The move to open: medical library leadership in scholarly communication


  • Chris Shaffer University Librarian, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Information Management, and Adjunct Professor, Department of Medicine, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, CA



Janet Doe Lecture, Open Access, Open Science, History, Philosophy, Medical Library Association


Over the years, health sciences librarians have been change agents, leading the charge on issues of importance to the profession and the communities we serve. From its founding in 1898 with the Exchange, the Medical Library Association (MLA) has been dedicated to improving access to health information. In 2003, the Board of Directors published a statement supporting open access to information generated from federally funded scientific and medical research and maintained that having access to timely, relevant, and accurate information is vital to the health of the nation and its education and research programs. At some financial risk, the association made the Journal of the Medical Library Association (JMLA) open access and published the entire archive of JMLA and its predecessor, the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, in PubMed Central. Nearly two decades later, the promise of open access and open science finally seems to be coming to fruition. In the 2020 Janet Doe Lecture, Chris Shaffer, AHIP, described the ways that MLA has led the profession, standing behind a shared vision and “walking the walk.” In challenging listeners to embrace open science, he affirmed that, as leaders in improving access to health sciences information since 1898, medical librarians must work in the open science arena to realize our vision “that quality information is essential for improved health.”


Perry GJ. The activist health sciences librarian. J Med Libr Assoc. 2020 Jan;108(1):5–16. DOI:

Martin ER. Social justice and the medical librarian. J Med Libr Assoc. 2019 Jul;107(3):291–303. DOI:

Cleveland AD. Miles to go before we sleep: education, technology, and the changing paradigms in health information. J Med Libr Assoc. 2011 Jan;99(1):61–9. DOI:

Braude RM. On the origin of a species: evolution of health sciences librarianship. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1997 Jan;85(1):1–10.

Adams S. Medical bibliography in an age of discontinuity. Chicago, IL: Medical Library Association; 1981.

Connor J. Guardians of medical knowledge: the genesis of the Medical Library Association. Lanham, MD, and London, UK: Medical Library Association and Scarecrow Press; 2000.

Gould GM. The work of an association of medical librarians. Med Libr. 1898 May;1(4):15–9.

FOSTER. Open science [Internet]. FOSTER [cited 1 Aug 2020]. <>.

Medical Library Association. About MLA: vision, core values, and mission [Internet]. The Association [cited 1 Aug 2020]. <>.

Gould GM. Editorial comment. Am Med. 1901;1(3):97–101.

Medical Library Association. Official program, Medical Library Association, June 11–17, 1982, Anaheim, California [Internet]. The Association; 1982 [cited 1 Aug 2020]. <>.

Medical Library Association, Incorporated. Certificate of incorporation. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1959 Oct;47(4):494–505.

Medical Library Association. Communities: backmed-exchange [Internet]. The Association [cited 1 Aug 2020]. <>.

Connor JJ. Only for “purely scientific” institutions: the Medical Library Association’s Exchange, 1898–1950s. J Med Libr Assoc. 2011 Apr;99(2):118–26. DOI:

Poland UH. Reflections on the Medical Library Association’s international activities. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1982 Oct;70(4):359–68.

Annan GL. The Medical Library Association in retrospect, 1937–1967. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1967 Oct;55(4):379–89.

Kurth WH. Survey of the interlibrary loan operation of the National Library of Medicine. Washington, DC: US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, US Public Health Service; 1962.

Bennett MA, Litchfield DH. Problems of microphotography. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1939 Dec;28(2):105–9.

Keys TE. In furtherance of research: free microfilm copying. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1944 Jan;32(1):1.

Bird W. TWX and interlibrary loans. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1969 Apr;57(2):125–9.

Johnson Jr. MF, Pride RB. OCTANET—an electronic library network: I. design and development. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1983 Apr;71(2):184–91.

Smith J. The RAPIDly changing world of interlibrary loan. Tech Serv Q. 2006 Aug 18;23(4):17–25.

Lemkau Jr. HL. Constants, context, and change: the pursuit of purpose. J Med Libr Assoc. 2008 Jan;96(1):12–9. DOI:

Cronin B, Atkins HB. The Web of Knowledge: a festschrift in honor of Eugene Garfield. Medford NJ: Information Today; 2000. 600 p.

Pizer IH. Looking backward, 1984–1959: twenty-five years of library automation—a personal view. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1984 Oct;72(4):335–48.

Moll W. AIM-TWX service at the University of Virginia: a review and evaluation. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1971 Jul;59(3):458–62.

Lawrence B. Bibliographic searching: now within your reach. ACM SIGCUE Outlook. 1987 Apr 1;19(3–4):83–9.

A library, its users, and its technology: 40 years at the National Library of Medicine. The Recompiler [Internet]. 2016(4) [cited 16 Aug 2020]. <>.

Green CJ. GRATEFUL MED [letter to the editor]. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1994 Jan;82(1):77–8.

White HS. The GRATEFUL MED program and the medical library profession. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1993 Jan;81(1):73–5.

Redman PM, Kelly JA, Albright ED, Anderson PF, Mulder C, Schnell EH. Common ground: the HealthWeb project as a model for Internet collaboration. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1997 Oct;85(4):325–30.

Rees AM. Communication in the physician-patient relationship. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1993 Jan;81(1):1–10.

Holst R. Hospital libraries in perspective. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1991 Jan;79(1):1–9.

Rambo N. Health Information Literacy Task Force final report [Internet]. Medical Library Association; 2005 [cited 1 Aug 2020]. <>.

Crotty D. Public access: getting medical information to patients. Scholarly Kitchen [Internet]. 1 May 2015 [cited 1 Aug 2020]. <>.

Hickner A. MLA awards 2015 Louise Darling Medal to Yale partner HINARI [Internet]. Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library; 2015 [cited 1 Aug 2020]. <>.

Squires SJ, ed. Proceedings, One Hundredth Annual Meeting, Medical Library Association, Inc. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada May 5–11, 2000. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 2001 Jan;89(1):97–125.

American Association for the Advancement of Science. NET NEWS: PubMed Central debuts, global archive plan released. Science. 2000 Feb 25;287(5457):1359.

Plutchak TS. Whose business is it? [editorial]. J Med Libr Assoc. 2003 Jul;91(3):277–9.

Medical Library Association. MLA statement on open access [Internet]. The Association; 2003 [cited 1 Aug 2020]. <>.

Plutchak TS. Embracing open access [editorial]. J Med Libr Assoc. 2004 Jan;92(1):1–3.

NIH public access policy. In: Wikipedia [Internet]. 2020 [cited 1 Aug 2020]. <>.

Plutchak TS. The impact of open access [editorial]. J Med Libr Assoc. 2005 Oct;93(4):419–21.

Thibodeau PL, Tagler J. The Chicago collaborative. Ser Libr. 2010 Apr 1;58(1–4):149–56.

Akers KG, Read KB, Amos L, Federer LM, Logan A, Plutchak TS. Announcing the Journal of the Medical Library Association’s data sharing policy. J Med Libr Assoc. 2019 Oct;107(4):468–71. DOI:

Schmidt H, Butter K, Rider C. Building digital tobacco industry document libraries at the University of California, San Francisco Library/Center for Knowledge Management. D-Lib Mag [Internet]. 2002 Sep;8(9) [cited 16 Aug 2020]. <>.

University of California, San Francisco. Industry Documents Library: overview [Internet]. The University [cited 14 Oct 2020]. <>.

Novak Gustainis ER. Ever-evolving: introducing the Medical Heritage Library, Inc. [history matters]. J Med Libr Assoc. 2019 Apr;107(2):265–9. DOI:

Bole K. UCSF implements policy to make research papers freely accessible to public [Internet]. University of California, San Francisco; 2012 [cited 1 Aug 2020]. <>.

Office of Scholarly Communication, University of California. UC systemwide academic senate open access policy [Internet]. The Office; 2013 [cited 1 Aug 2020]. <>.

Office of Scholarly Communication, University of California. UC presidential open access policy [Internet]. The Office; 2015 [cited 1 Aug 2020]. <>.

Brainard J. Huge open-access journal deal inked by University of California and Springer Nature [Internet]. Science. 16 Jun 2020 [cited 1 Aug 2020]. <>.

Myers GW. War bibliography. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1917 Oct;7(2):25–7.

Medical Library Association. About: MLA milestones [Internet]. The Association [cited 1 Aug 2020]. <>.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Open science movement [Internet]. The Organization [cited 1 Aug 2020]. <>.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Open science [Internet]. The Organisation [cited 1 Aug 2020]. <>.






Lectures and Awards