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Honoring Our Past

“From Index Catalogue to Gopher Space: Changes in Our Profession as Reflected in the Handbook and CPHSL,” the 1993 Janet Doe Lecture by Alison Bunting, AHIP, FMLA, reviewed the history of health sciences librarianship as reflected in the four editions of the Handbook of Medical Library Practice and its successor, Current Practice in Health Sciences Librarianship (CPHSL). The lecture discussed a fifty-year span of the changes that have occurred in our profession. The first Handbook was based on a Medical Library Primer created by M. Irene Jones of the Detroit Public Library. This first effort had eight chapters by different authors with Janet Doe the editor.

For centuries, librarians had lived in a manual world. Every aspect of our work required a person to carry out the task. Someone had to file cards in the catalog, type the interlibrary loan requests, catalog the books, read the articles in order to prepare bibliographies. That was the nature of library work, and it took many hands.

Our users had to read in the library and take notes. Students carried shoe boxes filled with three-by-five-inch cards as they created bibliographies for their papers or theses. Staff members spent hours typing catalog cards, overdue notices, and newsletters to keep everyone informed about new publications and relevant library news. What a joy it was when the photocopier and the electric typewriter appeared. Little did we know what else new was coming!

Librarians who practiced in the early 1960s were fortunate to be involved in the early days of automation. The revolution had begun. Reading this lecture will take you through fifty years of change. Bunting stated that “no generation of librarians has seen such a swift transformation of techniques and that no generation has seen such a rapid expansion of scientific knowledge” [1]. It was an exciting time!

There are four of these handbooks—or as some called them “Library Bibles.” Doe edited the first one in 1943; she and Mary Louise Marshall did the second one in 1956; the third was edited by Gertrude Annan and Jacqueline Felter in 1970. The last one was edited by Louise Darling with David Bishop and Lois Ann Colaianni, AHIP, FMLA, in 1982. Enjoy this history, and then think about how we work now. Beyond that, think about a decade from now. Read this marvelous story of our profession and appreciate our past.


  1. Bunting A. From Index Catalogue to Gopher space: changes in our profession as reflected in the Handbook and CPHSL. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1994 Jan;82(1):1–11.

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