Oral Histories of

Oral histories were recorded from two of the founding members of our group
...Joan Staats, past librarian at the Jackson Laboratories, Bar Harbor, Maine, and, at the time of the group's founding, the only MLA member in the state of Maine; and

...Charles C. Colby, past librarian of the Boston Medical Library in the Francis A Countway Library of Medicine, and one of the representatives from the state of Massachusetts.

These illustrious members, and others, reminisce about the early days of our organization. Read on and listen to voice recordings of these early events.

Why was the group formed?

Joan Staats recounts the great influence of Henrietta Tarlson Perkins on the founding of the group. "Perky" was the Yale Medical Librarian when she died suddenly in 1962. According to Joan, our group was begun because "Perky thought it ought to be!" She was deeply involved with the Connecticut Valley group of MLA and was a true believer and thought she should spread the word around New England. Click below to hear more of Joan's remembrances of Perky.

    "Perky had these ambitious thoughts of expansion, expansion of the word, getting the word around about medical librarianship, about MLA, about cooperation. So she picked one person from each state, each New England state. She knew me since I'd been there, and I was the only MLA member in the state of Maine, so of course I was a member of the committee. I mean who else? It was a choice between me and nothin'; well I won. So of course she had a lot of choice in Massachusetts, not much choice in Vermont and New Hampshire, more in Vermont and there were quite a few in Rhode Island"

    >>>Audio Clip - 73k wav file

Personally, Perky had a great influence on Joan Staats professional career as a librarian.

    "I was going thru a bad, bad time. I was going thru a time when I thought I was wasting my education, which had nothing to do with libraries. I was a biologist and what I was doing had not much to do with biology, and I decided I was wasting my education and all that stuff. I didn't like this job anymore. Well I had my mind changed for me, Perky showed me that it was a wonderful thing to be a medical librarian, she didn't tell me, she showed me and this was a turning point in my life."

    >>>Audio Clip - 233k wav file

Helen DeJong, the librarian at the Rhode Island Medical Society library and another founding member, said that Henrietta Perkins organized the 1957 meeting with the following in attendance at this first organizational meeting - Henrietta Perkins, Helen DeJong, Ann Maxville, Joan Staats, Charles Colby and Clara Robeson. Ann Maxville served as first treasurer and only officer for several years because the frugal New England members felt that "some one person should be responsible for guarding our small fund and for signing it in and out of the bank."

Charles Colby recounts the reasons the group was formed from his perspective. The early members were...

    "... a sort of 'mavericky' group who were very suspicious of the MLA bureaucracy and who really wanted to have a group that was for the little people to get a trickle down from MLA via the attendees and inexpensive meetings."

    >>>Audio Clip -227k wav file

Memories of the early meetings...

Joan Staats remembers that "At the first meeting at Yale, we talked about getting organized, how often we'd meet, and developed a draft of bylaws which we later voted not to have! The 1957 meeting at Yale was an organizational meeting." Find out what happened to the women in the group at the second meeting in 1958! As the commercial says, "We've come a long way, baby!"

    "But for the 1958 meeting in Boston, which was really the first meeting, invitations were sent to everybody you could find - MLA members and hospital directors and librarians - using everybody's mailing list that we could find. A lot of wonderful people responded and so we had our second meeting which was interesting; kinda funny in a way. We had dinner at the Harvard Club in Boston which is surely unique in all the world, that is we ladies could not go in the front door, we had to go down the street to where there was another door to let us in the back way."

    >>>Audio Clip 253k wav file

Helen DeJong remembers Ralph Esterquist saving the day when a microphone started smoking. "One of the microphones being used by the panel developed a short circuit and started to burn. Ralph Esterquist put out the fire. In gratitude, we sent him a toy fireman's badge."

How about our relationship with the Medical Library Association?

According to Joan Staats, the attendees at the 1958 meeting " voted at that meeting not to be associated with MLA, we called ourselves the "New England Group." It took more than 10 years to settle. There was really no reason not to become associated with MLA except we were a bunch of stony New Englanders!" During that period MLA "was wondering what to do with these regional groups so it wasn't as though we were consciously turning down something great, because there wasn't anything great. MLA hadn't decided what these groups should be doing or what should be the relationship so it wasn't all us really."

Charles Colby characterizes the early members as a "very independent mavericky kind of group who did not believe in coercion by the national father Medical Library Association, Inc."

Ann Maxville, in a letter to the membership dated November 1, 1967, wrote:

    "My cool is disturbed by what seems to me a complacent domination of this organization by MLA. The triggering incident, for me, is MLA's expectation that we will contribute more than we can afford - unless some new means of adding to our income is found without assessing the little people - toward the cost of a [Janet Doe] lectureship which none of the little people will ever hear in honor of a person they have never known."

The current group has had three names during the 40 years of its existence. What's the story behind the name changes?

According to Joan Staats,

    " at first we were the New England Regional Group, not of anything. Then we became NERGMLA, the New England Regional Group of MLA. Then the question of Canadian members came up and the members voted to change the chapter boundaries to include the North Atlantic provinces of Canada. With this change, our name was no longer descriptive, so we changed the name to the North Atlantic Health Sciences Libraries."

Who were the early key leaders of our group?

  • Gertrude Annan, New York Academy of Medicine, who assisted with the founding of the group because she was an honorary member of the Rhode Island Health Science Library group and loved to have opportunities to visit New England!
  • Wilma Winters, Boston Medical Library. Click here to find out what a great contribution Wilma made to early meetings according to Joan Staats...

      "The week before the annual meeting she would go to the place of the meeting and do a hell of a lot of work organizing the meeting."

      "Anyway, getting back to my meeting in 1962, we had 4 workshops and people pre-registered by mail what they wanted to do. So dear Wilma, who came up and stayed with me for a week, took all those and doled them out to make classes even and all this stuff, I didn't have to do a damn thing. And she helped in other ways. She had been to lots of meetings, and organized lots of meetings, and was good at it, so we all kind of leaned on her. She was great."

    Genevive Cole, Massachusetts General Hospital. Here is Joan Staats' description of this "starchy lady!"

      "Very starchy lady, very starchy. I remember she came to the meeting in Bar Harbor and the day after the meeting I was out cutting my lawn and Gen walked by. She had stayed over, so I invited her in for a cup of tea of course. She came in, we had tea on a low coffee table in front of one of our fire places. We had a small dog who was very friendly. In the midst of our tea the dog jumped up on the coffee table. I was absolutely mortified. You know, you just didn't do this to Genevive Cole. But she was good about it; didn't kick the dog more than 2 or 3 times."

      >>>Audio Clip 172k wav file

  • Ralph Esterquist, librarian of the Harvard Medical Library/Countway Library of Medicine.
  • Clara Robeson, Harvard Medical Library.
  • Betty Feeney, Head of the New England Regional Medical Library, Countway Library of Medicine.
  • Harold Bloomquist, Librarian of the Countway Library of Medicine.
  • Mark Hodges, Head of the New England Regional Medical Library, Countway Library of Medicine.
  • Fred Kilgour, librarian of Yale University.
  • June Hicks, librarian of Dartmouth Medical Library.

And let's not forget the continuous contributions of Bill Brown, Senior and his successors. Click here to hear Charles Colby recount the first year of the annual Brown & Connolly Cocktail Party, an event much anticipated by our members.

    "Bill Brown Sr. was really quite distressed when the cocktail hour was over. He urged me to let him and Brown and Connolly keep the bar open all during dinner. I was kind of afraid that there might be too many loud slurping noises if we left the bar open during more serious events and so I had to sort of lower the boom on Bill Brown Sr. It [became] a custom and they were still doing the cocktail party."

What has been the value of MLA to New England?

Joan Staats speaks of the national organization "supplying institutional members with collection development assistance through the MLA Exchange, and education with refresher courses, a forerunner of MLA's extensive continuing education programs.

What has been our group's influence on health science librarianship in New England?

According to Joan Staats:

    "It has had a large effect in pulling together not only persons but organizations into what we now call networking but used to call cooperation."

    >>>Audio Clip 207k wav file

And the Yankee spirit of the group strongly continues. Over the years, the annual meeting has rotated among the five New England state consortia. They are:

  • ...the Association of Rhode Island Health Science Libraries
  • ...the Connecticut Association of Health Sciences Libraries
  • ...the Maine Health Science Libraries and Information Consortium
  • ...the Massachusetts Health Sciences Library Network
  • ...the New Hampshire/Vermont Health Sciences Libraries

Jean Scougall, past director of the Baystate Medical Center Health Sciences Library, sums it up:

    "It certainly has been an exciting adventure... . There have been many changes and I am proud of our profession's growth and involvement in health care during these decades. We have worked hard! --- We have dreamed big dreams! --- And we have made a difference!"

NAHSL Home North Atlantic Health Sciences Libraries, Inc.
URL http://nnlmner.uchc.edu/nahsl/history/fafoh.html
Version date: May 20, 1998 -- ML/MG
Copyright © 1998 -- NAHSL
Comments to: NAHSL Archives Committee