Kate Flewelling, Outreach Coordinator
Like many business and vacation travelers, I frequently notice historical markers in small towns, in cities and on roadsides. When I have time, I love to stop, read the marker and be reminded that history is all around us. Pennsylvania has over 2000 such markers and has a searchable database to find markers in a given location or on a specific topic. On November 4, 2015, I had the unique pleasure of celebrating the unveiling of a new marker in Philadelphia. The marker commemorates the founding of the Medical Library Association, the national professional association of health sciences library and information professionals.
The marker was the brainchild of June Fulton, a Fellow and past president of the Medical Library Association. When I asked Fulton what made her decide to apply for a historical marker, she provided the following explanation.
“It was my privilege to serve as Chair of MLA’s Centennial Coordinating Committee for the 1998 Centennial Annual Meeting in Philadelphia. It was during this meeting that I took the short walk from the Pennsylvania Convention Center to the site of MLA’s founding at 1420 Chestnut Street. I had never visited the site before and I was disappointed to see there was no recognition of the event that had occurred there and that holds such significance in the life of our Association. Since childhood, I had been a big fan of historical markers and it occurred to me that one would remedy the problem. I also thought that I would like to be part of such a solution.”
Fulton continued: “As the years flew by, I would occasionally think about the idea of obtaining a historical marker for MLA. Then an event occurred in 2014 that was just the push I needed to get the project started. Carla Funk, MLA’s Executive Director for almost 23 years, announced her retirement. I had worked closely with Carla and it was not enough to just say thank you for all she had done for me personally and for the Association. I wanted to find a way to pay tribute to Carla and her service to MLA that would be both tangible and permanent. A historical marker would fulfill both requirements. It would be highly visible on Chestnut Street, and once installed, would be maintained by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.”
Dan Kipnis, Chair of the Philadelphia Regional Chapter of MLA, says Fulton “led the entire project from beginning to end. She did an amazing job in getting a historic marker commemorating the founding of MLA in Philadelphia in 1898. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission receives hundreds of applications for historical markers and they accept approximately 24 a year and June led the way on this impactful project. June was also thoughtful in honoring Carla J. Funk for her more than 22 years as MLA’s executive director with this historical marker.”
The marker is located at 1420-22 Chestnut St., in the center of historic Philadelphia and blocks away from such notable sites as Independence Hall, City Hall and Penn’s Landing. The Philadelphia Chapter of the Medical Library Association held a reception at the Union League following the unveiling. The reception was attended by Chapter members, MLA staff and board members, and librarians from near and far. Speakers included Fulton, Kipnis, retired MLA Executive Director and honoree Carla Funk, interim Director of the National Library of Medicine Betsy Humphreys, current MLA Executive Director Kevin Baliozian, and MLA President Michelle Kraft. Speakers talked about the history of the Medical Library Association, the significance of the event and the process of applying for a marker. Commissioner William Lewis from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission attended and spoke at the reception.
I asked Kipnis and Fulton what they felt was the significance of the marker. Kipnis said: “The historical marker is innovative as a permanent way to help foster and promote the legacy of the Association. It is the first and only historical marker in the United States to commemorate the founding of MLA.”
He went on to say, “The impact of Historical Markers is best described by the Philadelphia Historical & Museum Commission as posted on their Website: ‘Markers are many things to many people. They are memorials, history lessons, travelers’ guideposts, tourist attractions and a source of pride for communities that have them. They enlighten, inform and inspire the reader. Once they appear in the landscape, conversations arise and further research takes place. People actually talk to each other about the markers and what they mean to them.’ The Philadelphia Regional Chapter of MLA and National MLA cannot imagine any other way we could have reached such a wide and varied audience that goes well beyond our membership.”
Fulton believes the marker will have many benefits and she enumerated four of those. “I believe that many benefits will accrue from the marker located as it is in the heart of Philadelphia. First, the marker will serve as a touchstone for further exploration of MLA’s history and heritage. Second, the marker will help inform the public about the existence and importance of medical libraries. Hundreds of people will pass it each week, both residents and tourists from this country and abroad, and they won’t be able to miss the marker, which stands over ten feet tall. Some of them may even pause to consider the role medical libraries have played in the history of modern medicine. Third, the marker serves as a reminder of MLA’s longevity in that it is the oldest existing medical library association in the world. Members can be grateful for its resilience and aptitude for change. Fourth, the marker may prompt MLA to return to Philadelphia for one of its annual meetings in order that members may see and celebrate the newly erected historical marker.”
After the reception, I walked the block from the Union League to the Marker, taking pictures and watching hundreds of people walk past it on the busy street. I also had a sense of pride knowing that many of those people will look up and learn a little about a profession that has been invaluable to scientific and medical progress.
Marker text and photo: World’s oldest medical library association founded here in 1898 to facilitate access to reliable medical literature for the improvement of health care. Among the US and Canadian founders were George M. Gould, MD; Sir William Osler, MD; and Margaret R. Charlton, librarian.