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What Types of Obituaries Are Published in JMLA?

MLA Practice with Respect to Deceased Members and Staff: Policy and Procedures

By T. Mark Hodges, Associate Editor, Obituaries, JMLA, originally approved July 2002, updated June 2011 by Susan S. Starr, JMLA Editor

Over the years, the Journal of the Medical Library Association (JMLA) has published obituaries of deceased members of MLA and other persons deemed worthy of mention, because of their connection with the profession or the association. Generally, these obituaries have been of a high standard and have been a fitting tribute to their subjects. The need exists, however, for written policies and procedures, hence this statement.

Part 1: General Policy

The Need for Obituaries

No profession really merits that title unless it has a history that is well documented with facts and figures, dates and data. Among the items in any organization's history is documentation of the accomplishments, attainments, service record, discoveries, implementations, initiatives, and the like of its members, practitioners, and staff. Paramount are the obituaries following death.

Types of Obituaries

Obituaries are of two forms:

  • a simple death notice or announcement with name, dates, place, and most recent position of the deceased, plus a few biographical sentences (Type 1)
  • a death notice that combines the above with a more complete biography (Type 2)

The latter kind is the defining statement of a person's birth, background, education, training, experience, accomplishments, and influences on others and on the profession. Such an obituary also affords the opportunity for an assessment of an individual's special worth and contributions

  • to the institution(s) he or she served
  • to the profession and its professional organization(s)
  • to society

and for

  • personal reminiscences
  • a character study

This guide is primarily concerned with the latter kind of obituary.

Obituaries and MLA

The association aims to record and publicize the deaths of all its current members and staff, whenever or however these deaths are brought to its attention of MLA Membership Services. To ensure that this is done properly and systematically and to see to it that, as far as possible, no one is overlooked, the JMLA editor has appointed an officer to be in charge with the title of obituaries editor of the JMLA, and this standard policy and procedures statement has been posted on MLANET. It provides that:

  • every recently deceased MLA member or staff member (past or present) qualifies for a Type 1 obituary, which will appear in the MLA News
  • selected members and staff members (and certain others) qualify for a Type 2 obituary, which will appear in the JMLA

Type 1 Obituaries

MLA will attempt to announce the deaths of all current and former members and staff, and its Membership Services will notify the MLA News editor whenever it receives word of such deaths, either directly or indirectly. The editor of the MLA News will insert a notice reminding the membership to notify MLA Membership Services of the deaths of members; better for MLA Membership Services to receive duplicate notification than none at all.

The amount of detail in a death announcement in the MLA News is at the editor’s discretion and subject to the space available. The deaths of former members and staff will be reported in the MLA News if they were members of MLA for ten years or more (though this may be varied for cause). The fact that a person has not maintained MLA membership in retirement or on transfer outside the profession does not preclude person’s death being noted, provided the above conditions are met.

The deaths of nonmembers might be noted if warranted, but sparingly, for example:

  • benefactors of the association or the profession
  • overseas health sciences librarians who are generally regarded as having international stature
  • public officials (appointed or elected) whose actions have had an effect or bearing on health sciences information technology or librarianship
  • spouses of members, if there is reason to believe it is of relevance or importance to an appreciable part the membership

Type 2 Obituaries

These will appear in the JMLA, to recognize significant service, not to amplify what has already been announced in the MLA News. For this reason, inclusion shall require that the deceased person fall into one of these three groups.

Group I: member or staff member at time of death or former member or staff member with continuous membership or service of ten years or more prior to death

Group II: public officials (appointed or elected) and others, whose actions have had an extraordinary effect or bearing on health sciences information work or librarianship

Group III: health sciences librarians, not otherwise covered, who are generally recognized as having international stature

For those in Group I, the deceased shall have served the association and the profession in a way that demonstrates dedication and commitment to MLA and has significant and lasting achievement in the field. Taken into account too will be the person’s role in mentoring and the influence that the person has had on others. Below are examples of such association and professional activity.


Tenure of a major elective or appointive office in MLA, such as:

  • association liaison
  • board member
  • chapter or section leader
  • committee chair
  • JMLA editor
  • MLA News editor
  • parliamentarian
  • president

Recipient of a major MLA award or honor, such as:

  • Estelle Brodman Award for Academic Medical Librarian of the Year
  • Lois Ann Colaianni Award for Excellence and Achievement in Hospital Librarianship
  • Louise Darling Medal for Distinguished Achievement in Collection Development in the Health Sciences
  • Janet Doe Lectureship
  • Fellowship
  • Honorary Members
  • Joseph Leiter NLM/MLA Lectureship
  • John P. McGovern Award Lectureship
  • Marcia C. Noyes Award
  • President's Award
  • Thomson Reuters/Frank Bradway Rogers Information Advancement Award
  • Carla J. Funk Governmental Relations Award
  • T. Mark Hodges International Service Award
  • Lucretia W. McClure Excellence in Education Award
  • Michael E. DeBakey Library Services Outreach Award
  • MLA Award for Distinguished Public Service


Major library directorship or department headship, with unusual or outstanding achievements and responsibilities in such areas as:

  • building design and construction
  • building expansion
  • collections development
  • grants and contracts received
  • innovative service
  • outreach services
  • program planning
  • program implementation
  • renovations
  • staff training

Initial and continuing education in such activities as:

  • course development
  • class teaching
  • training and demonstration
  • mentoring

Publications and presentations articles in refereed journals including:

  • book authorship or editorship
  • named lectures or invited presentations at national or international meetings
  • position and research papers

Other examples, though not limited to:

  • consultantships
  • public service
  • service on institutional and external nonlibrary boards, committees, councils, juries, teams, task forces
  • service in retirement

Part 2: Procedures


Whenever MLA Membership Services receives word of the death of a member or staff member, the facts will be sent to the MLA News and to the JMLA obituaries editor. Whenever the MLA News editor or JMLA editor or obituaries editor receives word of the death of a member or staff member, the facts will be sent to MLA Membership Services and the other editors. Whenever a member of MLA hears of the death of a member or staff member, the facts will be sent to MLA Membership Services, which will relay the word as above.

Action by MLA News Editor

The editor shall

  • establish that publication of the death notice meets the criteria set forth above
  • edit the notice to conform to MLA style and contain its length to the available space
  • where possible, name the immediate or closest next-of-kin, partner or companion, and indicate if memorial donations have been designated
  • publish the notice in the Personals columns of the next issue

If the editor of the MLA News ascertains that a Type 2 obituary will subsequently appear in the JMLA, this will be noted in the death announcement.

Action by JMLA Obituaries Editor

The obituaries editor shall decide, based on the criteria above and in consultation with the JMLA editor, whether a Type 2 obituary is warranted. If so, the obituaries editor shall:

  • select a writer for the obituary, usually from among coworkers, family members, and colleagues; if no one can be located, the obituaries editor will write the obituary
  • provide deadlines and length requirements to the obituary writer (400 to 1,500 words); every effort should be made to complete the writing of the obituary within 6 months of learning of a member or staff member’€™s death
  • edit the obituary as needed and send it to the JMLA editor
  • when notified by the publisher, review the page proofs, consulting with the author as needed, and alert the author that reprints may be ordered, at their expense

Whereas the MLA News publishes a death notice in the next available issue, obituaries are generally published in the JMLA ten to fifteen months after the JMLA obituaries editor is informed of a member or staff member’€™s death. The longer timeframe reflects the more complex editing process as well as the JMLA's quarterly publication schedule.

Unsolicited Obituaries

From time to time, the JMLA may receive an unsolicited obituary from a member who feels that an obituary for a deceased member is warranted. The fact that such an obituary was not invited does not preclude its being considered for publication or its actual publication (though only contributions from MLA members or staff will be considered). Uninvited obituaries will be referred to the obituaries editor. The obituaries editor will weigh the unsolicited obituary against the criteria and requirements previously stated and submit an opinion to the JMLA editor, who will make the final decision. If unfavorable, or if an obituary is already in progress, the JMLA editor will notify the writer. If favorable, the obituaries editor will take over and act as is done for solicited obituaries.