Discursive History, A Continuation: 1981-1996, by Erich Meyerhoff (1998)


Special Interest Groups
The Strategic Plan
Appendix A: Membership Composition
Appendix B: Historical Comments from Brett A. Kirkpatrick


The history of our Chapter from its beginnings as the New York Regional Group of MLA was written by Judith M. Topper and published in 1985. This is a continuation and extension of some of her topics.

The past fifteen years were dominated by a dizzying pace of acceleration in the use of computers in all phases of the health communication and library field. It affected not only information retrieved through Medline, on-line catalogs of books, journal holdings and audio-visuals, but also the entire administrative activities of libraries. Those working in libraries embraced and mastered this technology quickly and became instructors in its use and application. This occurred at a time of steeply rising costs of the traditional materials such as books and journals, the initial high cost of acquiring computers for public and staff use, and the need for the replacement of this equipment which became rapidly outdated. Funding for libraries, however, did not keep pace with the cost of supplying the needed resources. The Chapter responded to the change with programs which are a part of its recent history.


Annual meetings continue to be held in the Fall. They serve to transact the business of the organization, to present programs and to arrange for continuing education courses. They are scheduled for two days and some have been joint meetings with other Chapters. Evening meetings continue to be held in the Spring of the year.

The title for the October 24, 1981 meeting was “2001 is Here: New Technologies for the Health Science Libraries.” Jean K. Miller, formerly Director of the Medical Library Center of New York, and then Director of the University of Texas Health Sciences Center Library at Dallas, was the featured speaker. Her topic was “Computer Technology in the Medical Library: A Personal Viewpoint.” Concurrent afternoon sessions were devoted to microcomputers, video discs, word processing, and publishing. Registration and lunch was $9.00.

The 1982 meeting reverted to earlier concerns and Stephen Barrett, M.D., talked on “Quackery in the Health Science Literature.” Fee-based service vs. free service was discussed by Gilbert Clausman, NYU Medical Center and W. D. Walker, Director, Medical Library Center of New York.

On October 22-24, 1987, a joint meeting brought the New York-New Jersey Chapter, the Upstate New York and Ontario Chapter and the Albany Area Health Library Affiliates together in Saratoga Springs, NY. The keynote speaker was the New York State Commissioner of Health, Dr. David Axelrod.

The winds of change were clearly evident at this meeting. Managed care, its financial realities and implications for the future, why and how health professionals do their own database searching, designing an expert system for reference consultation; serials control systems, marketing, and many more computer-related topics were on the program. It was one of the most successful meetings ever to be arranged by the group. Medical ethics and problems of cost-effective management also emerged as topics that were of interest to attendees.

Partly as a result of the scarcity of meeting places at a reasonable cost and partly to have meetings at attractive places to visit led to the development of annual meetings that were held more frequently outside of Manhattan. The 1991 meeting was held in Philadelphia, PA. The 1995 meeting was at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in King’s Point, New York.

The Spring meetings tended to be dinner and entertainment. For example, on March 19, 1990, it was held at the Nice Chinese Restaurant in Chinatown. Professor Eliot Engel, dressed as Charles Dickens, entertained the group with a sketch about Dickens’ life. One hundred members paid $40 to attend. In 1991, Kaycee Hale, a former model, then Executive Director of Resource and Research Centers, Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, CA, spoke on how to “Create Opportunities for Personal Effectiveness”. In 1993, Dr. Richard Selzer, author of Confessions of a Knife, read selections from his writings and stories from the memories of his childhood.

Among the meetings which were especially noteworthy was the 90th birthday celebration of Janet Doe at the New York Academy of Medicine on March 20, 1985. Ms. Doe was unable to travel but Gilbert Clausman, Henry Lemkau and Thomas Williams visited her at her home in Katonah, New York to congratulate her. At the Academy she was celebrated by our membership in Hosack Hall. Among those who assisted with the celebration were Estelle Brodman, Judith Topper and Brett Kirkpatrick. Estelle Brodman, Gilbert J. Clausman, and Philip J. Rosenstein provided reminiscences. Memorabilia from Janet Doe’s era were exhibited. An open bar and sumptuous food completed the celebration. At the meeting all medical librarians from the area came together, old hands and recent practitioners, to experience a renewal of our identity.

The meeting at Saratoga Springs at the Gideon Putnam Hotel has been mentioned. It took place in a charming historic setting and brought us together with the Upstate New York and Ontario Chapter. Joint meetings with other chapters were conducted with the Philadelphia Chapter in Philadelphia, October 14-16, 1991, and with the North Atlantic Health Science Libraries Chapter, October 6-8, 1997 in Greenwich, Connecticut.


In absolute numbers, the membership hardly changed over the years. New members made up for those who left. The enlargement of membership was a constant concern of the Membership Committee. Letters welcoming new members were written and surveys soliciting the views of members were distributed. Informational pamphlets about the Chapter were also written and distributed.

An indication of the importance placed on increasing membership is reflected in some of the objectives of the 1991 revision of the Chapter’s Strategic Plan. Among these with target dates were to increase the number of new library school graduates who become Chapter members by 5% (6/92); and, to increase the number of pharmaceutical librarians who become Chapter members by 5% (6/93). A review whether these objectives were achieved was not recorded.

Membership of the Chapter 1979-1997
1979 379
1988 367
1990 385
1991 297
1996 353*
1997 364**

* 1996 members include 353 regular, 42 retired, and 8 students
**1998 members include 364 regular, 45 retired, and 7 students

The absence of any significant increase in membership made an ongoing rise in members’ fees necessary to cover increasing operating expenses of the Chapter.

Hospital librarians constitute the majority of members. Since 1987, hospital librarians have served as chairpersons of the Chapter, generally superceding medical school librarians.

The ethnic diversity of the Chapter reflects the “melting pot” character of our region. The membership record does not provide ethnic data; however, African-Americans, Latinos, and Filipinos are represented in professional and staff positions in our libraries. (For a partial listing see Appendix A.)

The Chapter also constituted a significant pool of those who achieved special recognition in our national association. Chapter members became MLA presidents and directors, as well as recipients of awards, among them the “Award for Excellence and Achievement in Hospital Librarianship,” “The Estelle Brodman Award,” “The Janet Doe Lectureship,” “The Ida and George Eliot Prize,” and “The Marcia Noyes Award.” (For a partial listing see “MLA Presidents from NY-NJ Chapter“.)


The responsibilities of the editor were stated in a thoughtful document, “Editorial Policies – New York-New Jersey Chapter/MLA.” To assure continuity, the editor would serve a one-year term after serving as assistant editor, and continue as a committee member for a year following the term as editor. Three to five other members of the editorial committee would serve for one or two year terms.

In practice, this was difficult to achieve. Paul Wrynn of New York University, after an assistant editorship, became editor in 1988. As was noted in the annual report:

Paul Wrynn served his second and concluding term as editor of the News. Robin Tannenbaum is unable to assume the editorship for next year, due to evening work. The identity of the new editor is unknown at this time.

The following year’s report noted his farewell as committee chairman: “Paul Wrynn completed his third year as editor, his 5th year on the committee overall.” He recalled that each issue consisted of 500 copies. To save funds, these were printed in New Jersey. The total cost of printing and mailing two issues in 1990 was $1,238. His report states: “No expenses were incurred for the delivery of the newsletter. Mr. Wrynn personally picked up the newsletter from the printer in Newark each time, as a donation to the Chapter.”

During his editorship, copy was arranged in recurring features, among them a calendar, “Who? What?, Where?,” libraries and government, and the Chapter Chairman’s message. He also introduced an informative account of the activities of standing committees to serve as a means of enlisting member participation. The Small Health Sciences Libraries Committee began a feature called “Query Corner” consisting of questions and answers from practicing librarians. A new mini-feature, “Chapter Flashback,” was initiated to celebrate the history of the chapter, with brief paragraphs recalling key events published in earlier issues of the News.

Ellen Rothbaum of North Shore University Hospital, followed as editor and actively solicited contributions from members. The newsletter appeared regularly in adherence to a strict publication schedule. The cost of printing continued to be subject to bids. Theresa Jacobelli, who was geographically close to North Shore, was selected for the production of the newsletter, and a satisfactory working relationship was maintained throughout Ellen Rothbaum’s editorship.

While the traditional features were retained, articles were solicited. Permission was obtained to reprint a cartoon by G. Steiner from the July 5, 1993 issue of the New Yorker of two dogs at a desktop computer with the caption, “On the internet nobody knows you’re a dog.” The New Yorker asked for a fee of $50, which was paid to the artist. To illustrate the effort, it required seven letters and one phone call to obtain permission.

The next editor was Thea Thompson of Columbia University Health Sciences Library, who served through 1994. The newsletter was produced in two color print in a handsome format. The annual cost was nearly $10,000. Persistent queries at the time of budget votes asked for reductions in cost.

Thea Thompson was followed by Valerie Rankow of New York University Medical Library, who further improved the appearance of the publication but also had difficulties in receiving copy. The executive committee considered monetary compensation for the editor as a method of obtaining editorial services. The problem was resolved when George Wahlert of Long Island College Hospital Library agreed to accept the editorship and declined any compensation. He instituted cost savings by returning to a one color format. The “NEWS” became the “NEWSLETTER” and was printed on lighter stock with twelve pages per issue.

Paul Wrynn once claimed that our newsletter was the oldest and best in the Association. May it grow and flourish!


In the early years the continuing education of the membership was confined to chapter meetings. Every strategic plan since 1988 includes the need for continuing education courses.

The goal is to schedule six to eight courses during the year of which two are those developed by the Medical Library Association. Frequently, those conducting these came from out of town and their travel expenses and honoraria were a group organization. Fees were charged to cover costs. Courses were cancelled when registration did not cover costs. Fees of $50 and more were not unusual. In 1995, the fee was $85. The certification program of the Medical Library Program insured attendance. To maintain certification, continuing education credits had to be earned.

While courses in traditional concerns like budgeting, copyright, oncology concepts, and resources continued to be scheduled, there also were classes on more contemporary topics such as marketing strategies, benchmarking as a measure of quality control, database searching, and evidence-based medicine. Average attendance reached twenty.

Special Interest Groups

Originated by members and functioning in 1992, they were described as follows:

The purpose of the Special Interest Groups (SIGs) is to provide a forum for discussion of topics of current interest to members of the Chapter. Activities of the SIGs should not conflict with activities of other Chapter committees. Program contents should be discussed with the CE committee.

In 1992 the two SIGs were the Microcomputer Users Group chaired by Patricia Gallagher and Larry Dormer, and Online Searching and CD-ROM SIG chaired by Dorothy Schwartz and June Rosenberg.

Both groups have been meeting regularly since their inception, retaining the same leadership. They have addressed current developments in the respective fields. Attendance is not limited to Chapter members, non-members may come to meetings. Both groups have been most successful in maintaining their membership.

The Strategic Plan

The files of the activities of the Ad Hoc Committee on Strategic Planning reveal a truly enormous effort not only to state specific goals for the Chapter, but also to study the wishes, composition, expectations, self image and governance of the Chapter. Hospital librarians constituted the majority of the committee’s members. One is tempted to characterize them as the “best and the brightest”. A list of the participants and their initial terms on the committee follows:

  • Michelle Volesko, Health Research and Educational Trust of New Jersey, 9/85 – 12/88, Chair, 2/86-12/88
  • Kay Mills Due, formerly of the Greater Northeastern Regional Medical Library, Program, Chair, 9/85-1/86
  • Shifra Atik, Long Island Jewish Medical Center, NY, 9/85-12/88
  • Laura Barrett, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey _ Newark, 9/85-12/88
  • Debbie Cassel (Rand), Long Island Jewish Medical Center, NY, 9/85-12/88
  • Pamela Anderson Kerns, Login Bros., 10/87-12/88
  • Arlee May, SUNY Stony Brook, NY, 9/85-12/88
  • Lynn Kasner Morgan, Mt. Sinai Medical Center, NY, 9/85-12/88
  • Ellen Poisson, Beth Israel Medical Center, NY, 9/85-10/87
  • Daniel T. Richards, formerly Columbia University, NY, 9/85-4/88
  • Judith Schuback Cohn, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey – Newark, 9/85-12/88
  • Ann Vreeland Watkins, Mountainside Hospital School of Nursing, NJ, 4/86-12/88

The work was carried on for three years from 1985-88 with the first meeting on December 16, 1985. This continued for 12 meetings. The Chairperson, Michelle Volesko, summarized the methodology as follows:

With committee member’s backgrounds in strategic planning, and subsequent self study, timelines and a work flow chart were prepared. To analyze the internal and external environments of the Chapter, task forces within the Strategic Planning Committee were established as follows; Budget Review and Analysis, Chapter Image Analysis, Historical Review and Interviews, Organizational Structure and Survey. These Task Forces produced numerous documents including the 1987 Survey of Opinions of Members of the NY-NJ Chapter/MLA, Inc. and the Image Analysis Task Force Survey. Of a total of 356 opinion surveys issued to the Chapter membership, 186 were returned for a 51% response rate. 40 image surveys were issued to library associations geographically related to the Chapter with 27 surveys returned for a 67% response rate. Final reports were prepared by each task force and were included as appendices to the final report of the Ad Hoc Committee.

Using the proposed new mission statement, the committee identified key issues facing the Chapter and goals for each issue. Key events/objectives for each goal were written, revised and tabulated. The resulting strategies also included data on due dates for objectives, costs, revenue, number of members required to implement the objective, aspects of the strategy to be reported in the newsletter and prioritization. The first document included 11 issues and 41 Chapter goals, while the second one included 154 total objectives to fulfill the proposed goals.

The strategic planning, however did not coincide with a time of abundance of resources for our libraries. On the contrary, it occurred during a financial drought. The Committee projected important tasks for all committees of the Chapter without identifying the financial support which might be needed to achieve them. It is not clear which of the 154 objectives were reached in their projected timeframes.

The initial truly intensive effort was followed by more modest plans. To give an example, the 1991 plan recommended that “the fiscal policy committee review investments annually”. The same recommendation was made in 1992. The recommendations were not for five or ten years, but for short periods. The success of the Government Relations Committee, the effective programs of continuing education, the vitality of the Special Interest Groups to be discussed do not seem to owe their motivation to any strategic plan.

Perhaps the most immediate function was to serve as the Chapter’s conscience in setting forth useful chapter activities and attaching deadlines for their fulfillment. Successive plans became more limited in scope when compared to the first effort, which is still a model for its methodology.


The committee which carried responsibility for all information concerning legislation, both national and especially local, was known as the Ad Hoc Legislative Committee in 1977, the Legislative Committee (1978-1981), the Joint Legislative Committee (1982-1985) and the Government Relations Committee, since 1986. In effect, New York State was covered by members from the New York State Metropolitan area, upstate New York was covered by members of the Upstate New York and Ontario Chapter and New Jersey by members of this area. The New York-New Jersey-Committee and the Upstate New York Committee worked closely together during the eighties. They displayed great energy and perseverance. Proposals for the support of hospital library resources were drafted. Librarians lobbied legislators in both houses in Albany. Library standards were developed to buttress library need vis a vis hospital administrators. Members providing active support were Jacqueline Picciano, Ursula Poland, Ann Hutchinson, Josefina Lim, Jean Baker, George Wahlert, June Glaser and others. This campaign was a successful collaboration of the New York Library Association and the chapters in finding a special place within the existing statewide Reference and Research Library Resource System (3Rs) and the Regional Medical Library Program administered by The New York Academy of Medicine.

In June 1981, bills A-3150a and S-2805b were signed by New York State Governor Cuomo and became Chapter 718 of the laws of 1981. In 1981, $395,000 were provided of which $350,000 went to support the interface between the Regional Medical Library Program and the “3Rs” program of New York State.

Ursula Poland has described the achievement in “Legislative Activism in New York State” (Bull Med Lib Assoc (70) January 1982: 54-56) $5,000 was used to identify where aid to rural hospital libraries was needed and to develop standards for such libraries. $40,000 was used to support two pilot projects for two years in public library systems to determine how health information services could be provided to consumers. Much later the Federal government rescinded the requirement of a medical library as a condition for the receipt of federal funding. The Commissioner of Health for New York State, Dr. David Axelrod, removed the requirement for a medical library from the New York State Code for Hospitals. Ursula Poland recalls a personal interview with him in 1991 during which she requested a reinstatement of the requirement of a medical library for hospital certification. For once there also was support from the community of physicians. This was of no avail. At their meeting, Dr. Axelrod told Ms. Poland that not a single hospital had closed an existing library. A few years later this was no longer true.

The committee continues to do good and responsive work on copyright. Obtaining monetary support for hospital libraries was, and continues to be, a high point in the history of the committee’s activities.


The addition to Judith Topper’s “Discursive History” was prepared with regrettable haste and, hopefully, another edition will accomplish a more thorough account of our Chapter. The Chapter is in good health and it continues to benefit from the dedication and the energetic work of its members and those who participate on its committees. It is a tribute to our members that even in financially difficult times our institutions continue to support and value the Chapter. In order to obtain first-hand impressions from those who chaired our Chapter, their comments about their term of office were invited. Among those who responded were:

  • Jeanne Becker and Pamela Kerns who visited the Archives to try to refresh their memories.
  • Ellen Poisson wrote to recall a satisfying term of service.
  • Brett Kirkpatrick wrote a more extensive account which appears in Appendix B.

The remainder did not have any special comments.

Finally many earned my thanks, none bear any responsibility for the shortcomings of my piece. They are: Lois Weinstein, Executive Director, The Medical Library Center of New York; William Self of the same institution; Caron Capizzano, Nancy Panella, Carla Tobias, Judith Topper, Jacqueline Picciano, Tina Meyerhoff, and Jeanne Becker.

Erich Meyerhoff
May 1998

Appendix A: Membership Composition

The membership of the chapter reflects the ethnic diversity of the region.

A statistical summation is not available. However, it is to be noted that among African-American librarians, Madeline Taylor served as chairperson of the chapter as well as editor of its newsletter. In addition, she was also President of the Chapter Council, a member of the Board of Directors of MLA, and Director of the George F. Smith Library of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Among other culturally diverse librarians were Reginald Smith, Head of Reference at the George. F. Smith Library and instructor for the course in Medical Librarianship at Rutgers University; Roy Johnson, Librarian of the New York University Dental Center; the late Angelina Harmon, head of the library of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; and the late Arlee May of SUNY at Stony Brook.

Currently this category also includes June Burrows, formerly of the Mount Sinai School of Nursing; Carol Cave-Davis, Head, Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center; Julia Chai, Head of Lenox Hill Hospital Medical Library; Josefina Lim, Head of the Medical Library at Montefiore Medical Center; Narciso Rodriguez, Head of the Medical Library at Brooklyn Hospital Center; Alma Sanders, formerly of the New York Academy of Medicine; Sheigla Smalling, Montefiore Medical Center; Dorice Vieira, NYU Medical Center; and Maureen Wren, NYU Dental.

Appendix B: Historical Comments from Brett A. Kirkpatrick

January 12, 1995

Mr. Erich Meyerhoff
Ehrman Medical Library
New York University Medical Center
550 First Avenue
New York, NY 10016

Dear Erich,

Your invitation to supply comments about my year as chair of the New York and New Jersey Chapter of MLA prompted a cascade of memories and recollections. Reviewing the Executive Committee meeting minutes for 1982/83, which you helped me locate, produced more than one chuckle and stimulated additional recollections.

For some years prior to my becoming chair, the chapter leadership had devoted considerable attention and energy to improving organizational effectiveness and to recovering from financial difficulty. My tenure continued that process, focusing on improving the procedures manual, developing additional procedures where needed, coordinating and following up on committee activities, ensuring quality content in programs and ensuring future fiscal solvency. In the latter instance, the appointment of a long-term financial planning committee may have been one of the more important accomplishments of my term of office. That simple action established a precedent for active financial planning, and the recommendations from the committee signaled the membership that the Chapter was finally “out of the woods” financially – and intended to stay there.

Through the year, the Executive Committee maintained a cordial and productive, albeit independent-minded, working relationship with MLA. We enquired about the benefits of tax-exempt status and the possibility of acquiring such status under MLA’s corporate umbrella. On the other hand, we opposed the idea of having MLA collect chapter dues as part of MLA’s annual membership renewal program. We also declined to provide comments on a final draft of hospital library standards being proposed by MLA. Our position was that the standards already had sufficient review by a number of bodies and should be put forward for ratification or rejection. Due to complaints from members, we also petitioned MLA to refrain from scheduling meetings over the Labor Day holiday. We submitted our annual report (without comment), our chapter membership compliance report (with an analysis of the compliance survey’s shortcomings and with suggestions for further improvement), and our chapter goals and objectives (requested by MLA for the first time). With finances on a firmer foundation, the Committee also increased its annual donation to the Janet Doe lectureship fund and began exploring possibilities for contributing to the planning and execution of the MLA annual meeting scheduled in New York in 1985. Working in conjunction with MLA, the Joint Legislative Committee prepared and submitted comments on proposed changes in Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement guidelines.

Due to MLA’s earlier organizational restructuring and the implementation of all that that entailed, it seemed as though MLA was making increasing demands on the Chapter and imposing deadlines for action which were difficult to meet. The occasional grumbling that this caused among Executive committee members was due more, I think, to adjusting to change than to acquiring more work.

The Chapter’s direct relationship with NLM was unremarkable. Chapters were not asked to input to the MLA/NLM Liaison Committee in 1982/83 due to a reassessment of the committee’s function. Indirectly, through the Regional Medical Library Program (RMLP), the Chapter maintained a close working relationship with the NLM. It was during this time, however, that NLM was de-emphasizing RMLP contract support for continuing education. As of 1983, the RMLP was not allowed to co-sponsor Chapter meetings. The New York Academy of Medicine Library picked up the slack from its own operating budget in order to continue the long-standing tradition of holding Chapter meetings at the Academy.

Due to some poor programming in the previous year, the Executive Committee took great care to review proposed program ideas, speakers and program content. The Committee was not reluctant to reject ideas which it viewed as unlikely to generate significant member interest or to reject speakers who were known to be less than dynamic. Throughout the year, programs were designed and presented to meet the varying needs of constituent groups. The Committee also recognized an opportunity to husband rescues by co-sponsoring relevant programs with other library groups in the area.

I believe the Chapter continued to make significant strides toward organizational maturing during my term of office. I credit this to the creativity and hard work of the Executive Committee as a whole. Our accomplishments truly were a team effort and continued a pattern, established by earlier Chapter leadership, of functioning less like a social club and more like a professional association.

Of course, there were minor frustrations. Two stand out in mind. One was the frustration caused by well-intentioned volunteers who couldn’t or didn’t follow through in executing their responsibilities. In one case, this was significant enough a problem to prompt serious discussion about the fact that the Chapter had no procedure for removing or replacing a chair who was not functioning. A second frustration concerned the general confusion among a high proportion of the membership regarding the roles, responsibilities, and activities of the Chapter, the Medical Library Center of New York and the Regional Medical Library Program. In truth, there was considerable cooperation among the three entities, and it was not always clear to the casual observer whose resources were being employed to do what. However, that synergism, fraught as it sometimes was with tension, provided a strength and a perspective I think unique to the New York and New Jersey Chapter.

I hope that some of these comments may be useful to you in preparing the update of Judy Topper’s history of the Chapter. If there are specific areas I haven’t addressed or areas where you would like additional clarification, please don’t hesitate to ask. Of course, you must bear in mind that a good bit of what I remember can’t be printed – yet! Many thanks to you for giving me this opportunity to reminisce.

Sincerely yours,
Brett A. Kirkpatrick