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J Med Libr Assoc. Jul 2005; 93(3): 311–314.
PMCID: PMC1175797

Mary Joan (MJ) Tooey, AHIP Medical Library Association President 2005–2006

Frieda O. Weise, Executive Director (retired)

Wit, intelligence, passion for the profession—these were my very first impressions of Mary Joan (MJ) Tooey when I met her in 1986 during a job interview. I wanted to hire her on the spot! The very qualities I saw then will make her an outstanding president of the Medical Library Association. It is a pleasure for me to write this biography of MJ. Over the nearly twenty years that I have known her, I have discovered many additional traits that have made her a wonderful friend, a trusted colleague, and an inspiring leader. She has boundless energy and enthusiasm and is gracious and outgoing. Her staff appreciates her “strong sense of mission and eagerness to work and share with others” [1]. She likes to have fun and not take herself too seriously [2]—and she can turn a cartwheel, as a friend from her amateur theatre days can attest [3]!

How does a person become who they are? In MJ's case, childhood influences were quite important, especially her grandparents. Her Grandmother Tooey was a great baker and introduced her to chocolate (she is definitely a chocoholic!). Her Grandfather Tooey introduced her to books and libraries at the tender age of three, and, if you think she only recently became busy, think again. Her grandfather's pet name for her was “Huzzle-Buzzle!”

MJ spent her childhood in Cleveland and still has a soft spot for that city. Her family moved to Pittsburgh when she was twelve. Growing up, her two younger brothers, Kevin and Patrick, being good Irish lads, gave her many opportunities to develop self-confidence and leadership skills. The turbulent '60s also had a great impact on her during her teen years. “World events shaped my personal values,” she recalls, “the Vietnam War protests, the first Earth Day, the Women's Liberation Movement, Watergate—all of them gave me my perspective on the world and life. Not to mention the Beatles and the music revolution!” [4]. While in high school, MJ's naturally outgoing personality led her to acting in amateur theatre. But the library also attracted her, and she became a library assistant in the high school library.

When the time came to go to college, however, her parents insisted that she have a back up to acting. Fortunately for us, she chose to get a bachelor's of science in education and library science to become a school media specialist. She did not lose her love of theatre but continued amateur acting and minored in communication arts. To this day, she is an ardent fan and supporter of all types of theatre and music. “Acting,” she says, “gave me the courage to face an audience and not fear public speaking” [4]. It is a skill she has used well in various positions over the years and will certainly use to good effect as president.

After graduating in 1976 from Clarion State University in Pennsylvania, MJ's first professional positions were in public school districts in the greater Pittsburgh area. During this time, she caught the eye of one of her students, Ron Huffman, who later became her husband. (More on that below.)

Meanwhile, she decided to pursue a master's of library science at the University of Pittsburgh where her advisor, Allan Kent, introduced her to medical libraries. The idea of bringing people, technology, and information together in a patient-care setting appealed to her, so in 1982, she secured a position as the media/reference librarian at Allegheny General Hospital. While there, she was involved in patient education, established a microcomputer lab, and was involved in the renovation of the library. Indeed this job was a harbinger of what was to come at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), ten years later.

A new phase in MJ's life began in 1984 when, after seven years of dating, she and Ron married and moved to Baltimore in 1985. After working for a time at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore as a clinical reference librarian, she applied for a position in 1986 at the Health Sciences Library, now the Health Sciences and Human Services Library (HS/HSL), at UMB. So began her career in academic medical libraries. As head of a new unit in information management education (IME), MJ was able to bring her expertise in technology and her love of people and education to the fore. She successfully led the library's efforts in developing an IME curriculum and establishing a microcomputer-training lab. At UMB, her talents in organization and management were recognized immediately, and she quickly assumed increasingly responsible positions. In 1989, she became assistant director for information services, which included both IME and reference services. On February 15 of that year, her daughter Greer was born, adding yet another layer to MJ's life.

The early '90s were busy ones for MJ as she raised her daughter and became involved in the plans to build a new health sciences library on the UMB campus. When the state finally approved and funded the building plans, MJ was named project manager for the library in 1992, a job that became more and more intense as the plans came to fruition in bricks and mortar in 1998. During her six years as project manager, she was the communications link among the architects, campus administration, library administration, and the construction firm. She filled this role with firmness, good humor, and an unsurpassed attention to detail.

As if handling the building project were not enough, MJ was given a new responsibility in 1997— fundraising—as part of a new position, associate director for external services and development. Her dynamic personality and positive attitude made her a natural for this position, in which she worked closely with library administration to develop a board of visitors and to seek private funding for the library.

The new library was designed to house both the library and campus computing, which meant that some academic computing functions and library systems functions were merged. Merging these two units and cultures was of paramount importance to the success of the library. MJ's natural ability in dealing with people, her knowledge and skills in technology, and her organizational skills were once again tapped for this challenge, and she took on the role of acting assistant director for computing and technology services. These functions came with her when she was named deputy director in 1999.

The idea of bringing people and technology together has been a recurring theme in MJ's career, from her early days in a hospital library to her current position as executive director of the HS/HSL. At UMB, she was instrumental in educating the campus about technology with the first conferencing system, CoSy [5]. She was a primary member of the School of Medicine's Informatics Week Curriculum Committee [6] and consistently worked with the Schools of Pharmacy, Nursing, Social Work, and Dentistry to include information management in their curricula. As the project manager for the new library building, she fought for the most cutting-edge technology, which resulted in one of the most technologically advanced and user-friendly health sciences libraries in the country.

Throughout her career, MJ has contributed to the knowledgebase of the profession by presenting papers, writing, and participating in professional organizations. MJ is a dynamic speaker and has given more than forty invited and contributed papers to share her experience and expertise at MLA's annual meetings, the Mid-Atlantic Chapter's (MAC's) meetings, and other library organizations and library meetings. Her topics have ranged from technology and education to planning and building library facilities and library management. Recently, she has delved into the crisis in scholarly publishing [7] and the costs of the digital library [8]. One of her notable talks featured libraries in the movies!

MJ has at least twenty-five articles and chapters to her credit as author or coauthor. The columns she wrote for the Medical Reference Services Quarterly on problem-based learning [9] and an Internet curriculum [10] reflected her expertise in education. She also coauthored the chapter, “Educational Programs and Materials,” in Education Services in Health Sciences Libraries, volume two of the Current Practice in Health Sciences Librarianship series [11]. Based on her experience with building and planning library facilities, she coauthored an article on the practicalities of planning [12] and another on the finished facility [13]. Finally, the comprehensive chapter, “Planning for Health Sciences Library Facilities,” in Administration and Management in Health Sciences Libraries, volume eight in the Current Practice in Health Sciences Librarianship series, was published in 2000 [14].

MJ's passion for health sciences librarianship is self-evident looking at her record of service to the profession. She has participated in MAC as well as MLA in many capacities for about twenty years. For MAC, she was program chair and chair, Chapter Council representative, and chair of the Honors and Awards Committee and has been on the Strategic Planning Task Force. For MLA, she has been a leader in the Public Services Section for many years, serving as secretary/treasurer, program chair, and chair. She was elected chair of Chapter Council and served on the MLA Board of Directors from 1998 to 2001. Additionally, she was chair of the 2004 National Program Committee for MLA '04 in Washington, DC. From 2000 to 2001, she chaired the MLA/PEW Internet and American Life Project Task Force. Her firm commitment to MLA and the knowledge she has gained over her many years of active participation have prepared her well to lead MLA as president.

Other organizations have also benefited from her expertise, particularly the Maryland Association of Health Sciences Libraries, for whom she has served as program chair and chair. Currently, the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries is utilizing her strategic planning skills, as she is a member of the Charting the Future Task Force.

MJ has been recognized for her superior work and many contributions to the profession by the honors and awards she has received over the years. In 1991, she received the Service Recognition Award from MAC; in 1996, she was selected Librarian of the Year by MAC; and, in 1997, she won MLA's Estelle Brodman Award for the Academic Medical Librarian of the Year. The latter award recognizes an academic medical librarian at mid-career level with demonstrated significant achievement, potential for leadership, and continuing excellence. She certainly has proved that she was the right choice for this award! Additionally, she was nominated by the UMB campus in 2001 for membership in the Phi Kappa Phi Honorary Fraternity, in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the library and campus.

In spite of her prodigious achievements, MJ is not all work and no play. She is a master of balancing her work and her family life [15]. She is able to focus on the responsibilities of her job while keeping in mind what is truly important in life. She can often be seen dashing from a meeting, with running shoes in hand, to go watch Greer play soccer. Greer and Ron are the joys of her life, and they, in turn, appreciate and support her many activities. As MJ has stated, “Without them, the rest would all be meaningless.”

Anyone who knows MJ even slightly will realize that she is sincerely good humored and loves people. When Ron was asked what attracted him to MJ, he responded, “the smile in her eye” [15]. Her personal values carry over into her work, and she shows concern for her staff. She is quick to recognize a job well done. She is a generous friend and will go out of her way to find just the right gift or birthday card. A card she sent to a friend said, “You can tell we're friends because we're always having way more fun than it really makes sense to be having” [16].

She and Ron like to entertain friends and are famous for their New Year's Eve Party (held usually a week after New Year's Eve), which brings together people from various aspects of their lives. Imagine a party with bankers and librarians!

MJ is also an adventurous cook but treasures her mother's and grandmother's recipes. I remember a search for poppy seeds to make poppy seed rolls at Christmas! Never, never mention fruit and meat in the same sentence, as it is likely to bring forth great contempt and disgust.

As would be appropriate for her family history, MJ loves all things Irish and has traveled to Ireland to experience the home of her ancestors. Travel is one of her favorite pastimes, and she is always looking ahead for a new adventure, whether it be whitewater rafting or staying in an Irish castle.

The quiet, contemplative side of MJ shows through in her love of gardening, especially in her perennial garden. She says she likes “to dig and think.” She likes a good read, crossword puzzles, walks, and bike rides.

When writing about someone with whom I have worked closely for almost twenty years, it is difficult to keep the personal out of the story. Much of my own success in professional life is due to MJ's unwavering support over the years, especially during the years she was deputy director (1999–2003), while I served as president of MLA. I knew that I could count on her dedication to keep the library moving forward, while I devoted time to external activities. When she was named executive director upon my retirement in 2003, I knew without a doubt that she would be a superlative leader of the HS/HSL.

As president of MLA, MJ will bring her many skills, talents, and experiences with her. In a time when technology threatens to overwhelm our lives, her focus on people is refreshing and of the utmost importance. Her positive attitude and good humor will stand her in good stead in dealing with the association's knotty problems.

With dedication to and passion for the profession, she will lead MLA as the eight-fifth president with a “smile in her eye” that is irresistible!

figure i0025-7338-093-03-0311-f01
Chas. L. Smith Photography


The author thanks the following individuals who shared their impressions of MJ: Ron Huffman, Beverly Gresehover, Alexa Mayo, Michelle Meisner, and Jean Shipman.


  • Mayo A. Personal communication. 2005 Jan 12.
  • Gresehover B. Personal communication. 2005 Jan 10.
  • Meisner M. Personal communication. 2005 Jan 6.
  • Tooey MJ. Personal communication. 2005 Jan 12.
  • Tooey MJ.. Getting CoSy with a conferencing system—The UMAB Health Sciences Library's role in educating users. Med Ref Serv Q. 1988;7(2):69–74.
  • Tooey MJ, Lansing P. Informatics immersion launches new curriculum. Presented at: the Medical Library Association 1995 Annual Meeting, Medical Informatics Section Contributed Paper Session; Washington, DC; 1995 May 10.
  • Tooey MJ. Scholarly publishing: what influences the rising costs of journals for students and university libraries? Presented at: Colleges, Code and Copyright Symposium; Center for Intellectual Property, Adelphi, MD; 2004 Jun 10.
  • Tooey MJ. Show me the money: the reality of library costs. Presented at: MLA '02; Dallas, TX; 2002 May 19.
  • Tooey MJ.. Problem-based learning: getting started—part one [information management education column] Med Ref Serv Q. 1993;12(3):85–9.
  • Tooey MJ.. Planning an Internet curriculum [education and training column] Med Ref Serv Q. 1995;14(2):85–9.
  • Wilson ML, Tooey MJ. Educational programs and materials. In: Allegri F, ed. Educational services in health sciences libraries. Metuchen, NJ: Medical Library Association and Scarecrow Press, 1995. (Current Practice in Health Sciences Librarianship, v.2.).
  • Weise FO, Tooey MJ. The building-planning process: tips from the UMAB experience. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1995.  Jul; 83(3):315–21. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Weise FO, Tooey MJ. The Health Sciences and Human Services Library: “this is one sweet library.”. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1999.  Apr; 87(2):170–7. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Weise FO, Tooey MJ. Planning for health sciences library facilities. In: Forsman R, ed. Administration and management in health sciences libraries. Lanham, MD: Medical Library Association and Scarecrow Press, 2000. (Current Practice in Health Sciences Librarianship, v.8.).
  • Huffman R. Personal communication. 2005 Jan 19.
  • Shipman J. Personal communication. 2005 Feb 7.

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