Women’s History Month: The five women who have led the health sciences library

In recognition of March as National Women’s History Month and 2023 as the 100th anniversary year of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center Library, we are honored to share brief highlights of the five women who have served as its library directors.

Since the 1923 founding of the WHSC Library, originally dedicated as the A.W. Calhoun Medical Library, there have been only five directors, all notable female leaders. Each has been instrumental to enhancing the efforts and vision of Emory University health education, research, and excellence as well as impacting the wider history of health and medicine, and local and regional health communities: M. Myrtle Tye (service dates: 1924-1933), Mildred Jordan (1933-1965), Miriam Libbey (1965-1984), Carol Burns (1984-2000), and Sandra Franklin (2002-current) have each been foundational to making the library and services what they are today.

From the left to right, M. Myrtle Tye (director service dates: 1924-1933), Mildred Jordan (1933-1965), Miriam Libbey (1965-1984), Carol Burns (1984-2000), and Sandra Franklin (2002-current)

As its first visionary, M. Myrtle Tye established the health sciences collection, including the purchase of a rare 1543 first edition of the De Humani Corporis Fabrica which remains a treasure of the University archives. Mildred Jordan then expanded library services to include regional services for the Armed Forces Medical Library, a precursor to the National Library of Medicine. Miriam Libbey continued these efforts, making Emory a nationally designated Regional Medical Library from 1969-1982. These efforts underscored the library as a central space for essential medical information and access for the University, Atlanta, and communities beyond.

Appointed in 1984, Carol Burns brought the library into the internet age, expanded collections to support the new School of Public Health, and served as key collaborator with the Atlanta-Tbilisi project, an Emory partnership which continues to this day. Burns later received the Ida and George Eliot Prize for research as part of an innovative study on evidence-based librarianship. In 2002, Sandra Franklin was appointed and continues as the first person of color in the role. Franklin has expanded traditional roles of librarianship to include the Clinical Informationist Team, Systematic Review Team, and Research Impact Services. Franklin received the Gerald J. Oppenheimer Cornerstone Award in 2022 for significant career impact from the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries.