OBITUARY: Warren Phillip Bird, 1933-2004

By Basler, Thomas G. | Journal of the Medical Library Association, January 2005 | Go to article overview

OBITUARY: Warren Phillip Bird, 1933-2004


Basler, Thomas G., Journal of the Medical Library Association


Warren Bird, former director of the Duke University Medical Center Library, died of cancer in Durham, North Carolina, on July 13, 2004, after a lengthy illness. He was seventy.

Born in Rochester, New York, he spent his formative years in Greensboro, North Carolina. He received his bachelor's degree in physics, philosophy, and biology from Georgetown University in 1956 and attended Duke University School of Medicine from 1956 to 1958, when he chose another direction. After several years as a radiological physicist at Columbia University, Warren earned a master's degree with honors from its Graduate School of Library Service in 1964.

At that time, perhaps hard to imagine today, Warren was pursued by Duke's medical library to become its "chief of machine applications." He finally agreed and, in 1965, under then director G.S.T. "Terry" Cavanagh, the great rare books librarian, he assumed the post of chief of systems and communications. Later, in 1968, he was appointed associate director and, in 1974, as "one of the most sought-after young men in medical library circles" [1], he became the director, a post he held until his retirement in 1991.

He was an innovator in medical information technology. His association with Tom Fleming (director of the Columbia University medical library), Brad Rogers (director of the National Library of Medicine), and other giants helped him form a more global view of library cooperation and sharing than was generally present at that time. A self-proclaimed "techno-geek," he was one of the first proponents of computing and telecommunications to deliver larger, more broad-based collections to medical library users. As a result, he created widely recognized presentations and wrote articles in the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association concerning the use of teletypewriter exchange service (TWX) to facilitate interlibrary lending of originals and the photocopying of journal articles. His blue and gray handbook [2], affectionately dubbed The Bird Manual, was considered the bible of these operations. A companion volume, listing participating libraries, was soon to follow [3]. These basic works formed some of the building blocks for DOCLINE as well as the Internet and database sharing services we find so essential today. The US State Department sent Warren to New Zealand for an extended consultation visit. An active member of numerous scientific and bibliographic associations, he presented many lectures and workshops.

Warren was also associate professor of medical literature in the school of medicine, and he taught several courses in the graduate library school of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. More than one student longed for a career in medical history after spending a day-with Warren as guide and inspirer-studying the rare books, viewing the manuscripts, inspecting the museum items, and touring the medical gardens at Duke.

He planned, designed, and oversaw the construction of the present seeley G. Mudd Building for the Duke Medical Center Library, which opened in 1975 as a bright, spacious, and beautiful facility. Along with appropriate large-scale focal points, including a grand stairway with tapestries, his attention focused on providing inviting study spaces bordering the collections. …

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