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J Med Libr Assoc. Jan 2004; 92(1): 4.
PMCID: PMC318462

Death in the family: The Medical Library Center of New York, 1960–2003

Erich Meyerhoff, Director Emeritus1

The Medical Library Center of New York (MLCNY) was founded in 1959 by the medical schools and health research institutions in the New York Metropolitan Area as an independent, educational nonprofit organization to serve as a “library for libraries.” It does not serve the public directly but rather assists libraries needing health sciences information either from its own extensive retrospective journal collection or the collection of other health sciences libraries. In the face of the changing library and economic environments, the MLCNY Board of Trustees determined that it was no longer feasible for MLCNY to continue as a freestanding organization and voted to end operations in July 2003 and close its doors by August 31, 2003. What follows is a brief remembrance of MLCNY by Erich Meyerhoff, its founding director (1961–1967) and director emeritus. I was pleased to learn that Mr. Meyerhoff's memories of the founding and early days of MLCNY will be preserved as part of The Medical Library Association's Oral History Project: Voices of the Past.

William Self

Director, MLCNY (2001–2003)

With the decision of its Board of Trustees, The Medical Library Center of New York (MLCNY) will end its existence in August 2003. No deficiency in its operation, financial mismanagement, or questionable conduct of its personnel is alleged as the cause of MLCNY's demise. On the contrary, the center has always been a superb operation, and each of its directors provided leadership in cooperative solutions for the coordination of resources.

The early board consisted of leaders in medical education among them Houston Merritt, dean of Columbia University-College of Physicians and Surgeons; Marcus Kogel, dean at Albert Einstein College of Medicine-Yeshiva University; Frank Horsfall, Jr., president of Rockefeller University; John Deitrick, dean at Cornell University College of Medicine; George James, dean of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine; and Howard Craig, director of the New York Academy of Medicine. Its directors were prominent librarians: Jacqueline Felter (1967–1974), creator of the Union Catalog of Medical Periodicals (UCMP), coeditor of the third edition of the Handbook of Medical Librarianship, and president of the Medical Library Association; Jean Miller (1974–1978), president of the Medical Library Association; and William D. Walker (1979–1989), formerly senior vice president and Mellon director of the Research Libraries, The New York Public Library, and now university librarian at the University of Miami. Many who worked at the center moved to important positions in the field including Spencer Marsh, John Patruno, Wayne Peay, and Stephen van Houten.

Among MLCNY's achievements are the various editions of the UCMP, a computer-aided listing of the periodical holdings of some sixty-eight health-related libraries in our area, including the American Museum of Natural History and the New York Botanical Garden, that eventually grew to reflect the holdings of more than 600 libraries in the Northeast and was regularly updated with online access. In addition, MLCNY provided a van delivery service to its membership to provide speedy delivery of interlibrary transactions, a storage facility for members, and, most of all, a site for a collection of less-used journals in the health and allied health sciences with the aim of eliminating duplication. A superb staff maintained a practically flawless and courteous operation. With a collection size of over 450,000 items, it is a measure of its effectiveness that in 2001 MLCNY received 39,571 loan requests and filled 33,882; in 2002, it received 34,882 requests and filled 31,751.

With its dissolution, some of its holdings will go to the National Library of Medicine (NLM) to become part of a program of scanning the journals indexed in the Cumulative Index Medicus as well as to fill gaps in NLM's holdings. Some materials will be claimed by other academic, research, hospital, and medical society libraries, and MLCNY will be forced to dispose of the remainder.

A collaborative, cost-effective consolidation of materials held by libraries continues to be a necessity. Whether on paper, film, or electronic media, the elimination of unnecessary duplication is an ecological necessity. The construction of warehouses in which the collections of different institutions sit in splendid isolation merely postpones the problem of retention as part of a national policy.

One feels abandoned when a useful institution dies. Sincere attempts to save it failed. MLCNY Board members headed by current President Lynn Kasner Morgan of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, along with Lois Weinstein (1990–2001) and William Self, the last and present directors of MLCNY, made attempts at rescue. In the end, The Medical Library Center of New York shares the fate of the School of Nursing of Cornell University and the School of Library Service of Columbia University among other distinguished institutions. Without any support, fiscal or humane, they disappeared.

I thank William Self, Karen Brewer, Lynn Kasner, and Tina Meyerhoff for their assistance in the preparation of this article.

Sic transit gloria

For additional information on MLCNY and its programs and services:

  • Craig HR, Felter JW. Cooperation or chaos: a summary of the problems confronting the medical libraries of greater New York. Bull Med Libr Assoc 1958 Jul;46(3): 381–8.
  • Meyerhoff E. The Medical Library Center of New York: an experiment in cooperative acquisi tions and storage of medical library materials. Bull Med Libr Assoc 1963 Oct;51(4):501–6.
  • Felter JW. The Medical Library Center of New York: a progress report. Bull Med Libr Assoc 1968 Jan;56(1):15–20.
  • Walker WD. The Medical Library Center of New York: an in dependent, privately-funded network. IFLA Section of Biological and Medical Sciences Libraries Newsletter 1982 Oct;3(4).
  • Dempsey R, Weinstein L. UCMP and the Internet help hospital libraries share resources. Bull Med Libr Assoc 1999 Jul;87(3):270–4.

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