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J Med Libr Assoc. Jul 2004; 92(3): 302–305.
PMCID: PMC442171

Joanne Gard Marshall, AHIP, FMLA Medical Library Association President 2004–2005

Dorothy Fitzgerald, MLS, Director

Joanne Gard Marshall, AHIP, FMLA, has been an inspiration to so many of us. She is well known to most members of the Medical Library Association (MLA) for her many contributions to library research, education, and service. She is totally committed to her profession and has inspired many of her colleagues to engage in innovative projects. Her many honors and awards, publications and research grants, and professional and educational activities challenge the imagination. How does Joanne make time for her husband Victor and daughter Emily, her garden, and her yoga? And yet she does, and extremely well. I am honored to consider her a colleague and, more importantly, a close friend.

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Joanne started life in the United Kingdom and moved to British Columbia, Canada, when she was seven years old. Her family later moved to Calgary, Alberta, and Joanne graduated with a bachelor's degree from the University of Calgary in 1966. Because Joanne's family had moved to Montreal, she decided to go to McGill University for her master's degree in library science, completing it in 1968. Joanne and Victor had known each other as undergraduates and then gone their separate ways for graduate work. Victor reappeared on the scene in 1969, and they were married in 1970 in Princeton, New Jersey, where Victor was completing his doctorate in sociology. Joanne's first professional position as a reference librarian was at the University of Calgary, but, in December 1969, she left to spend a term at Rutgers University in New Jersey to be nearer to Victor. His faculty appointment at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1970, led to Joanne's beginning as an avid health sciences librarian. As luck would have it, McMaster had just started a new medical school established on the tenets of problem-based, small group, self-directed learning. This approach to medical education was very radical back in the late 1960s but fit in very well with the “flower power” thinking of that period.

Beatrix Robinow, who was a member of the MLA Board of Directors (1978–1981), had been selected as the first head of the new health sciences library at McMaster, and she was in the midst of recruiting librarians when Joanne arrived in town. Joanne began as the serials and acquisitions librarian (1970– 1971) and played a crucial role when they moved from temporary quarters to the new library in August 1971. In her oral history, Mrs. Robinow credited Joanne with successfully overseeing the transfer of books and journals, so that they were unloaded in the right sequence and in the right place. Joanne moved on to become a public services librarian from 1972 to 1977, and, then for the remainder of her time at the Health Sciences Library, from 1978 to 1982, she was the information services librarian (clinical services). She also took on added responsibilities during a colleague's two maternity leaves, filling in as coordinator of the Health Library Network in 1974 and again in 1977. Joanne and Victor's daughter Emily was born in 1973.

I first met Joanne in 1975 at the MLA annual meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, when I was the librarian for the College of Family Physicians of Canada. I can still recall the excitement of attending my first MLA meeting and interacting with wonderful colleagues from McMaster and elsewhere. This was the beginning of our wonderful friendship, and, for more than twenty years after that, Joanne and I traveled together to MLA meetings, learning a lot and often enjoying mini post-meeting trips to explore the territory nearby. Joanne was a quick study in those early days, learning how to give a polished presentation at MLA and deciding where she wanted to focus her interests in terms of MLA committees. Joanne always made sure she tried the most unusual item on the menu at local restaurants and shopped with a critical eye for local art work to bring home. We always left MLA meetings with a wonderful sense of excitement about the many innovations that we could implement at our libraries back home, and, for me, Joanne was an inspiration in that process.

Joanne worked closely with medical faculty at McMaster and became integrated into the educational and clinical activities long before this was a common occurrence in medical libraries. She saw that she needed additional training to pursue her research interests and began to work part-time on her master's in health sciences (MHSc), obtaining her degree in 1978. The title of her clinical study was “An Assessment of the Level of Medical Knowledge of Patients with Crohn's Disease.” She was instrumental in acquiring outside funding to establish a clinical librarian program at McMaster and worked directly with clinical teams from 1978 to 1982, bringing information to point of need and publishing the results of her research [1]. An article describing the randomized controlled study she developed to evaluate this project was awarded the Ida and George Eliot Prize from the Medical Library Association in 1982. This project launched her into a career as a researcher on health information needs and services and evaluation of library and information services, among many other topics.

Joanne's research interests led to other positions, first, a year as a librarian-researcher with the Program for Educational Development at McMaster's Faculty of Health Sciences. By this time, Victor had accepted a position at the University of Toronto, an hour's drive from Hamilton, and Joanne began considering career possibilities in the big city. She worked for one year, 1983, as the director of information services for the Palliative Care Foundation in Toronto and then decided it was time to begin work on her doctorate. While engaged in her studies, Joanne worked part-time as a librarian-researcher for continuing medical education in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto. Joanne obtained her doctorate in community health from the University of Toronto, Faculty of Medicine, in 1987. Her dissertation was titled “The Adoption and Implementation of Online Information Technology by Health Professionals” [2]. Joanne went on to accept an academic appointment at the Faculty of Information Studies at the University of Toronto, a position she held from 1987 to 1998. She held cross-appointments in the Department of Health Administration, the Centre for Health Promotion, and the Centre for Studies in Aging. Joanne taught a variety of courses, including those on special information centers, health sciences resources, online retrieval, and research methods.

Throughout these years, Joanne was engaged in an incredible variety of research projects and professional activities with various library organizations. She worked with her MLA chapter and a great group of librarians and physicians to produce the well-known report on the impact of the hospital library on clinical decision making [3]. An article based on the project earned her a second Eliot prize from MLA in 1993. Bernie Todd Smith, former director of libraries for ViaHealth in Rochester, New York, remembers that time very well.

Joanne's inspired vision of the value of evidence-based library practice resulted in the 1992 Rochester Study. Her background as a skilled researcher and as a seasoned medical librarian resulted in our asking the right questions, collecting the relevant data, and reporting compelling results. Joanne's research illustrates the critical role that hospital librarians play in improving patient care. [4]

The Rochester Study led to two other studies that used a similar methodology. The first study examined the impact of the special library on corporate decision making [5] and the second looked at the impact of government libraries at Health Canada [6]. Additional research using the methodology was conducted at the British Library.

The year 1991 provided three health libraries in Ontario, Canada, with a unique opportunity to study the impact of problem-based learning (PBL) programs on the use of library resources and services. At the time of the study, McMaster University medical school was entirely problem based, the University of Western Ontario had one PBL day each week for first-year medical students, and the University of Toronto had not yet initiated PBL. This was my first opportunity to collaborate with Joanne on a study of this magnitude, and she proved to be wonderful to work with. The findings were that PBL students did use library resources much more extensively [7], and a number of follow-up studies were done using our methodology.

Joanne has long had an interest in consumer health information and that interest combined with her research expertise resulted in a number of successful projects. Chief among these was her leadership in securing funding to establish the Consumer Health Information Service at the then Metro Toronto Reference Library, in partnership with the Toronto Hospital (General Division) and three other stakeholders. She continues similar work on consumer health information services through the National Library of Medicine–funded NC Health Info project with MLA Past President Carol Jenkins, AHIP, FMLA, and her colleagues at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill Health Sciences Library.*

Joanne is committed to supporting the activities of a number of library organizations, including MLA, the Canadian Health Libraries Association/Association des bibliothèques de la santé du Canada (CHLA/ABSC), and the Special Libraries Association (SLA). She has received many awards and honors from all three to recognize her valuable contributions. Most recently, she was made a Fellow of MLA in 2002, a Fellow of SLA in 2001, and a Life Member of CHLA/ABSC in 2000.

One of her many contributions at the association level had to do with benchmarking. She was cochair of the CHLA/ABSC Committee on Benchmarking and Performance Indicators in 1996–1997 and a member of the MLA Benchmarking Taskforce in 1999–2000. I worked with Joanne on the CHLA/ABSC committee, and I recall many meetings at her home in Toronto, where a small group of us gathered together to develop a national benchmarking program. One of the survey instruments we developed with Joanne for the Ontario PBL study in 1991 proved to be useful as a basis for our benchmarking work for CHLA/ABSC, and, in fact, we continue to use a refined Web-based version of that library questionnaire at McMaster in 2004, thirteen years later.

Joanne has a wide range of international contacts as a result of her extensive travels in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Judy Palmer, now keeper of the scientific books at the Radcliffe Science Library in Oxford, recalls her work with Joanne.

In the mid-nineties in Oxford we were developing a program to prepare our health librarians to meet and respond to the challenges that evidence-based medicine would bring and Joanne came to open the program. Subsequently we have met at conferences and through visits. Although our contacts have been infrequent we have always re-established a quick rapport as I know Joanne does with everyone. I have watched her professional journey with admiration and interest. She provides a role model for us all. In spite of her many and considerable achievements she has been able, always, to maintain a presence that is neither intimidating nor inhibiting—but instead enabling and inspiring. Joanne has opened up the territory of our profession and shown librarians how they can travel more extensively and more adventurously by equipping themselves with a greater range of skills and interests. I can think of no better person to lead the profession into a future which offers so many exciting possibilities. [8]

Margaret (Margie) Haines—now director of information services and systems at King's College London, United Kingdom, and current president of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP)—also recalls the inspiration provided by Joanne.

I am in the process of applying for a fellowship in my professional body and part of the process involves reviewing why I made certain career choices. Thinking back to my early career in Canada, I found myself thinking about Joanne Marshall a lot of the time. Joanne was at McMaster when I first met her in the early seventies. Although still in the early years of my own career, she was a real inspiration to me: energetic and enthusiastic, creative and curious, fiercely loyal to her friends and equally friendly to strangers. It was hard not to be inspired by her to try to do the things she had already pioneered like clinical librarianship, studying for a doctoral degree, being proactive in professional bodies such as CHLA and MLA, promoting the role of librarians in evidence-based health care through research and publication. Although nearly thirty years on, I remain inspired by her example. She continues to take on challenge after challenge: dean of one of the most prestigious library schools in America, president of MLA…but still finds the time to be a talented gardener, committed yoga teacher, and a very good friend. [9]

Joanne decided she needed a new challenge in 1999 and accepted the position of dean and professor at the School of Information and Library Science at UNC–Chapel Hill. She and Victor moved south together and have not missed snowy winters in Canada. Victor also accepted a position at UNC–Chapel Hill as professor of sociology and director of the UNC Institute on Aging. We miss Joanne, but luckily she is a frequent flyer, so we get to see her from time to time when she jets in to review a dissertation, to give a paper at a conference nearby, or to attend some other professional activity.

Joanne stepped down as dean in June 2004, to become an alumni distinguished professor in the school, allowing her to once again focus on her research, teaching, and professional service. During Joanne's tenure as dean, the school established a new undergraduate degree in information science and dual master's degrees with other top-ranked professional schools at Chapel Hill. The school's research funding increased fourfold, and their doctoral program more than doubled. Their international activities have grown considerably, including new programs in the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Singapore, and Denmark.

Joanne's current research interests include health information needs and services, the value and impact of library and information services, information technology and the aging workforce, and competencies of library and information professionals.

Joanne's daughter Emily has followed her parents' academic example and is doing doctoral research on adolescent health at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. She visits Chapel Hill regularly, and Joanne and Victor visit her in Vancouver. Joanne and Victor have a small property in Chester, Nova Scotia, so they can truly say they have close contacts, as we say in Canada, “from sea to shining sea.”

Joanne works hard and long, but she does find time for relaxation. She is a superb cook as anyone who has enjoyed a dinner party at her home will attest. Joanne and Victor are academics who love their work, and they have a wide circle of colleagues and friends all over the world. They love to have visitors, and they are very gracious hosts. Joanne has a marvelous decorating sense and loves to acquire fine pottery and paintings; she has been known to visit an art gallery shop and have many pieces by her favorite artists shipped home to Chapel Hill.

Joanne has been practicing yoga for the several years, and it has been a transformative experience in her life. She takes yoga classes regularly in Chapel Hill and whenever she can during her travels. In keeping with her continual desire to share her knowledge with others, she also teaches yoga on campus in the employee health program. Joanne is a wonderful gardener, and she has created more than one oasis: one at their former home in Toronto and a much larger one, with a waterfall, at their current home in Chapel Hill. She is proud of her garden and features it on her Website. To see another side of Joanne, check out her home page for pictures of her gardens and a list of her favorite yoga resources.

Joanne will bring her inspiration, commitment, and enthusiasm, as well as her research and teaching expertise, to her role as president of the Medical Library Association. She will thoroughly enjoy working with MLA colleagues across North America and representing MLA throughout the world. It will be a great year.


* The NC Health Info Website may be viewed at http://www.nchealthinfo.org.

 Joanne Gard Marshall's Website may be viewed at http://www.ils.unc.edu/~marshall/.


  • Marshall JG, Neufeld VR. A randomized trial of librarian educational participation in clinical settings. J Med Educ. 1981.  May; 56(5):409–16. [PubMed]
  • Marshall JG. End-user searching by health professionals (dissertation summary). Canadian Libr J. 1988.  Jun; 45(6):387–8.
  • Marshall JG. The impact of the hospital library on clinical decision making: the Rochester study. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1992.  Apr; 80(2):169–78. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Todd-Smith B. Personal communication [email]. 19 Feb 2004.
  • Marshall JG. Coord. The impact of the special library on corporate decision making. Washington, DC: Special Libraries Association, 1993.
  • Marshall JG. Health Canada libraries: past, present, future. In: Orna E, ed. Practical information policies. 2nd ed. Aldershot, UK: Gower, 1999:250–65.
  • Marshall JG, Fitzgerald D, Busby L, and Heaton G. A study of library use in traditional and problem-based medical curricula. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1993.  Jul; 81(3):299–305. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Palmer J. Personal communication [email]. 11 Feb 2004.
  • Haines M. Personal communication [email]. 10 Feb 2004.

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