Miriam Libbey Tribute (MLA Obituary)

The following article appeared in the July 1985 edition of the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association:

Miriam Hawkins Libbey was a dear friend and colleague whose dedication to her many responsibilities never ceased to amaze and inspire all who knew her well. She always looked so lovely, so lady-like, so fragile and so impeccably turned out that it seemed impossible that such delicacy and gentleness could exist so harmoniously with steel-like determination and utter imperturbability.

She was born in the deep South, in Logansville, Georgia, and educated in and near Atlanta, receiving her B.A. at Shorter College in 1942 and her M.A. at Emory in 1950.

From the moment thirty-five years ago when she formally entered medical librarianship, it was apparent that she was a young woman of unusual possibilities. Mildred Jordan, the unforgettable librarian of the A. W. Calhoun Medical Library at Emory, where Miriam was first employed, immediately recognized her potential and from the first year hoped that she would become her associate director and later her successor. The first part of this wish was not realized because Miriam left Emory after five years to widen her experience by accepting a position in the reference section of the National Library of Medicine (then the Armed Forces Medical Library). She succeeded in Washington as she had at Emory, and she was promoted to assistant head of the section. She terminated her at NLM by serving as an important committee member of the spectacularly successful Second International Congress on Medical Librarianship, Washington, D.C., in 1962 and by later coediting the Proceedings of the Congress.

In 1963 she returned to the medical school field and became librarian of the Health Sciences Regional Medical Library, State University of New York at Buffalo. While there, she served on the important pioneer Task Force on Automation set up to provide the momentum to launch libraries into online information retrieval.

In 1966 the chance to return to Georgia beckoned so invitingly that she assumed the directorship of the A. W. Calhoun Medical Library, where she had begun her medical library career. She thus fulfilled the second part of the wish of her mentor and predecessor. At this time she also became Instructor in medical librarianship in the Division Of Librarianship at Emory and began the years when librarianship and teaching shared her time almost equally.

Miriam’s abilities in teaching were immediately apparent. She was a born teacher, and her students from far and wide loved and revered her. It was such a pleasure at MLA meetings to see how many of them eagerly sought her companionship and guidance. She kept up with them as she did with those who served on her staffs, and she remained continuously eager to help them advance in their careers.

Miriam fought gently but tenaciously to have the Calhoun Library declared the Southeastern Regional Medical Library when several other universities in the area vied for this distinction. With this success achieved, she directed its program from 1969 until 1982, when the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic programs were merged to form the present Southeastern/Atlantic Regional Medical Library Service. With interminable fortitude she listened all those years to her recalcitrant and impatient peers from other libraries of the region who grew weary of the neverending discussions of interlibrary loan ramifications and vicissitudes. Never daunted, she calmly carried out her agenda each time exactly as she had originally planned to fulfill the program’s specifications. That she managed this so steadfastly was no mean feat. That she maintained everything on a light, even friendly level was remarkable.

Throughout the years, in addition to her professional positions, she was active in many library and health sciences associations–especially in MLA, where she served on and chaired many committees, including Standards, Certification, Recertification, Goals and Structures, and Future Development. She was the author of various publications and participated also in editorial activities.

In her personal life she was very sociable. She loved to entertain, and in this activity she, was charmingly and ably abetted by her husband, Fred. He was admired so much by all her cohorts that he was looked upon as a fellow “MLAer.” Their dinner parties both at home and at their favorite superb restaurants were events that later provided many happy reminiscing sessions for those who attended. Their home was as lovely as their hospitality. Miriam’s greenhouse was one of her great joys; she grew the most beautiful flowers, especially camellias. Fred was as proud of her success with them as he was of all her other accomplishments, not the least of which was gourmet cooking, at which she excelled. Fred’s death in 1979 was tragic for Miriam and for all her friends and colleagues who shared her loss.

After his death she continued to carry out her many duties as she always had, but the spark was not as shining as it once had been. She immersed herself in her work, remaining her sharing, caring self, but at the same time neglecting her own health. Even though she held an important position in a loving and caring medical center, where help was immediately at hand, she postponed taking those preventive examinations and tests that all of us know we should periodically undergo. Consequently, to the consternation of her many friends, early in 1984 she suffered a stroke from which she never fully recovered. She died on December 5th of that year.

In her death MLA lost a most valuable leader and the Southern Region lost one of its most beloved pivotal figures.

Miami, Florida

1985 July;73(3):315-316 Bull Med Libr Assoc.

The online version of this paper was derived from the author’s final submission to the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association and is used with permission of the Medical Library Association, Chicago. Please consult the following reference in the BMLA for the authoritative version and for citation purposes:
Langner Mildred C. Miriam Hawkins Libbey Obituary. Bull Med Libr Assoc 1985 Jul;73(3):315-316.
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