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