NLM Library Operations Chief Sheldon Kotzin Retires, Closes the Book on a Brilliant Career

Sheldon KotzinIn the summer of 1968, Sheldon Kotzin made what he calls “a life-altering decision.” After getting his masters in library science from Indiana University, he accepted a job offer to become a library associate at the National Library of Medicine. It was, he says, “the beginning of a long and happy relationship with NLM.” The relationship took him from associate to Associate Director for Library Operations (LO) and lasted a remarkable 43 years until his retirement in June 2012.

“There hasn’t been a day in the 43 years I’ve worked here that I haven’t looked forward to coming to NLM,” says Kotzin, who describes the Library as his home away from his home.

Kotzin’s career and contributions chronicle the Library’s growth; its early embrace of computers; its reach and its relevance. He headed the Catalog Maintenance Unit and the Collection Access Section. He was coordinator of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine; chief of the Bibliographic Services Division; and assumed leadership of LO in 2006. He was executive editor of MEDLINE; scientific administrator of the Literature Selection Technical Review Committee; and the Library’s representative to the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors.

At a retirement celebration in June, NLM Director Donald A.B. Lindberg, MD ticked off a long list of changes in which Kotzin was involved, including the end of the card catalog, the evolution of Grateful Med, and the growth of the Associate Fellowship Program. “Thank you for the wonderful work you’ve done,” Dr. Lindberg said to Kotzin, “You’ve helped LO be modern, be efficient, and be happy.”

Sheldon Kotzin and Betsy HumphreysSpeaker after speaker praised Kotzin for his knowledge and his leadership—his mind and his manner. NLM Deputy Director Betsy L. Humphreys, who has worked with Kotzin for almost 40 years, noted that he’s quick to point to the great work others are doing. “He is always deflecting the credit to the people who work for him and to his colleagues in other parts of the Library,” she said.

Another long-time colleague, Kent Smith, former NLM Deputy Director, said of Kotzin, “Ever alert, he is a problem identifier as well as a problem solver; one who listens carefully, acts rationally, and collaborates effectively with others in the pursuit of progress, and all in a pleasant manner.”

People throughout the NLM family recognized Kotzin in word and deed. Joyce Backus, Deputy Associate Director for LO, said that when word of Kotzin’s impending retirement got out, she was flooded with offers from people who wanted to help pay tribute to his years of service.  Kotzin asked that any monetary contributions made on the occasion of his retirement go to the Children’s Inn at NIH, a home-away-from-home for children being treated at the National Institutes of Health and their families. More than $3,000 was donated.

When it was Kotzin’s turn to speak to the overflow crowd of colleagues, past and present, he thanked the people he learned from over the years—people throughout the NLM family, the library community, and the publishing field.

“The library is a rare place, service-oriented like few institutions,” Kotzin said. “We work inside walls, under a roof, but these don’t define or limit us. The magic of NLM is our collection, our information resources, and our people.”

By Shana Potash, NLM in Focus editor

Top Photo: Sheldon Kotzin by Troy Pfister

Bottom Photo: NLM Deputy Director Betsy Humphreys presents Kotzin with a box containing a card from an old NLM card catalog. Photo by Troy Pfister.