WHSLA History

In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, the development of health science libraries in the United States changed dramatically. In 1957, the National Library of Medicine took over the indexing service that had been published from 1906 through 1956 by the American Medical Association known as Quarterly Cumulative Index Medicus. In 1962, NLM was dedicated as a member of the National Institutes of Health. And in 1965 Congress passed the Medical Library Assistance Act, which authorized establishment of the Regional Medical Library Network.

In Wisconsin in 1968, the Medical Library Service at William S. Middleton Library of the University of Wisconsin Medical School initiated what was then called simply, “The Newsletter.” The first issue of “The Newsletter” was dated April 1968. The 1968 issues of “The Newsletter” make reference to libraries complementing each other to avoid duplication of efforts, workshops held, teleconferences planned, and the new multi-state regional medical library for the Midwest-the John Crerar Library in Chicago.

Health science librarians in Wisconsin acted informally as a group throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1970, the Newsletter contained an article entitled “Time to Organize?” The article suggested that it might be time to abandon informality and organize a statewide organization for people operating health science libraries.

In 1973, two statewide coordinators were hired by the UW Medical School. The coordinators worked at Middleton Library and were also traveling consultants. They visited almost every health science library in the state to determine what health science collections were available and where they were located. Where they found good collections, they encouraged the librarians to consider the sharing concept and to move toward regional organization. In 1974, it was announced that one of the coordinators would stay at Middleton all the time and the other would do all the traveling.

Also in 1973, six consortium areas were established in Wisconsin. Sharing activities were coordinated by the state Health Science Library Coordinator and six area reps from each consortium. Between 1974 and 1977, the area representatives attended meetings at which they discussed various issues including formal organization. In March 1977 in Eau Claire, a meeting was held by the state coordinator, area representatives, Virginia Holtz, and others. The group received a motion to form a state organization and the motion was passed. A Bylaws committee was set up.

On September 16, 1977 in La Crosse, a business meeting was held after a general program. The bylaws of the Wisconsin Health Science Library Association were presented and discussed. The bylaws were accepted by thirty people in attendance and the annual dues were set at $5. WHSLA was formally created.

Also in 1977, the Wisconsin Health Science Library Network Advisory Council (WHSLNAC) was formed. Membership consisted of the two resource library directors, consortium coordinators from each area, the WHSLA president, the state health science library coordinator, a representative to the Regional Advisory Council, and a representative-at-large.

WHSLA floundered in its first year until October 1978 when WHSLA was the co-sponsor of the fall meeting of the Midwest Regional Group of the Medical Library Association in Madison. The executive committee met and elected Kay Cimpl as the new president. Subsequently, Kay appointed the first chairperson and members of all committees, resulting in the first functional year for WHSLA as an organization.

Also in 1978, guidelines for the purpose and structure of WHSLNAC were drawn up and the name changed to the Council of Wisconsin Health Science Libraries Network (WHSLN).

From 1977 to 1980, WHSLA held its annual meeting and changed officers in the fall of the year. Beginning in 1981, WHSLA moved its annual meeting and the changing of officers to the spring of the year. On occasion, WHSLA has its meeting in the fall of the year to coincide with another library organization’s meeting. For instance, in 1989 and 2001 WHSLA co-hosted the Midwest Chapter of the Medical Library Association’s annual meeting in fall and those meetings also served as WHSLA’s annual meeting for those years.

In 1986, the West Central Consortium and the West Consortium merged into the Western Consortium. In 1990, the Northern and Western Consortia merged into the Northwestern Consortium. Since 1990, there have been four health science library consortia in Wisconsin: Fox River Valley Area Library (FRVALC), Northwestern, South Central, and Southeastern Wisconsin Health Sciences Libraries (SWHSL).

In 1990, WHSLA’s guidelines were amended to reflect the creation of two awards: Library and Librarian of the Year. The first Librarian of the Year award was actually given to Barb Schmiechen of the Center for Health Sciences Library of UW-Madison in 1989. The first Library of the Year award was given to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital Library in Appleton in 1991.

In 1997, the Council of WHSLN was dissolved and WHSLA took over its functions by appointing a representative to the Greater Midwest Region of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine and forming an Institutional Issues committee to work on issues that are specific to libraries rather than individual members of WHSLA.

Adapted largely from:

Hanus, Karen. Happy 20th Anniversary, WHSLA!. Wisconsin Health Science Library Association Newsletter. 277: 1997 Sept/Oct.


Zimmerman, Albert. The Wisconsin Health Science Library association: A History. Wisconsin Health Science Library Association Newsletter. Suppl. 3: 1988 Oct.

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