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Thomas Keys, AHIP, FMLA

Thomas Keys was the librarian at the Mayo Clinic Medical Library from 1946 until 1972 and is known for his many publications and lectures in the history of medicine. He is the author of Applied Medical Library Practice, served as president of the Medical Library Association in 1957-58, and received the Marcia C. Noyes award in 1966. He says a great librarian needs “to love books and love people, too...you have to combine those two ingredients.”

Tom graduated from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Library Science in 1934 and went to work at the Mayo Clinic. During World War II he was drafted into the Army as the Assistant Librarian at the Army Medical Library in charge of the History of Medicine Division at the Allen Memorial Library in Cleveland, where the incunabula and early rare books had been sent for protection. After the war he returned to the Mayo Clinic where he “organized the library [and] planned the classification scheme, which of course was not in accordance with what I'd learned in library school.” During his tenure the library was remodeled and grew from 30,000 volumes to 120,000 volumes. Tom considers his greatest successes as the “building up of the journal collection ...building the rare book library, getting doctors interested in medical history, and starting the Mayo Foundation Society for the History of Medicine.”

Tom joined the Medical Library Association in 1935 or 1936 when there were about 70 members. He notes, “I think medical librarianship has lost some of its charm by being so huge.” He was editor of the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association from 1943-1945, when “we had to use recycled paper.” During the war there were no Medical Library Association meetings, so he organized special one-day educational seminars which were the forerunners of the first continuing education courses. He was a member of the Medical Library Association Board of Directors, President in 1957-58, a member of the committee that recommended a Medical Library Association central office, and chair of the Honors and Awards Committee that initiated the Marcia C. Noyes award: “since she (Marcia C. Noyes) was the first woman librarian who was president of the Medical Library Association...and 85% of our membership are women, they ought to be recognized.”

Tom is also well known in the field of history of medicine and says that “the job they [historians of medicine] should be doing is making history viable and interesting.” He has been involved with many history of medicine associations including the American Association for the History of Medicine and the International Society of the History of Medicine, and has authored or co-authored books and articles such as Cardiac Classics, The History of Surgical Anesthesia, and The Foundations of Anesthesiology.

Of his career, Tom says, “I would like to think...I grew up in the golden age of librarianship where we took great delight in personally helping our physicians.”

Thomas Keys Oral History Index

Thomas Keys, AHIP, FMLA

Thomas Keys, AHIP, FMLA

Interview Date: 
April 20, 1978
Interviewer: 
Estelle Brodman
Number of pages: 
49 leaves