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Bull Med Libr Assoc. Jan 2001; 89(1): 93–95.

Jean Miller, 1925–2000

Jean Miller, MLA president 1985–1986, died on May 1, 2000, at her home in Orchard Park, New York, of complications from pneumonia. She had returned from a trip to Italy and had been hospitalized. Her death ended a fascinating, distinctive, and unique career as a medical librarian.


Few have entered the field as well prepared as Jean. Her subject knowledge of medicine included schooling at the Millard Fillmore Hospital School of Nursing in Buffalo, New York, to be a registered nurse (1945); a bachelor of science degree in nursing at the University of Buffalo (1950); and a master of science degree in administration-nursing education at Case Western Reserve University (1958).

As a nurse and pediatric nurse, she held positions of increasing responsibilities in various hospitals, at the bedside, in education, and in administration. Returning to Buffalo, she worked at the prestigious Children's Hospital from 1959 to 1967 and rose to be associate director of nursing. She left the field, because nursing was so poorly paid and had little promise in the 1960s.

Having decided on librarianship as a career, she received her master's in library science at the University of Syracuse. Among her teachers was Pauline Atherton, one of the early academics doing research in computer applications in libraries. A measure of Jean's performance as a student and her insight into the development of medical librarianship was that she applied for and was selected as a trainee in computer librarianship by Estelle Brodman, Ph.D., at the Medical Library of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. During this period, Jean also attended courses in electronic data processing in the School of Engineering and at IBM. At the time, Washington University was one of the few centers of research in computer application in medical libraries.

The medical librarian

In her first appointment at the Health Sciences Library at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo in 1969, she took charge of circulation. C. K. Huang, the librarian, wrote: “Recognizing Jean's superior ability and skills, my first action at Buffalo was the promotion of Jean to the associate director position.” He asked Jean to head an “Information Dissemination Service” (IOS), which was part of an outreach service of the regional medical program. Huang wrote:

As project director of IDS, Jean drove her car to visit over sixty hospitals and health institutions in the eight counties of Western New York and Northern Pennsylvania to establish library services, which included document delivery, computer search (via SUNY Biomedical Communication Network), and reference services. Under her direction in the third (final) year of the grant, IDS provided some 35,000 interlibrary loans and served 3,000 health professionals in the region. Because the project was so successful, the state university immediately approved funding to continue the service programs.

Huang credited Jean with making the automated circulation system operational, a significant contribution to planning the expansion of the library and the day-to-day administration of the library, saying “She worked three full time jobs in one.” Her capacity for prodigious work was recalled again and again by those who worked with her.

The Medical Library Center of New York, 1974 to 1978

Jean succeeded Jacqueline Felter as director of the Medical Library Center of New York. The center served the libraries of the medical schools and hospital libraries in the New York metropolitan area by housing less-used journals and books in a storage building reducing duplication and saving space, by offering a truck delivery service for center materials and intralibrary loans, and by managing a computer-aided union catalog of medical periodicals recording the periodical holdings of some sixty health-related libraries in the New York metropolitan area. Jean was selected from a large number of applicants.

The founding members of the center were the medical schools of the metropolitan area with the New York Academy of Medicine, and the deans and directors of the institutions constituted the Board of Trustees. The initial contribution of $12,000 per annum was never changed, constituting a major fiscal problem. Jean's accomplishments in the four years of her directorship were:

  1. She substantially increased the membership of hospitals and commercial institutions who received services and paid variable fees without trustee representation.
  2. She increased the income from setting up union lists of serials for out-of-state libraries.
  3. She developed policy manuals and improved the operational procedures of the center.
  4. She wrote the proposal to have the center administer the Regional Medical Library for the region. (To her regret, the National Library of Medicine rejected her proposal.)
  5. She attracted a superior staff, among them Spencer Marsh and Wayne J. Peay.

Director of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center Library in Dallas, 1978 to 1990

In her twelve years in Dallas, Jean played a major role in the Regional Medical Library. She initiated strategic planning. She reviewed grant applications for the Biomedical Library Review Committee of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) from 1977 to 1980, participated in various committees, and was elected to the presidency of the Medical Library Association (MLA).

Medical Library Association—the presidency

Jean chaired the MLA Finance Committee at a time when the financial affairs of the association were in difficulty. Gerard J. Oppenheimer had brought the budget-making process into line, but income did not meet expenses. Gilbert J. Clausman (who had been influential in Jean's appointment to the Medical Library Center of New York) wrote that when he heard of her appointment to the committee, he “knew that the finances would be managed.” With her help, a dues increase was passed.

Judith Messerle, who followed Jean as president, wrote:

Jean Miller was also courageous. She and the board created a new Association of Academic Health Science Library Directors (AAHSLD)/MLA Task Force for creating legislative agenda[s]. This milestone even positioned the Medical Library Association to be proactive instead of reactive to issues of funding for NLM and medical libraries. It was a brave thing to do and it launched an ongoing forceful presence of MLA in Washington, DC. Jean and the board also made the bold move of hiring a strategic-planning consultant, initiating a revolutionary change in the overall forward thinking in the association.


After her 1990 retirement from her position in Dallas, Jean taught a course in health sciences librarianship at the Library School of SUNY at Buffalo. Huang wrote,

After she returned to Buffalo following her retirement, I thought she might be interested in making some contribution to the university. One day I asked her, and she answered yes. Then I called Dr. George Bobinsky, dean of the School of Information and Library Studies and received his approval immediately. I was happy about it.

The person

Jean's personality was perceived differently by those with whom she worked. To some, she was reserved, correct, intelligent, but distant. To others, she was a warm, caring, joyful person with a subtle sense of humor who delighted in travel, food, music, and the arts.

Among those who counted themselves as close friends was Madeline V. Taylor, former director, Smith Library, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. She wrote:

Jean and I quickly developed a personal friendship, first taking a whirl as New York City Opera subscribers for one season, but quickly graduating to the Metropolitan Opera, at a time when it was possible to hear Leontyne Price, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, and Sherril Milnes performing together.

In the 1980s, when Jean moved to the University of Texas [Medical] Center, I went down to see her, and we had a grand time exploring Dallas, getting lost while driving around, discovering new restaurants, and enjoying Lena Horne's one-woman show.

We shared our family lives as well. Jean helped to celebrate my daughter's graduations, marriage, and the birth of my grandchild. I got to know her family through glowing stories of her nephew Bob and his daughter Lacey. In 1996, Jean and I took a great two-week trip to all the Scandinavian capitals with an added three days in St. Petersburg to visit the Hermitage. We had a ball being roommates again and catching up on family tales.

When Spencer Marsh called on May 4, I sensed immediately that Jean had died. My initial sadness was replaced by the realization of how much richer and fuller my life will be forever because of my friend.

Spencer Marsh, director of the Medical Library of the State University of New York at Stony Brook and Jean's associate at Dallas, wrote:

She then taught for two years at the School of Library Science at SUNY Buffalo before giving herself up to the delights of full retirement: travel, food and wine, music and art, and reading. As a young girl, Jean read every book in their tiny public library and secretly feared that she would run out of reading. The sound of pages turning reminds me of her passion for the written word. Perhaps most, though, Jean loved travel. Even during her previous career in nursing, those years of little money and even less time, she managed to visit much of the world. Later, in 1994, Jean inherited a large bequest from the will of our dear friend, John Patruno. John stipulated that Jean could spend the money on travel only. In the past six years, Jean happily carried out John's directive, visiting her favorite cities often: Paris, Vienna, Rome, Venice, and Florence. She has a special love for Siena and Assisi, medieval cities that mirrored her own beauty and serenity.

Few people know of her many acts of kindness over the years. Perhaps more than others, I was the beneficiary of her extraordinary generosity. I was fortunate to work again for Jean, joining the staff in Dallas in 1985. After being diagnosed with a usually terminal form of cancer in 1988, Jean helped me through many months of aggressive chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. If Jean had not taken me into her home to care for me when I was too weak to manage on my own, I would have had to give up my job and return to my family for assistance. I would not have had the quality of medical care I received in Dallas nor the emotional support she gave so unstintingly. Although other friends were also helpful during this struggle, I have no doubt that Jean saved my life.

Early in our friendship, Jean and I discovered a mutual affinity for silence. When we bemoaned the increasing paucity of it, we sometimes mused on our wistful construct: the Ristorante Silenzioso. Perfected from our favorite restaurants in Italy, we would have the waiters from Settimio in Rome, the chef from Medioevo in Assisi, and the view from the balcony of Omero's in the hills south of Florence. But in our restaurant there would be no music and, most tellingly, no talking. For my dear friend of twenty-six years and partner in as many journeys, silence is your truest accolade and your most moving tribute.

Jean Miller leaves us as a woman with a profound dedication and the ability to achieve good and to care for others.

Help from the following is gratefully acknowledged: Martha Adamson, Gilbert J. Clausman, C. K. Huang, Mary M. Langman, Regina Lee, Lucretia W. McClure, Spencer Marsh, Madeline Taylor, Clinton Marty Thompson, Jr., Lois Weinstein, and Richard C. Wood

Articles from Bulletin of the Medical Library Association are provided here courtesy of Medical Library Association
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