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J Med Libr Assoc. 2008 Jan; 96(1): 80–81.
PMCID: PMC2212340

Cecile E. Kramer, AHIP, FMLA, 1926–2007

James Shedlock, AHIP, FMLA1 and Edward Tawyea2

Cecile E. Kramer, AHIP, FMLA, served as the director of the Archibald Church Medical Library of Northwestern University from 1975 until 1991. Prior to coming to Northwestern, she worked at Columbia University's medical library at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. In retirement, she continued to volunteer her time at the library of Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in Boca Raton.

A native of New York City, Cele started work as a secretary to Estelle Brodman in Columbia's medical library when she graduated from high school in 1944. Cele completed a bachelor's degree from Hunter College, City University of New York, in 1956, while working full time. In 1960, she received a master's degree from Columbia's School of Library Service. Cele served as an assistant librarian at Columbia from 1963, until she left Columbia for Northwestern in 1974.

When Cele would recollect her years at Columbia, she spoke excitedly about the librarian's relationship with faculty and students and the librarian's role in organizing information. She recalled the work of creating bibliographies for Columbia's Parkinson Clinic in the days when typewriters and photocopiers were the available technologies. She highlighted what it was like to do this type of precomputer literature searching in the obituary she wrote for her boss, Tom Fleming, director of Columbia's health sciences library [1]. This manual labor involved intimate contact with the medical literature, which eventually became her hallmark in building the collections at Northwestern. Reference work also gave her the satisfaction of mentoring younger librarians, such as the late Irwin Pizer, who worked with her in compiling and then typing references for bibliographies on three-by-five cards [2]!

During her years at Columbia, Cele contributed much to the Medical Library Association (MLA). She served as secretary for the New York-New Jersey Chapter in 1958 to 1960 and then served twice as chair of the chapter, in 1965–1966 and 1973–1974. She also worked on the Ad Hoc Committee to Review the Goals and Structure of the Medical Library Association from 1969 to 1972.

Cele contributed a great deal of energy and input into MLA's continuing education (CE) program. She served as course instructor for CE 5, “Human Factors in Medical Library Administration,” in the mid-1960s and again in the mid-1970s. She also taught CE 4, “Basic Biomedical Reference Tools and Their Uses.” She served on MLA's Committee on Continuing Education in the mid-1960s and was the MLA representative (1961–1964) to a Joint Committee on Library Education. She also served on the National Program Committee's CE subcommittee for the 1978 annual meeting in Chicago. When Cele moved to Chicago, she continued her teaching activities as an adjunct member of the library science faculty at Rosary College (now Dominican University). Cele taught the medical bibliography course with the aid of her senior Northwestern staff during the late 1970s and into the 1980s.

After moving to Chicago to accept the directorship of Northwestern's medical library, Cele became MLA's first volunteer editor for the MLA News in 1976. She and her secretary worked tirelessly to make the MLA News as perfect as possible, a considerable chore in the days of typewriters. In her role as editor, she also served as an ex officio member of MLA's Editorial Committee for the MLA News.

While at Northwestern, Cele devoted her energies to building up the collection of books and journals. Cele was of the “old school”: she believed the heart of the library was its collection, and she enjoyed the challenge of selection and collection development, building on her long familiarity with the medical literature. As times changed, Cele was willing to change with them, but up to a point. When new technologies were introduced to produce better reference service (i.e., MEDLINE), she quickly adopted them, though she herself would not necessarily be using them. Instead, she sought out the new generation of librarians who were savvy with these latest technologies and had them introduce the new services to Northwestern users, while she concentrated on obtaining the funds to make these developments standard services.

Her mantra in the late 1970s and thereafter was always to make sure the librarians, especially those at the reference desk, were of service to users. Besides introducing mediated MEDLINE services to users, she quickly adopted innovations in integrated library systems, primarily the NOTIS system, which was in development at the university library on Northwestern's Evanston campus. Again, Cele made sure the medical library was the first to adopt them.

The same was true when she jumped on the bandwagon of educational multimedia in the late 1970s. With the late James Eckenhoff, dean of the medical school, Cele and her staff were instrumental in building Northwestern's learning resources center. She and the dean worked at finding the funds and space, while new staff used these innovative resources to improve the library's contributions to the medical school's curriculum. These innovations included early efforts at computer-based simulation, including the use of PLATO from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and clinical case simulations from Ohio State University. The library at this time also invested in the new Apple computers for medical education programs. Additional innovations that Cele started at Northwestern included a media services department for scientific photography and video production for educational training and a computer-based system for image processing.

Cele's last major contribution at Northwestern was helping Harry Beaty secure the Galter gift to the medical school library. These funds provided for the much needed renovation and expansion of the library's physical facilities [3]. She knew at the time that she was at the end of her active career, and because she was not going to “live in the new library,” she decided to retire and pass the planning effort onto her successor.

She retired to Florida to be close to her family. Other than work, family was central to her life. When she moved to Chicago in the mid-1970s, she also relocated her mother and aunt so that she could support them, and, as their health declined, Cele pulled back on her professional commitments to be with them. Likewise, she wanted to be close to her brother and his family as she aged. Cele, though, was not one to sit around her townhouse complex pool or play mahjong; even leisurely reading was not her thing to do. Instead, Cele took a volunteer job on the serials reference desk at the FAU library. She enjoyed “going to work” two days a week because she would stay active in something she enjoyed so much: helping students find answers in their searches for information. Cele had an affinity for the FAU students because they shared her own experience of holding down full-time jobs and going to school in their off hours.

Cele stayed in touch with Northwestern's medical school development office and would assist their visits to alumni in the Boca Raton– north Miami area. Cele also volunteered to serve as the newsletter editor for the local chapter of Hadassah, the Jewish women's organization. Between family activities and her “work,” Cele maintained an active life until declining health held her back.

She mentored three different library directors (the two authors of this obituary and Ellen Nagle, AHIP, former director of the biomedical library at the University of Minnesota) and a number of local area hospital librarians as well. She could show impatience at times when things did not go her way or systems became overly bureaucratic. Her temper would flare, but she was never vindictive, and she was quick to laugh. She cherished her staff and made working for her never boring, but full of surprises and often fun. She frequently flew by the seat of her pants and was not overly impressed with strategic planning. She could be very creative with finances, especially if stretching a dollar could secure more volumes for the library. Above all, she relied on personal relationships as a mechanism for managing the library. As an example, many department chairs would meet with her in her office to discuss the collections as well as the state of the medical school. This was her style, and many in the medical school came to recognize and appreciate it. Often, she was the sole female at the senior administrative meetings in the medical school or the faculty senate council.

She had a passion for libraries and for her family and made them both the focal points of her life.

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  • Kramer C., Thomas P. Fleming, 1907– 1992. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1993.  Oct; 81(4):462–4. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Hodges TM. Irwin Howard Pizer, 1934–1991. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1992.  Jan; 80(1):63–5. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Shedlock J, Ross F. A library for the twenty-first century: the Galter Health Sciences Library's renovation and expansion project. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1997.  Apr; 85(2):176–86. [PMC free article] [PubMed]

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