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Honoring Our Past

Dig into your issues of the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association (BMLA), and you will often find some unexpected treasures. Our predecessors had astonishing ideas, some unusual and some very odd suggestions, and comments about the profession that give you a glimpse about the times in which they practiced. One such article was titled, “The Raging Book,” by Neal Harlow, dean of the Graduate School of Library Service at Rutgers University [1]. He had a great deal to say!

One of his ideas was that the “book is out of hand.” He claimed that scientists were unable to keep up with their subjects and could not read all they ought to and there were just too many books. In great detail, he explains how to deal with this situation: “[T]hat librarians become the doctors and hygienists of reading for the nonspecialized reader, preventing him from over-reading and ruining his mind by the ingestion of too many ideas.” He further suggests that librarians regulate the production of books…and become responsible for the publication rate.

Dean Harlow is creative in his solution for the book problem, which is to establish special libraries. These libraries can “occur in universities, business, industry, or the public schools.” And they will require librarians who can use their “documentation with more precision, subtlety, and speed than others do.” He provides a list of the essential components of librarianship: administration, selecting and locating of materials, acquisitions, descriptive cataloging, subject analysis, abstracting and annotation, reference work, literature searching, communications of information, translation, and conversion of data into machine readable form when it is suitable for storage and retrieval for specialized use.

To get the full impact of this article, you will need to read it. One wonders how a library school is organized under his guidance. Librarians are clearly capable of doing the work that he has described as our future. And, remember, this was published in the BMLA in 1962.


  1. Harlow N. The raging book. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1962 Oct;50(4):645–60.

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