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J Med Libr Assoc. 2004 Apr; 92(2): 289–290.
PMCID: PMC385323

Mildred Crowe Langner, 1911–2003

Henry L. Lemkau, Jr., ML, JD, Professor and Director1

Mildred C. Langner was a legend in medical librarianship. Born Mildred Crowe in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on July 29, 1911, she was the quintessential Southern Belle. She combined those qualities of intelligence, charm, grace, and faith with absolute integrity and dedication to the pursuit of excellence in all she undertook.

Mildred began her professional career at the tender age of ten, when she became, with her mother's permission, a salaried employee (25 cents an hour) as a summer lunchtime replacement for the librarian of the Chattanooga Public Library Children's Department. In Mildred's words, “It was a lovely experience and sealed my future.” Mildred's first ambition was to be a journalist and, in fact, she wrote a weekly column for the Chattanooga Sunday Times when she was in college. However, also while in college, during the time of the Great Depression, Mildred sought and was again granted a part-time job at her friendly public library. It was here that Mildred said “dedicated and guiding librarians grounded me in the basics of librarianship, including experience in establishing a Medical Section for the Public Library.” There was a library committee that included three physicians from Johns Hopkins, including a pathologist who had worked under the distinguished medical historian William H. Welch. These men inspired Mildred and instilled in her an excitement and love for the history of medicine. Mildred claimed that she was one of a select few who had actually read Harvey Cushing's biography of William Osler [1], cover to cover, “all two volumes, including the footnotes.”

After Mildred obtained her bachelor's degree in 1933 from the University of Chattanooga, majoring in English literature, she became head of cataloging and acquisitions librarian for the branches of the Chattanooga Public Library and, from 1940 to 1944, served as librarian of the Chattanooga Medical Society. In 1945, Mildred became an assistant, and, at the same time, the first Medical Library Association (MLA) medical library intern, at the medical school library of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, under the directorship of Eileen R. Cunningham. It was she who outlined the program for Mildred to complete her library degree in 1945 at George Peabody College for Teachers (now a part of Vanderbilt University) and who introduced Mildred to an enthralling new world by advising her to visit the leading medical libraries, to join MLA, and to attend its annual meetings.

After her first MLA meeting, Mildred was elected secretary where, “fortunately for me and MLA, it was the year when the beloved, wise and experienced Janet Doe was President.” Her contributions to and achievements with MLA were extraordinary and spanned a period of more than sixty years. Her many activities and appointments included

  • service on the Board of Directors, as president of the association and, at the same time, chairman of the-then-upcoming national meeting to be held in Miami in June 1967
  • editor of the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association (1958–61)
  • author of the chapter, “Public Relations,” in the second edition of the Handbook of Medical Library Practice (1956)
  • proceedings editor and committee member for the First and Second International Congresses on Medical Librarianship (London, 1953; Washington, 1963)

To top it all, Mildred was awarded distinguished level membership in the Academy of Health Information Professionals, Fellowship in the association (1978), and its highest honor, the Marcia C. Noyes Award (1976). She was numbererd among the “100 Most Notable” of the association's first century (1998).

Following her internship with Eileen Cunningham at Vanderbilt and, on her recommendation, Mildred took the position of director of the library at the University of Alabama in Birmingham (1945–55). This was the second time she was to organize a new medical library, as the school in Birmingham combined with the two-year program at the school in Tuscaloosa to form a new four-year program in Birmingham. While there, she was responsible for helping Dr. Lawrence Reynolds, a Detroit roentgenologist, decide to give his exceptionally fine library of rare medical books to the University of Alabama Medical Center, including a small building to house them. Today, the Reynolds Collection is one of the most significant on the history of medicine in the United States. From Birmingham, Mildred came to Miami to become the first director of the new University of Miami School of Medicine Library and, for the third time in her career, to establish and organize a new medical library (1955–61). Mildred left Miami to take a position as chief of the reference services division at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda in 1961. However, she was more enthralled with Washington than she was with this position, and she was able to again assume the directorship at Miami in 1963, where she stayed until her retirement in 1979.

Mildred was interested in everyone and everything. Her particular loves were ballet, theater, music, and always, always books. Soon after coming to Miami, Mildred met and married Julian Langner, who had become one of the leading economic research consultants in southern Florida, produced Brigadoon on Broadway, and served as a guiding light for the Coconut Grove Playhouse. The marriage was cut short by Julian's tragic death, only four years later, after returning from a trip to London.

At Miami, Mildred's crowning achievement was the building of the Louis Calder Memorial Library. Mildred dedicated herself to the goal of assuring that not only would the library have all the materials and programs necessary for the students, faculty, and staff to learn all they could about the art and science of medicine, but, that in addition, they would have a facility that would serve as the cultural resource of the medical center. Mildred worked with Sheldon Greer to support the Leonardo da Vinci Society, a student association that produced musicales and concerts at the library, in addition to getting community physicians to donate wonderful works of art that were displayed throughout the library facility. Mildred was determined that Miami University's students, who came to learn medicine, would know more than medicine when they left. Mildred's impact on the library did not end with her retirement in 1979 but continues to this day.

As her successor, I always had Mildred with an ear to listen, a mind to advise, and a heart to comfort. In the twenty-five years following her retirement, she was an inspiration and a delight and always passionate about our school and her library. On my last visit with Mildred, two weeks before her death, she and I watched a video of the school of medicine's fiftieth anniversary symposium, and she studied all the exhibits that the library produced for that occasion. Mildred was so very moved and proud that the library played, so successfully, such an essential role in this wonderful celebration.

As director, Mildred brought many of her friends to lecture at the library and to serve on its voluntary faculty. These “friends” were giants in their fields and included Sheila Sherlock, Ann Davies, Dumont James, Waltman Walters, Phoebe Mayo, Rudy Drosd, John Talbott, William Straight, Sidney Licht, and so many more. Mildred made sure to introduce me to them and to pass on these ties of friendship and support to her successor; for that, I will be forever grateful. Her presence, guidance, love, and support included my whole family and forever enriched my life beyond measure.

Everywhere that Mildred worked saw an improvement in library service, and her disarming but decisive manner and her friendly and attractive ways endeared her to all who knew and worked with her. She died, in the city of her birth, on September 3, 2003. Now those who will not have the opportunity to be touched by her personal elegance and wit, will, when they use the library, be touched by her dedication to excellence in providing a library and program that is second to none.

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