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J Med Libr Assoc. Apr 2003; 91(2): 272.
PMCID: PMC153179

Beatrix (Bee) Robinow, 1915–2001

Beatrix (Bee) Robinow, a former MLA board member, died on April 30, 2001. Until her retirement in 1982, she was director of the health sciences library at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

figure i0025-7338-091-02-0272-f04

Beatrix Hendrika Minnaar was born on November 5, 1915, in Standerton, a small town in the Transvaal, 100 miles from Johannesburg, South Africa. Her parents were fluent in both English and Afrikaans, and Bee graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in English and Latin from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

She started working in libraries in 1935 and qualified as a Fellow of the South African Library Association in 1939. She worked in the library at Witwatersrand from 1936 to 1939 and at the Veterinary College in Onderstepoort, which was her first experience of medical librarianship. She was a lecturer at the Cape Town University Library School from 1943 to 1946.

Bee married Richard Robinow, a public relations writer and designer, in 1939 and took his name; they had three children: Susan, Franz, and Carl. They moved to Durban in 1949, where, in 1951, the nation's first nonwhite medical school was established at the University of Natal. Bee was appointed its librarian and stayed there until 1962. During this period, she received an MLA Study and Travel Fellowship. In 1957, this fellowship enabled her to visit thirty-two medical libraries in the United States and no doubt had a great influence on her future career beyond South Africa [1].

The Robinows left their native land for North America in 1962, when their children were in their teens. They wanted them to have a broader background than South Africa and wanted to leave the political situation there. She worked briefly in Atlanta, Georgia, where she was chief of technical services at the medical school library of Emory University; she also reorganized the medical libraries at Crawford Long Memorial and Piedmont hospitals. The family then moved to Canada and, in 1964, Bee was recruited by the Toronto General Hospital to establish its Fudger Medical Library.

In 1966, Bee accepted a new challenge: to plan the library for a radically new medical school at McMaster University. This innovative medical education program was based on problem-based, self-directed, small-group learning. Although she began working that year, the new Health Sciences Center did not open until 1971. Her first principle was that the library should be absolutely central to the school.

Bee had the challenge of keeping up with her profession and her family. This entailed commuting between her home in Toronto and her job in Hamilton (over an hour's drive) for the first twenty-six months at McMaster. After her sons left home, she rented an apartment, where she stayed during the week.

By November 1966, she had produced the plan for the physical facility, and it changed very little after that. She found this aspect of the planning very satisfying, because it combined her knowledge of library architecture with her experience planning the medical library in Durban. Her long-range objective was that the library have 1,200 periodical titles and house 100,000 volumes. Beyond that the collection should be weeded to keep the library up to date and alive. Another principle was that reading spaces and stack spaces should be interspersed [2]. The school's focus on learning, and giving the students a choice of how to learn, meant close collaboration between audiovisual production and the library [3]. Very early on, Bee organized the local health libraries into the Hamilton and District Health Library Network.

Bee joined MLA in 1956 and was active in the association thereafter. She obtained MLA certification in 1967 and was elected to its Board of Directors in 1978. She was made a fellow in 1983. She was also active in the Upstate New York and Ontario Chapter, serving on its Executive Committee and as its chair.

She retired in 1982 and was able to return full-time to her home in Toronto, to be with Richard, with whom she had a close and loving relationship for the fifty-nine years of their marriage. She also had more time to devote to gardening, reading, cooking, and volunteering.

In May 1999, a Recognition Tea was held at McMaster as an opportunity to pay special tribute to Bee. A Library Enrichment Fund was established in her honor with a generous gift of $100,000 from C. Barber Mueller, M.D., the first chairman of surgery in the Faculty of Health Sciences. That fund has since grown to over $250,000, with subsequent gifts from Dr. Mueller and others.

Bee will be remembered by her contemporaries in MLA not only for her leadership and professionalism but also for her sense of humor and the soft-spoken grace with which she met the world.


  • Robinow BH. A long way from home: a South African looks at American medical libraries. Bull Med Lib Assoc. 1959.  Jul; 47(3):293–304. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Robinow BH. New medical library buildings: IV The Health Sciences Library, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario. Bull Med Lib Assoc. 1972.  Oct; 60(4):559–65. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Robinow BH. Audiovisuals and non-print learning resources in a health sciences library. J Biocommunication. 1979.  Mar; 6(1):14–9. [PubMed]

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