Democratic librarianship: the role of the medical library in promoting democracy and social justice


  • Elaine Russo Martin Director of Library Services, Countway Library, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA



Erich Meyerhoff, Festschrift, Democratic Librarianship, Medical Library Association


Evidence suggests that Erich Meyerhoff was one of the first practitioners of democratic librarianship throughout his long and productive life. This essay defines democratic librarianship in the context of democratic ideals and social justice and posits actions that the profession should be taking to thrive and lead in a multicultural environment, including being a place for active engagement, crucial conversations, and debate. Democratic librarianship is broader than social justice but incorporates social justice ideals in promoting a socially just and democratic society.


Roosevelt FD. Boston general sessions proceedings: message from the president. ALA Bull. 1941 Sep;35(8):P18.

Gorman M. Our enduring values: librarianship in the 21st century. Chicago, IL: American Library Association; 2000.

American Democracy Project. Interview with Nancy Kranich on libraries and democracy [Internet]. American Association of State Colleges and Universities [cited 17 Jun 2019]. <>.

Wikipedia contributors. Post-truth politics [Internet]. Wikimedia Foundation [cited 17 Jun 2019]. <>.

Klein A. Obama calls for ‘democracy with a small d.’ Washington, DC: World Net Daily [cited 17 Jun 2019]. <>.

Utah Library Association. Intellectual freedom: the cornerstone of democracy and librarianship [Internet]. The Association [cited 17 Jun 2017]. <>.

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

Jensen R. The myth of the neutral professional. Progressive Libr. 2004 Winter;(24):28–34.

Perry GJ. The activist health sciences librarian [Janet Doe Lecture]. Presented at: MLA ’19, 119th Annual Meeting of the Medical Library Association; Chicago, IL; May 6, 2019.

Fitzsimmons R. Intellectual freedom in a democratic society. Presented at: International Conference: Freedom of Expression, Censorship, Libraries; Riga, Latvia; 14–17 Oct 1998.

Dzur AW. Democratic professionalism: citizen participation and the reconstruction of professional ethics, identity, and practice. State College, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press; 2008.

Meyerhoff E. Foundations of medical librarianship. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1977 Oct;65(4):409–18.

Anderson R, interviewer. Medical Library Center of New York with Erich Meyerhoff (AHIP, FMLA). MLA Oral History Series; Medical Library Association; 7 Aug 2003. (Summary available at <>. [cited 17 Jun 2019]).

Wilkinson MD, Dumontier M, Aalbersberg IJ, Appleton G, Axton M, Baak A, Blomberg N, Boiten JW, da Silva Santos LB, Bourne PE, Bouwman J, Brookes AJ, Clark T, Crosas M, Dillo I, Dumon O, Edmunds S, Evelo CT, Finkers R, Gonzalez-Beltran A, Gray AJ, Groth P, Goble C, Grethe JS, Heringa J, ’t Hoen PA, Hooft R, Kuhn T, Kok R, Kok J, Lusher SJ, Martone ME, Mons A, Packer AL, Persson B, Rocca-Serra P, Roos M, van Schaik R, Sansone SA, Schultes E, Sengstag T, Slater T, Strawn G, Swertz MA, Thompson M, van der Lei J, van Mulligen E, Velterop J, Waagmeester A, Wittenburg P, Wolstencroft K, Zhao J, Mons B. The FAIR guiding principles for scientific data management and stewardship. Sci Data. 2016 Mar 15;3:160018.

Greenberg SJ. Erich Meyerhoff, AHIP, FMLA, 1919–2015: a remembrance [obituary]. J Med Libr Assoc. 2016 Oct;104(4):263–6. DOI:

Meyerhoff E. International activities. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1991 Jul;79(3):328.

Putnam RD. Bowling alone: the collapse and revival of American community. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster; 2000.

Wikipedia. Ritchie Boy [Internet]. Wikimedia Foundation [cited 17 Jun 2019]. <>.

Gallagher P. Personal correspondence. Mar 14 2019.

MacLeish A. The librarian and the democratic process. ALA Bull. 1940 Jun;34(6):385–422.

Kranich N. Mind the gap: connecting academic libraries and campus communities. NEA Almanac Higher Educ. 2017:47–59.