Estelle Brodman and the First Generation of Library Automation

By Peay, Wayne J.; Schoning, Paul | Journal of the Medical Library Association, July 2008 | Go to article overview
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Estelle Brodman and the First Generation of Library Automation

Peay, Wayne J., Schoning, Paul, Journal of the Medical Library Association

Objective: The purpose of this paper is to examine the contributions of Estelle Brodman, PhD, to the early application of computing technologies in health sciences libraries.

Methods: A review of the literature, oral histories, and materials contained in the archives of the Bernard Becker Medical Library at the Washington University School of Medicine was conducted.

Results: While the early computing technologies were not well suited to library applications, their exciting potential was recognized by visionaries like Dr. Brodman. The effective use of these technologies was made possible by creative and innovative projects and programs. The impact of these early efforts continues to resonate through library services and operations.

Conclusions: Computing technologies have transformed libraries. Dr. Brodman's leadership in the early development and application of these technologies provided significant benefits to the health sciences library community.

In an undated curriculum vitae from late in the career of Estelle Brodman, PhD, she listed her present interests, with the first one being "Impacts of new technologies on methods by which scientists gather information and inspiration for research and teaching, and the relationship of the library as a communication center for this" [1]. The manual typewriter, with carbon paper for copies, the rotary-dial analog telephone, and elegant handwriting constituted state-of-the-art desktop information technology for the first two decades of Dr. Brodman's career. As the computing era began to take shape, however, Dr. Brodman was quick to recognize its transformational potential for library operations. This paper will chronicle Dr. Brodman's leadership in the earliest days of computing, building a foundation for automation at the National Library of Medicine (NLM) and extending the technology model through the development of library applications and networks that would benefit libraries of all sizes. A comprehensive review of Dr. Brodman's information technology efforts is beyond the reach of a single article. Selected projects are provided to illustrate the challenges, accomplishments, and impact of her distinguished career.


A wonderful convergence occurred with the beginning of Dr. Brodman's career and the very beginnings of computing. In her oral history, Dr. Brodman noted that while she was completing her doctoral degree and teaching at Columbia University "Vannevar Bush's work "As We May Think" [2], predicting many elements of our technological environment including computers and networks in order to make knowledge accessible came out, and everybody began to be very excited about the possibility of that" [3]. However, Columbia offered limited opportunities for advancement, and when she took the position of chief of the reference division at the Army Medical Library in 1949, she joined a remarkable team led by Dr. Frank B. Rogers, where her early work with information technologies really began. It is worth noting that 1950 marked the first year that computers became commercially available.

At that time, Dr. Brodman described the Army Medical Library, which had a wonderful history, as "sleepy, unimportant, confusing and confused" [4]. Along with World War ? and the growth of scientific publishing, an Army Medical Library study, whose contributors included Mary Louise Marshall and Janet Doe, had demonstrated the imperative of revitalizing the Army Medical Library [5]. Dr. Rogers was provided with the resources to transform the Army Medical Library into what would become NLM. Very early in that process, it was determined that the Army Medical Library's preeminent contribution to the practice of medicine, the Index-Catalogue, could no longer meet the demands of the biomedical community. Dr. Brodman's contribution to the demise of the Index-Catalogue was in her role as officer-incharge for the Welch Survey project, an extraordinary initiative that established both the intellectual rationale and the technical foundations for what would become the Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System (MEDLARS) system at NLM [6].

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Estelle Brodman and the First Generation of Library Automation


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