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J Med Libr Assoc. 2007 Jan; 95(1): 101–102.
PMCID: PMC1773040

Virginia H. Holtz, AHIP, FMLA, 1932–2006

Virginia H. Holtz, emerita professor and retired director of the William S. Middleton Health Sciences Library at the University of Wisconsin, died at her home on April 3, 2006, at the age of 73. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Virginia grew up loving books and animals. Throughout her student years she was an avid user of libraries and held several student positions in public and college libraries. As a child she was also an active participant in the Milwaukee County Zoo youth programs. When she wasn't occupied with books and zoo programs, she was riding horses. It was obvious that Virginia was going to be either a veterinarian or a librarian when she grew up. Since returning war veterans filled the veterinary schools' many student vacancies, making it difficult to gain entrance into the veterinary science programs, Virginia chose library science as her vocation instead. In her MLA oral history, she describes what she envisioned her future in libraries would be:

“… my mission was to save all veterinarians and farmers in rural Wisconsin. I was going to be the director of a one room library in a rural area. That didn't happen.”

Virginia attended the University of Wisconsin Library School in Madison, Wisconsin. The director of the library school referred Virginia to Miss Helen Crawford, director of the Health Sciences Library, for student employment. Thus began Virginia's life-long professional career at the University of Wisconsin Health Sciences Library.

Virginia began her career in Medical Library Service, the library's outreach reference service, which provided medical information to the physicians in the state of Wisconsin. Although still a student, Virginia soon became responsible for the administration of the service after the librarian and her replacement left. As the library staff grew, Virginia became associate librarian. In her oral history Virginia modestly describes her promotion as follows:

“So leading up to the official appointment I had gradually become the de facto associate librarian. No big thing since there were so few of us. But that's how it happened.”

One of her first challenges involved planning the changeover from the Library of Congress classification to the National Library of Medicine (NLM) at the Health Sciences Library. The fact that Virginia successfully negotiated the change with the head of technical services of the university library spoke well of her interpersonal skills.

In the words of Daisy Wu, her associate librarian from 1974–1979,

“Virginia was an innovative and visionary leader. What she did may not have been so unusual in the eighties or nineties. But she had the foresight of what the library would be like in the future back in the late sixties and seventies. And that was quite unusual!”

Throughout her career, Virginia used business concepts and methods used. She used flowcharts to determine the best staff workflow between departments. She had her staff collect journal use statistics in the early 1980s—long before budget shortfalls appeared on the library scene. Having ten years of journal use statistics in hand, Virginia was better prepared to determine what journals subscriptions could be cancelled without jeopardizing the quality of the collections. She also used library use statistics to justify staff increases to the university administration. In Virginia's words, quoting from her oral history:

“Probably the best thing I did was to find some of the most remarkable people that I know to be on my staff.”

She developed her staff's management skills by introducing participatory management concepts into the library organizational complex. Again, from her oral history, she remarked:

“… the library would support anything they [the staff] proposed as long as they could show how it would serve the user. And it really made people think.”

As director of a major campus professional library, Virginia served on the University Library Coordinating Council. She was appointed to the Medical Informatics Advisory Committee, which was responsible for developing a Medical Informatics Program at the Medical School. She served on the Chancellor's Library Coordinating Council and the Center for Health Sciences' Construction Planning Committee. She was awarded the title of full professor at the university and was a senator in the University Faculty Senate.

On the state level, Virginia served in various posts in health-related state groups. With the aid of several regional medical libraries and NLM grants, she created the position of state coordinator, which operated out of the library's outreach arm. This coordinator traveled throughout Wisconsin and served as a resource person for hospital librarians. In 1993, the Wisconsin Health Science Library Association voted her Librarian of the Year.

Virginia's regional and national involvement in the medical library profession was extensive. She was a member of many regional and national committees, often serving as chair. She was president of the Association of Academic Health Sciences Library Directors in 1981/82, was a member of the MLA Board of Directors from 1976–1979, was a member of the NLM Biomedical Library Review Committee in 1982– 1985, and served on several Integrated Advanced Information Management Systems (IAIMS) grant review teams. She was also a member of the Association of American Medical Colleges Health Sciences Library Study Advisory Committee.

Nina Matheson, fellow MLA Board member and MLA/NLM Liaison Committee member, described Virginia's personal qualities:

“She inspired confidence through her competence and intelligence. As a committee member she was quiet, but when she spoke, people listened because her comments were always acute and insightful, to the point, and dispassionate. As a grant reviewer she was thorough, well prepared, cogent and fair. The thing I think was outstanding about her was the sense one had that she always thought of the greater good and was guided by first principles; she was without ego.”

Lucretia McClure, AHIP, FMLA, who introduced Virginia at her Janet Doe Lecture in 1986, added her following insights into Virginia's contributions to the profession:

“Virginia Holtz was one of the “real thinkers” of the Medical Library Association. She was always one step ahead of the crowd. Some of the things she was doing amazed me. She was analyzing data, building spreadsheets, utilizing every capacity of the computer long before most of us even recognized the possibilities. She was a leader in every sense of the word. She was a thoughtful person who contributed much to the association and to her colleagues. All of us who knew her benefited from her wisdom and learned from her ‘best practices.’”

A “mentor” is often defined as a “trusted counselor” a “tutor” or “coach.” While there were no formal mentoring programs in 1970s or 1980s, many of those she touched consider Virginia his or her mentor. She instilled her philosophy of the importance of service to the library user to her staff. The lessons learned by being part of her library remained with many of her staff throughout their lives. In the words of one of her staff, Special Projects Librarian Ruth Fenske, AHIP:

“She gave me the opportunity to do interesting and responsible work, even as a beginning librarian. My dissertation on the professional socialization of beginning librarians is, in many ways, in honor of my gratitude to her and others who helped me get a good start in the profession.”

Several of her staff advanced to directorships or heads of departments of libraries. Others grew and expanded their knowledge and expertise in their current positions. Still others, now pillars in the profession, gained new insights from her wisdom and foresight.

Virginia retired from the library on June 30, 1997, after forty-one years of service. Retirement enabled her to spend more time with her family, her friends and, of course, her dogs, cats, and horse. Virginia showed and bred AKC champion collies. She was the owner/breeder of one of the top-producing champion rough collies of all time and was instrumental in establishing the smooth collie in the United States. Virginia served on many educational committees of the Collie Club of America. She received her AKC judging license in 1972 and, among her numerous judging assignments, judged the Collie Club of America national specialty three times. She is survived by a sister, a brother, and a niece and nephews, and by her longtime friend and housemate, Joan Graber.

Link MLA's Oral History Project interview summary on Holtz at www.mlanet.org/awards/honors/fellows/.

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We wish to thank the following persons who helped us prepare this tribute: Micaela Sullivan-Fowler; Susan Kirkbride; Dolores Nichols; William Meier; Nina Matheson, AHIP, FMLA; Lois Ann Colaianni, AHIP, FMLA; Lucretia McClure, AHIP, FMLA; and Mary Langman, coordinator, information issues and policies, MLA.

Articles from Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA are provided here courtesy of Medical Library Association
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