaries were first elected for 1982/83 and Treasurers for 1988/89. Officers were elected at the MLA Annual Meeting until 1989 when elections were changed to a mail vote preceding the annual meeting.


The MSLS News was initiated winter 1988 by David Boilard, assisted by Lila Pedersen. Virginia Lingle was the editor of volumes 2 (1988/89) and 3 (1989/90). Lila Pedersen became editor in 1990 and produced volumes 4 (August 1990) through 9, no. 1 (May 1996). Dawn Littleton became editor in 1996 with vol. 9, no. 2 (December 1996). Issues per year have varied from two to four.

In 1997, Sue London was appointed to head a team of members to design and implement a website for the section. An electronic discussion list, MSLS-L, was created in 1998.

Annual dues of $10 were approved in 1987, to be effective 1988. At the same meeting the office of treasurer was established, to be elected at the 1988 Annual Meeting.

James Williams notes in his 1975 report on the Medical School Libraries Group that the group at that time did not have a membership fee or list. He says that headquarters was providing a list of those attending the last luncheon, which could function as a membership list. Between 1981 and 1988, the section membership included everyone indicating "interest" in the section in their annual MLA dues renewal. MSLS at that time claimed a membership of more than 1000. By spring 1988 with the first collection of dues, the membership dropped to 251, and has fluctuated between 240 and 290 since then. Despite the drop in membership, it remains one of the largest of the MLA sections. A Membership Committee was formed in 1988 and a brochure produced and mailed to all academic health science libraries. A directory of members was produced in 1990/91, and has been revised annually since then, although maintenance of accurate membership records has continued to be a problem. A membership survey was conducted in 1991.

Programs at the annual meetings of the Medical Library Association have been a focus and strength of the section. Programs of the group are listed in Appendix A. Programs of the section beginning with the 1982 Annual Meeting are listed in Appendix C. The annual reports first mention joint programming with other sections at the 1987 meeting, and most of the meetings since then have included some co-sponsorship. In 1992 the Section also sponsored a half-day workshop before the formal opening of the annual meeting. In 1993 a full-day symposium was co-sponsored with MLA. Meetings in 1994 through 1996 included four programs sponsored or co-sponsored by MSLS; however, by 1997 the National Program Committee limited each section to a maximum of two programs.

Setbacks and Problems
A problem with low section visibility was mentioned as early as 1982. Lack of focus or identity of the MSLS was an important issue according to responses in the 1991 membership survey, as was overlap with other sections and with the Association of Academic Health Sciences Library Directors (AAHSLD). The possibility of merging with another section was explored in 1992.

The original fifteen sections in 1982 had increased by1996 to twenty-three sections and thirteen special interest groups (SIGs). Overlapping scheduling of the business meetings of these sections as well as other committees resulted in a drop in attendance at the MSLS Business Meetings beginning in 1995 to below that required for a forum. The result has been inadequate input on topics scheduled for discussion and feedback.The increased responsibility for programming raised the issue in 1993 of electing the program chair two years in advance to allow adequate preparation time. In the absence of direction from MLA regarding the necessary bylaws change, this change was not made.

Future Plans or Directions 
The section officers responded in 1987 to the MLA Strategic Plan, and in 1988 established its own Strategic Planning Committee. A proposed plan was approved in 1989. In 1998/99 a new Strategic Planning Committee was appointed, with Karen Brewer as chair. The charge of this committee is to review some of the longstanding problems that have confronted the section (see above) and determine if the group can find a unique focus that would give it a clear purpose and definition. Among the areas actively being explored are a greater emphasis on administration and management, since there is currently no section in MLA that focuses on these issues. Another area the section is exploring is developing a mentoring program for members who are new to MLA and to Medical School Libraries.

Compiler's Notes
This brief history was originally compiled in 1997 primarily for the years beginning 1981. In January and February 1999 materials from the earlier years were added. Sources used are listed below. A major problem has been inability to personally visit—or to find another member to visit—the archives held at the National Library of Medicine. NLM staff located and copied James Williams' 1975 correspondence relating to the history and functions of the group. However, details on membership, programs, and activities from 1968/69 to 1980/1981 could be added through personal research at the archives. Personal sketches about the listed leaders would make an interesting addition to this outline, as would personal recollections in the style of the 1975 letters. Officers and committee chairs from 1985 forward should be mindful of the future history of the section in seeing that relevant materials from their terms of office are sent to the archives.


  • Ad Hoc Committee on MLA Group Structure. Questionnaire. Medical School Libraries Group. June 1975.
  • Bulletin of the Medical Library Association. Cumulative Index, volumes 1-40, 1911-1952. 1955.
  • Bulletin of the Medical Library Association. Cumulative Index, volumes 51-60, 1963-1972. Compiled by Marian P. Holleman. 1977.
  • Bulletin of the Medical Library Association. Cumulative Index, volumes 41-50, 1953-1962. Vol. 54, no. 4, part II (1963).
  • Directory of the Medical Library Association. 1976-Medical Library Association.
  • Annual Report.1981/82-MSLS News. Vol. 1, no. 1 (1988) - vol. 10, no. 1-3 (April 1998)
  • National Library of Medicine. Preliminary Finding Guide, Special Interest Groups/Sections, Series 110; Medical School Libraries Group, October 6, 1989. Includes correspondence of chairs from 1968/69, 1971/72-1983/84. Williams' 1975 files include correspondence relating to the history and functions of the group.
  • "Proceedings, Annual Meetings of the Medical Library Association." Bull Med Libr Assoc, 36 (Oct.1948)-71(Jan.1983)

Compiled by Sarah S. Timmons, AHIP 
February 1999