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J Med Libr Assoc. Jan 2002; 90(1): 104–107.
PMCID: PMC64767

Separate paths to greatness*

Lucretia W. McClure, M.A., AHIP1

The purpose of this piece is to outline the contributions of two Medical Library Association (MLA) members: Frank Bradway Rogers, M.D., and Estelle Brodman, Ph.D. Traveling back in time to document their accomplishments and contributions to MLA and the profession of medical librarianship brings to light the way they advanced our work. Frank Bradway Rogers was both librarian and physician; Estelle Brodman was both librarian and historian. Their careers led them down different paths, but both achieved greatness. I was blessed with their friendship and consider both my mentors.

I met Brad Rogers on November 22, 1963, the day of President Kennedy's assassination. I was attending the Denver University Library School, and several students were scheduled to visit the Denison Library at the University of Colorado Medical Center, where he was the library director. Many of us remember that sad day—remember exactly where we were when we heard of the president's death. I remember it also because it was the day I met Dr. Rogers, an individual who was to influence my life. He was, of course, responsible for moving the National Library of Medicine into the electronic age, by the mechanization of Index Medicus. He is also widely remembered as an author, historian, and fine binder.

I met Estelle Brodman at the Upstate New York and Ontario Chapter of MLA meeting in 1964, when she was MLA president. She is known as a visionary and innovative leader at the Washington University Medical Library in St. Louis, as an outstanding author and lecturer, and for her contributions as an educator and as editor of the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association. Both Rogers and Brodman made a difference to our work and our understanding of librarianship and should continue to be acknowledged by the association.

Frank Bradway Rogers

Brad Rogers was a remarkable man. To understand why I consider him such a fine mentor, I need to share something of his background. He was graduated with a medical doctor degree from Ohio State University in 1942. He joined the Army Medical Corps and served in the Philippines and in Japan. When he returned to this country to begin a surgical residency at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, DC, he saw a notice of an opening at the Army Medical Library. He was chosen from among a dozen candidates.

The post-war director of the library, Colonel Joseph H. McNinch, sent him to Columbia University where he earned a master's in library service degree in 1949. He then became director of the Army Medical Library. A paragraph in his obituary by John Blake spoke to the quality and character of Brad Rogers:

[A] clue to his success was that he went to fundamentals and carried forward the basic reforms in acquisitions and cataloging necessary to undergird more visible advances in bibliographical and other public services. Characteristically, Rogers immersed himself in operational problems. He studied them, agonized over them some would say, until he could be confident he understood them himself and could make sound judgments on appropriate solutions. Conservative, though never timid, he did not seek change for its own sake or merely to follow the latest fads. A master of the English language, he knew how to cut through obfuscating bureaucratic prose or shallow euphemisms. Yet, once having convinced himself of a necessary course of action, he had the confidence in his own judgment, the will and strength of character to carry out difficult or controversial decisions with a judicious expenditure of resources. Rogers was not a man to rely on a multitude of consultants and committees or to measure success by dollars spent. [1]

One of his first decisions was to discontinue publication of the once magnificent Index-Catalogue, a task that was achieved only with great struggle. He then moved into the realm of mechanization. Because he understood the fundamentals of bibliography, he could write a set of specifications and come up with a successful system. It took only four short years, from conception to operation, and, in 1964, MEDLARS was a reality. Wyndham Miles, in his history of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), stated that it provided the medical profession with the most powerful bibliographic tool in the world, and its success marked a milestone in the evolution of modern libraries [2].

After his retirement from NLM, he became director of the library at the University of Colorado Medical Center, and I used to visit him there. During one summer, we both taught courses at the Denver University Library School. Over the years, we discussed many library topics: his distress at the theft from his library of a number of early Darwin works, his sorrow that the state legislature refused to spend the money to buy the Denver Medical Society Library when it became available, and his interest in the history of medicine and fine binding.

There are not many in our field who could do all he did. He loved the library and its people, whether staff or users. He cared about the profession, this erstwhile surgeon. He was literate and literary and a marvelous storyteller and friend. He can still be your mentor if you choose—just read some of his works and you will understand. Computers have changed our world, but they do not define our world.

Read his Janet Doe Lecture, presented in 1968, on the problems of medical subject cataloging. Think about how much you know about cataloging and revel in the depth of his understanding and knowledge. He called upon his colleagues to realize that Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) have a “very delicate structure” and that one cannot tamper with parts of the system without causing reverberations throughout the system [3]. He was not a physician who took on the library, but rather a librarian who had studied medicine. Whenever I think we are truly on our way, I reread “Down on the Farm,” his talk at the 1984 annual meeting [4]. If you are satisfied with your profession, I urge you to read it.

Mentoring has always been a part of the scientific world. Those in medicine and science take great pains to instill the precepts of their world in the young persons coming into the professions. How often you read biographies or histories dedicated to the subjects by the authors, who point out that their own achievements and success are due, in significant ways, to the individuals they write about? What has always been glorious in science has been the willingness of those with great talent and position to share with and nurture the new members of their professions.

Estelle Brodman

Estelle Brodman has provided inspiration for many in this organization. When I first met her, I had no idea who she was. We just happened to stand together as we toured the Gaylord Brothers Library Supply House in Syracuse. From that time, of course, her name meant something to me. Her MLA presidential address was entitled “Money Talks, but People Count.” She took this title from a bank in St. Louis that used it as a slogan—but it could be our motto today as we are faced with a grim bottom line, while striving to uphold our standards of service to the medical community. In this address, she said:

I believe we can bring about the intellectual maturation of those who come to work for us by encouraging thought and experimentation, by being sympathetic with their fumbling attempts and with their rediscoveries of the eternal verities, for as William Ockham pointed out in 1323, “in a sense every universal cognition is a cognition of a singular thing.” And people learn by singular experiences. [5]

She went on to declare that we must bring forth the potentialities of our assistants and not just skills, but the full range: “the capacities for sensing, wondering, learning, understanding, loving and aspiring” [6].

Here is where the great person and the great teacher emerge. And a great teacher she has been to many of us. In “A Philosophy of Continuing Education,” she concludes with this statement:

But continuing education is not only a matter of courses, attendance at meetings, seminars, committees, and staff discussions. The careful reading of the published literature, the thoughtful discussion with colleagues of problems (complete with a cup of coffee or a martini), the listening to those who represent another discipline—and then the slow and halting approach to its assimilation and to insight into its meaning are all very valuable …. the viewing of a beautiful painting, the listening to a moving piece of music, the quiet contemplation of the countryside on a drowsy summer afternoon are the sherbets, which clear the palate between the courses in a formal banquet. And what a wonderful banquet and what wonderful courses are open to those who would eat at the table of continuing education. [7]

This was how I came to consider her my mentor. We often met at meetings on the history of medicine or at MLA meetings. Frequently, we had breakfast together and talked about library issues. She challenged my thinking at every turn, and I had to be sure of my ground before speaking. I was always humbled and exhilarated in her presence.

In 1974, Estelle Brodman penned some words that could have been written yesterday. In the paper “Confrontation and the Medical Library,” she responded to cuts in the president's budget, the short-term renewal of the Medical Library Assistance Act, and the lack of support for training grants and research. Her recommendations were right on target and could easily be applied to our problems today. Her proposals for action were first to think and plan. Then, concentrate on what we do well, evaluate services, make good use of our staff members, initiate research, and, finally, develop political clout [8]. Certainly, a fair outline of how we can proceed into the future.

Two other publications continue to be valuable to me. The first is her Janet Doe Lecture in 1971, “The Pursuit of Excellence.” How many times have I gone to this piece to read it again, to savor its content, and to study the style and power of her composition? In her final paragraph, she says, “so should we as fearlessly pursue professional excellence, secure in the belief in our capability for solving problems, trusting in the honesty and good will of our colleagues, and thinking always to advance that high calling which we profess” [9]. Read this again or read it for the first time, but read it!

The other publication that I use often is her book, The Development of Medical Bibliography [10]. Here, she gives us the basis of medical bibliography and outlines the major players in the world of literature. I hope it continues to be a tool emphasized in library education.

Many individuals have been mentors to me; these are but two. You may not have the opportunity to meet these two librarians, but mentoring takes place in different ways. They can be your mentors if you read their words. You can be guided by their examples, and you can learn from their achievements.

Estelle Brodman and Brad Rogers: two librarians I met on their separate paths to greatness.

Footnotes

*Based on a presentation at the 101st Annual Meeting of the Medical Library Association, Orlando, Florida, May 28, 2001.

References

  • Blake JB. Frank Bradway Rogers 1914–1987. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1988.  Jan; 76(1):95–7. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Miles WD. A history of the National Library of Medicine: the nation's treasury of medical knowledge. Bethesda, MD: National Library of Medicine, 1982. (NIH publication, no. 85–1904).
  • Rogers FB. Problems of medical subject cataloging. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1968.  Oct; 56(4):355–64. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Rogers FB. Down on the farm. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1985.  Jan; 73(1):15–20. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Brodman E. Money talks, but people count. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1965.  Oct; 53(4):567–72. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Brodman E. Money talks, but people count. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1965.  Oct; 53(4):572. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Brodman E. A philosophy of continuing education. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1968.  Apr; 56(2):145–9. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Brodman E. Confrontation and the medical library. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1974.  Apr; 62(2):87–91. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Brodman E. The pursuit of excellence. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1971.  Oct; 59(4):549–54. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Brodman E. The development of medical bibliography. Baltimore, MD: Medical Library Association, 1954. (Medical Library Association publication, no. 1).

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