CHLA/ABSC 25 years on

Reproduced from Bibliotheca Medica Canadiana Winter 2000; 22(2).

by David S. Crawford

As CHLA/ABSC is about to hold its 25th annual meeting (Québec City, May 2001) it is perhaps instructive to see where we came from.  Surprisingly perhaps, the genesis of the CHLA/ABSC can be traced to the Medical Library Association’s Annual Meeting in Cleveland on 2nd June 1975. The Canadian Group of the MLA met there (for the second time) and after inviting the MLA to hold its 1981 annual meeting in Montréal, established an "Ad hoc committee to study the organisational status of Canadian health librarians."

The formation of this Ad-hoc committee arose at this meeting (it was not specifically on the pre-circulated agenda), as it was clear that the proliferation of Canadian health library groups was not in our best interest.  It was important then, as now, that Canadian health librarians spoke with one authoritative voice. There were at the time three “national” groups (four if one counted the Section de la santé of ASTED).

These were the Special Resource Committee on Medical School Libraries of the Association of Canadian Medical Colleges (grouping then, as now, the Directors of the 16 Canadian medical schools under the aegis of the ACMC.).  This group had been officially formed in 1967 and first met in 1968 but was actually the successor to the Canadian Library Association’s Committee on Medical Science Libraries that had been founded in 1961. (1)

The second group active in 1975 was the Health Sciences Section of CASLIS (the Canadian Association of Special Libraries and Information Services) – itself a sub-group of the Canadian Library Association. This was a spin-off of and successor to the Committee on Medical School Libraries noted above.  The third group was the Canadian Group of the Medical Library Association. This group had been formed in 1974 as a way to formalise the links between Canadian members of the MLA and the MLA Board and to allow the “Canadian dinner” to be noted in the program of the MLA meeting. (Eating and drinking being of particular interest to librarians!)

At the meeting of the Canadian Group held at the MLA Meeting in 1975 it was proposed that an ad-hoc committee be established to look at the situation and propose improvements. The Canadian Group of MLA chaired by Dick Fredericksen, then the Health Sciences Librarian at Memorial University, voted overwhelmingly to establish a committee with a rather broad mandate: “To survey local health science library groups across the country; to discover the gaps existing; to locate key personnel.”  David S. Crawford from McGill University was appointed to chair this group and authorised to select its membership. The members selected were Dick Fredericksen, Sheila Swanson (then Librarian of the Toronto Academy of Medicine and the chair of the CASLIS Group), Ann Nevill (then Head of the Health Sciences Resource Centre at CISTI), Martha Stone (then Head of the library at the Department of National Health and Welfare), Dorothy Sirois (then Librarian at the Montreal Children’s Hospital and a link with ASTED’s Section de la santé). Subsequently, in October 1975, Alan MacDonald, who had been much involved in the creation of the Canadian Association of Law Librarians and had recently been appointed Health Sciences Librarian at Dalhousie University, joined the ad-hoc committee as a second representative from CASLIS. In February 1976, Philippe Lemay, recently appointed to head the HSRC, replaced Ann Nevill.

The ad-hoc committee surveyed as many Canadian health sciences librarians as it could contact. In the days before e-mail and CANMED-LIB this meant sending mail and contacting colleagues in person and by phone.  We mailed 920 letters and questionnaires and had 415 responses. This rate of return is somewhat misleading as one questionnaire could potentially result in several responses - library heads were encouraged to share the information with all their staff. Many letters failed to reach a ‘library’ at all because mailings were sent to “The Library” at every Canadian hospital and health care institution that we could identify and then, as now, many had no library.  We also sent mailings to all Canadian members of MLA, CASLIS and ASTED’s Section de la santé and the local health library groups in Montréal and Toronto and we asked the ACMC Group members to spread the word in their geographic areas. (Consultation was made more difficult as one of Canada’s, then common, mail strikes occurred in fall 1976.)

The ad hoc committee discussed possibilities with colleagues at other conferences and meetings and met together several times.   Since there was no Association to fund all this mailing and phoning, the costs were met by Memorial, McGill and Dalhousie. The issues were really quite simple: should we recommend that a new Canadian association be formed or should we recommend that one or another of the existing groups be made the primus inter pares

There were drawbacks to each possibility.  The ACMC Group was clearly not going to be the basis for a general association as it was closely linked to the Association of Canadian Medical Colleges and served a well-defined purpose with a restricted membership. The CASLIS Section had the disadvantage (to many) that membership in it required membership in the Canadian Library Association. If the MLA Canadian Section were chosen it meant that a Canadian group would be a sub-set of an American organisation and a certain percentage of members would have to be members of MLA. Having an association with a US ‘parent’ lobby for Canadian libraries and library issues seemed counter-productive to many people. (Lobbying was much on our minds as there was a general feeling that more ‘community input’ was needed into the expanding Health Sciences Resource Centre at CISTI.)

The ad hoc committee issued a draft report in October 1976 and recommended that a Canadian health sciences librarians’ association be formed and, despite the perceived drawbacks, that its nucleus should be the Canadian Group of the MLA.  The draft report had been prepared at a meeting of the ad hoc committee held in Montréal just before Alan MacDonald’s nomination from CASLIS reached us. When he became a member he made it very clear that he was totally opposed to the new Canadian group having any official connection to the US-based MLA.  

The committee decided that this point needed to be fully aired and decided to circulate both our original draft (though some of us were already being convinced by Alan’s arguments) plus a ‘minority report’ from Alan. Feedback was very strongly in favour of forming a new association and strongly in favour of forming one independently from the Canadian Group of the MLA. As we received feedback we refined our draft and on 17th May 1976 the ad hoc committee mailed out its final and unanimous report. It is reproduced as Appendix 1.  

 In June 1976 both the MLA Canadian Section (meeting in Minneapolis) and the CASLIS Section, meeting in Halifax both accepted the report.  The MLA Canadian Group accepted it (34 voted in favour, one against) with one amendment; this was to change Recommendation 1 to remove the capitalisation from the proposed name “in case a better name is suggested”!

The ad hoc committee continued their discussions over the summer of 1976 and accepted further suggestions and comments from the community. It met on 4th October 1976 for the last time and agreed that there was enough support to form a Canadian health libraries association. No better name had been suggested and the agenda for this meeting notes “It seems we are left with Canadian Health Libraries Association, the addition of ‘Sciences’ was not well received at the CASLIS meeting.” 

This meeting also saw the ad hoc committee appoint itself as the first Executive and appoint David Crawford as the first President, Alan MacDonald the first Secretary/Treasurer and Dick Fredericksen the first “Editor of Publications”.  There had been some discussion about bringing in other librarians to form the first Executive but in the end it was decided that the whole of the ad hoc committee should simply carry on. The new Executive then wrote an interim constitution (this was dated November 1976 and was published in CHLA/ABSC Newsletter #1 winter 1977, p 5-7).  (This was subsequently revised by the first elected Executive in 1977/78 and voted on by all members by June 1978.) The Executive also agreed to hold the first annual meeting in Montréal in June 1977.  The Canadian Library Association was meeting in Montréal at the same time and it was hoped that the concentration of meetings would encourage attendance. Mrs M.A. (Babs) Flower, then McGill’s Nursing Librarian, was appointed local arrangements organiser. (For the first few years of its existence CHLA annual meetings were held in conjunction with CLA.)

As Dick Fredericksen had previously edited Can Group News on behalf of the MLA Canadian Group - this had one (and only) issue in 1976 and had formed part of the ad-hoc committee’s communications to possible members - he was asked to issue a newsletter replacing it. The CHLA / ABSC Newsletter (as we rather unimaginatively called it) was printed and distributed by McGill University and Dick edited it for Issues 1-6. When Dick left Memorial David Crawford and Hanna Waluzyniec, both at McGill, edited #7 and Patrick Fawcett of the University of Manitoba edited the final issue (#8). The Newsletter became Bibliotheca Medica Canadiana in 1979, the Latin name being suggested by Andras Kirchner, then Medical Librarian at the University of Calgary.

The new Executive wrote to all those who had answered its various calls for input or who had asked to be kept informed of progress. All were sent a copy of CHLA – ABSC Newsletter #1 with a request that they pay a membership fee. The annual membership fee was set at $15 but for 1976/77 – really only a half year – was set at $7.50.

In Issue #1 of the CHLA / ABSC Newsletter the first letter from the President ended with the sentence “Though the Executive will do all it can to assist in the development of the CHLA, the Association can only succeed if you join and assist us in this important task.” (2). Some things do not change! 

In the Newsletter’s first Issue  (Winter 1977) we reported on having 60 members, by Issue #2 (Spring 1977) we reported 140, the Membership Report in May 1977 reported “147 paid memberships” and the first printed membership directory of summer 1977 has 168 listings.   Though the first Executive was certainly instrumental in getting CHLA / ABSC off the ground, it is these early members who made it all happen. They joined an unknown Association and “put their money where their mouths were”. It is interesting to see that eighteen of these first members are still CHLA / ABSC Members in 2000. They are truly pioneers of Canadian health sciences librarianship.

Eileen Bradley – Toronto  (Honourary Member)
Germain Chouinard – Sherbrooke
David S. Crawford – Montréal  (Honourary Member)
Ada Ducas  - Montréal/Winnipeg
Dorothy Fitzgerald  -  London/Hamilton
Tom Flemming - Hamilton
M.A. (Babs) Flower  - Montréal/Kingston  (Honourary Member)
Colin William Fraser – Vancouver/Victoria  (Honourary Member)
Arlene Greenberg -  Montréal
David Hull  -  Guelph
Audrey Kerr -  Winnipeg (Honourary Member)
Angella Lambrou  - Montréal
Alan MacDonald-  Halifax/Calgary
Helen Michael – Toronto
Elizabeth Reid – Toronto
Beatrix Robinow – Hamilton/Toronto (Honourary Member)
Sheila Swanson – Toronto (Honourary Member)
Shelagh Wotherspoon – St. John’s

Though it was never explicitly stated, the hope at the ad-hoc committee was that the other associations would fade away once CHLA / ABSC found its feet. The CASLIS Health Sciences Section (which had a rather small membership) disbanded shortly after the CHLA /ABSC was formed. The 55 members present at the Canadian Group of MLA meeting on 17th June 1980 (when David Crawford was its chair) voted to disband the group. CHLA/ABSC and MLA had signed a bilateral agreement on 5th June 1979 - we no longer needed to be an MLA Section to meet at MLA meetings and our eating and drinking had been saved!  The ACMC Special Resource Committee on Medical School Libraries (now the ACMC Committee on Medical School Libraries) continues. It restricts itself to matters concerning primarily academic health sciences libraries and its members have been very active in CHLA/ABSC. The President of CHLA/ABSC sits ex-officio on the Committee to ensure our efforts are co-ordinated.  The Section de la Santé of ASTED continues but became a CHLA  / ABSC Chapter in 1997.

Happy Birthday CHLA/ABSC!!  Your conception is undoubtedly 2nd June 1975 (when the ad-hoc committee was established in Cleveland). Your birthday could be either 12th June 1976 (when the ad hoc committee’s report was accepted by the CASLIS Health Sciences Section meeting in Halifax or 14th June 1976 when it was accepted by the MLA Canadian Group meeting in Minneapolis or it could be 4th October 1976 when the ad hoc committee met in Montréal and decided that we had enough support and a mandate to proceed and actually formed the first Executive. Alternatively it could be 9th June 1977 when the first annual meeting was held and an elected President  (M.A. (Babs) Flower) and an elected Executive took over.   In any case you are ageing very well, your midwives are proud of you!


Much of the information in this article came from memory but this was verified, corrected (!) and expanded by using the archives of the MLA Canadian Group, the ad hoc Committee and the CHLA/ABSC which are deposited with McGill’s Osler Library of the History of Medicine. Many thanks to Mrs. Pamela Miller, Acting Head of the Osler Library who organised these papers.

1.  Heaton, G. Highlights of the history of Canadian medical school librarians. Bibl Med Can 1983: 4(4) pp 82-84.

2.  Crawford, David S.  From the President/ Rapport du président  CHLA/ABSC Newsletter #1, 1977 pp 3-4.

Appendix 1.


RECOMMENDATION 1. There should be a Canadian Health Libraries Association  (CHLA).

This organization should be developed carefully to ensure that it will serve all Canadian health library personnel as well as, if not better than, existing organizations.

RECOMMENDATION 2. The purpose of this Association should be to promote the provision of quality library service to the health community in Canada by communication and mutual assistance.

 The methods used to achieve this purpose should be:-

 a.) To publish, on a regular basis, a newsletter containing material useful to health libraries in Canada. (This would include such things as listing of free publications, news items, job vacancies, new appointments, workshops, meetings and conventions.)

 b)  To represent the interests of health libraries in Canada to external organizations and agencies. (Such as following up the implementation of the Standards for Hospital Libraries with the Canadian Council on Hospital Accreditation.)

 c)  To coordinate the activities of the Association with other health organizations to ensure cooperation and avoid unnecessary duplication. (For example, the formation of formal liaison with other organizations such as ASTED, MLA, CASLIS and ACMC.)

 d)  To encourage the establishment and growth of local and regional health library groups in Canada.

RECOMMENDATION 3.  The CHLA should have a simple national executive structure as well as whatever regional arrangements are deemed appropriate. (The editor of the newsletter mentioned above should be a member of this executive but should have no other duties in the organization.)

RECOMMENDATION 4. The Association should be self-supporting although the executive should investigate sources of outside funding from such organizations as the Canada Council and private foundations. (Depending on the number of Members the ad-hoc committee estimates the cost of annual personal membership will be between $10 and $15.)

RECOMMENDATION 5. To ensure continuity the ad-hoc Committee should appoint the first executive.  This executive should obtain incorporation and draw up a simple constitution to be voted on by the membership.

17 May 1976

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