|A little CAHSLA history by Jane Thompson, 2004
The organization known today as the Cincinnati Area Health Sciences Libraries Association or CAHSLA, owes its origin to the Medical Library Assistance Act of 1965, which funded the creation of a nation-wide system of biomedical resource libraries to meet the needs of health professionals. The system was named the Regional Medical Library Program. The 50 states plus Puerto Rico were divided into 11 regions, with one library in each region designated as the Regional Medical Library (RML). Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan composed Region 5, called KOM or KOMRML. Each RML was responsible for 3 services: ILL, online MEDLINE, and extramural services, headed by an Extramural Coordinator who worked with all of the biomedical libraries in the region. Subsequently, in 1982, our region was retitled Greater Midwest Regional Medical Library Network (GMRMLN) and we became a 10-state region with 20 resources libraries.
The first documented organization of medical librarians in Cincinnati was called the Medical and Nursing School Librarians of Greater Cincinnati Area (MNSLGCA). This group, active in the 70’s, included some hospital administrators as well as librarians. Members brought lists of book and journal purchases for the year, missing issues lists, and problems: “Name your problems, one of us will be able to come up with an answer” promised a meeting announcement.
In 1973, federal funding for ILL was drastically reduced. Local groups were encouraged to organize to provide the service that the RMLs had been providing. The KOMRMLN (remember what that was?) “offered the privilege of observer representatives to attend the Executive Board meetings” of KOMRML in an effort to facilitate communications between the local groups and the KOM office. On July 17, 1973 a meeting of the KOM Institutional Affiliates was held to discuss the new Interlibrary Loan policies. Mary McClanahan, Penny Young, and Naomi Adelman, Medical Center Libraries led the discussion.
Alma P. Forbes, Chief Librarian of the VA Hospital sent a letter on July 25, 1973 to her “Fellow Librarians” in Cincinnati, stating that “We feel that an organization of the health sciences and technical libraries affiliated with the University of Cincinnati Medical Center libraries has become necessary. Such an organization would enable us to designate a representative who could serve as our liaison with the K.O.M. and voice our point of view.” An undated letter from Kay Barkley, Jewish Hospital, goes into the detail of what the cut in funding meant for local libraries: UC would only be able to supply 75 free ILLs to area institutions, and some sort of system needed to be set up by the hospitals to lend among themselves for no fee, in addition to the UC ILLs.
In response to these challenges, an ad hoc committee was empanelled to come up with a organizational plan. Kay Barkley was elected chair of the committee. A meeting was held on August 23, 1973 at Jewish Hospital, chaired by Kay to present the proposed organization. At this meeting an ad hoc committee was formed, chaired by Don Smith, St. Elizabeth’s, which was charged to draft a Constitution and By-Laws for the Association of Greater Cincinnati Health Science Libraries. Other members of the ad hoc committee were Kay Barkley, Alma Forbes, Jan Schneider, Margaret Thomas, and Marjorie Shriner. By September 12 the name used was Cincinnati Area Health Sciences Libraries Association. The Association was officially formed at the September 20, 1973 meeting at the VA Hospital. The constitution was adopted and officers elected: Janice Schneider, Chair, Don Smith, Vice-Chair, Anne Feduff, Secretary, and Frances McCullough, Treasurer.
The first general meeting was held February 6, 1974 with a presentation on Audiovisuals in the Health Science Library.
The top priorities at that time for medical libraries, and particularly for small hospital libraries, was to develop an efficient and cost-effective method for interlibrary loans that allowed the small institution to provide the same top service that the academic health centers supplied to their users, and to gain efficient access to Medline. There was a need for local training for online searchers, and for a forum for discussion of events affecting Cincinnati libraries, as well as a place where policies of service could be agreed upon.
Our group was not formed in a vacuum. Other nearby library groups were also looking at effective ways to organize for ILL and Medline delivery and other services via consortial arrangements. On October 20, 1975, Janette Closurdo, Director of libraries at ST. Joseph Mercy Hospital, Pontiac Michigan was invited to Cincinnati to present the work of HIRA (Health Instructional Resources Associated) and the Metropolitan Detroit Medical Library Group (MDMLG).
So what has happened during these 30+ years since that September day? Well, the By Laws have been rewritten, revised and updated multiple times to reflect changes in practice. On the local level, an Interlibrary Loan plan was devised, a Mini-union list of reference titles created, and a Medline consortium, COCLS, was formed by several CAHSLA members in order to provide online searching in an economically efficient manner. “Each hospital in the consortium had a direct line to NLM, and could provide bibliographies to docs within minutes.” As the regional library network developed under the umbrella provided by the National Library of Medicine, CAHSLA benefited from many federally-funded programs, including an Extramural Coordinator, who functioned as a liaison between the network and the basic units (that’s us, remember) offering coordination of ILL in the region and encouraging formation of peer groups where they were needed. CAHSLA presented many workshops on the new technologies, searching, cooperative collection development, and the all-important ILL. The association made some forays into library science CE courses, hosted at least two regional MLA conferences, and continued an effort to collaborate with the Dayton health sciences librarians until the demise of that organization. On the regional level, CAHSLA participated in the various configurations of regional libraries devised by NLM: KOMRLN, GMRMLN, MC/MLA, and finally, Midwest Chapter, MLA. And of course, many sub organizations formed and unformed under the aegis of the RML: A veritable Alphabet Soup of organizations.
One of the most enduring of these organizations is COCLS, the Cincinnati Online Consortium for Life Sciences—did you know (or remember) that the original name was (briefly) the Cincinnati Life Sciences Consortium? The original original group was called Cincinnati Medline Consortium, which recognized that the hospital libraries needed to establish their own Medline accounts, and run their own searches rather than relying on the UC Health Sciences Library to handle Medline searching for all of Cincinnati.
When COCLS came into being in 1979, the objectives of the group were not only to purchase online access to Medline from a service provider, but to train searchers, to explore other useful databases, and to “investigate innovations in and nuances of online systems.” For many years COCLS continued to provide its members with online access via BRS, troubleshoot connection problems, share difficult searches and searching tips, plus serve as a sounding board for librarians from the hospitals to talk about their unique situations, and the latest bit of skullduggery issuing from the Health Sciences Library. Just glancing at the minutes, some items caught my eye: In 1991, at the time of the merger into CAHSLA, Don Smith was the only member of COCLS who was not also a member of CAHSLA. In 1990 it was noted that NKU had received at least one bomb threat. In 1986 Barbarie Hill declared that Open House was over and she would never do it again. In 1985 (we are going back in time) Barb Lucas reported on the Medline update held at Miami Valley Hospital, Dayton: “The setting was very comfortable, the food was good, the new library elegant, but the update was boring and the Medis demonstration useless. Her appraisal was corroborated by others who attended.” There is a certain piquant quality to the COCLS minutes that we don’t always achieve in CAHSLA. And from the moment that COCLS and CAHSLA were born, Dorothy Gilroy wrote letters to organizations, posing questions, making suggestions, and generally staying on top of things much better than any of the rest of us could hope to match.
In addition, members shared lists of proposed journal cancelations and purchases, to build a broad base of resources and to avoid duplication as much as possible. By 1990 COCLS had an Education Committee, but the economic reason for the existence of COCLS had ceased when BRS discontinued its previous discount to user groups. But, to quote from a joint letter written in May 17, 1991, from Val Purvis as Coordinator of COCLS and Beth White, President of CAHSLA, to their memberships: “COCLS members are eager to maintain the educational and sharing aspects of the group.
Therefore, at its meeting on April 9th, 1991, the COCLS membership agreed to dissolve as a separate entity and respectfully request that these aspects of the consortium be absorbed into the CAHSLA program and meeting structure.”
The letter goes on to suggest that additional CAHSLA programs could be planned devoted to computer-related topics. And in effect, the “organization that refused to die and instead went to lunch” was born.
Under the tutelage of Don Smith, Barbarie Hill, Rose Zajac, Lisa McCormick and many others, COCLS continues today to provide attendees lunch, plus an agenda that focuses on technical aspects of our librarian lives: PDAs, serials control systems, and updates on the latest useful technology for hospital libraries.
Another outstanding product of CAHSLA collaborative efforts has been the Chronicle, which when it debuted in 1977, with the stunningly original name of CAHSLA Newsletter, consisted of one side of one page. It was edited by Rose Zajac and Susanne Gilliam. From these small beginnings came the CAHSLA Chronicle which today provides readers with useful notices, meeting reports, letters from our President, and a good laugh from the cartoons. Our editors, Barbarie Hill and Beth White until 1992, and Lisa McCormick and Barbarie since then, have cheerfully shouldered the burden of turning out a class rag that is a proud representative of our organization.
Another great project that has become a tradition for CAHSLA is our holiday book drive. We have been donating children’s books to various Cincinnati organizations that help children since 1996. Penny Philpot had the original idea, which was quickly embraced by the rest of us. Some of the organizations that we have given collections of books to are Peaselee Daycare Center, Kids’ Café, Bethany House, GLAD House, and Vine St. Elementary School. A total of over 200 new and gently used books have been donated by our members, and we have many letters of gratitude and appreciation in the archives.
As I waded through stacks of minutes of various groups that CAHSLA has been involved with, several themes emerged: The search for the best resources, the recognition of the need to cooperate in order to make the best of scarce resources, the increasing bureaucracy of library organization, from the national level to the state, and the struggle for small libraries to be heard in this framework of increasingly layered library structure. In spite of small staffs, small budgets, and little time, though, the members of CAHSLA have managed to speak up and out, and to make a difference. I would mention names, but fear to leave someone out who is here tonight, so, I invite you to look to the person at your right or left, and recognize their contributions. In the words of Kay Barkley, chair of the original ad hoc committee that founded CAHSLA, and chairman (the title for President) in 1978, “Perhaps one of the most valuable advantages which CAHSLA has to offer is the opportunity to get acquainted with each other on a one to one basis and thereby exchanging ideas and services.” That certainly has not changed in all this time. On September 20, 2008 CAHSLA will be 35 years old, and we should plan an appropriate celebration! Please continue to check our website, created and maintained by Barbarie Hill, located at for news about this and many other developments.