In our week of focusing on reference librarians at NLM, today we’re featuring Ron Gordner, who has been a go-to source of information at NLM since 1990. Tomorrow, we’ll focus on a librarian who found her dream job here only after her child became ill. On Friday, we’ll share some of the more unusual requests that NLM reference librarians have received through the years.
Ron Gordner never would have considered a career as a librarian. He thought you had to be a bookworm. He wasn’t.
But he was curious.
Perhaps that’s what led him to take a course in reference librarianship during his freshman year of college.
Gordner has fond memories of his final exam in that course. “It was like a scavenger hunt. For one hour, we were let loose in the library,” he said. “We were detectives.”
Lucky for Gordner the college he was attending was one of a few in Pennsylvania with an undergraduate degree in educational media that also certified school librarians.
Ever since then, Gordner has been putting those detective skills to work. As a librarian, he says, “You don’t need to know the answer. You’re a pathfinder.”
One of Gordner’s earliest medical library jobs was as a circuit rider librarian at Robert Packer Hospital/Guthrie Clinic in Sayre, Pennsylvania. The circuit rider program was initially suggested by Dr. William Beck and Jean Antes based on the first circuit rider program at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. The Guthrie circuit, which served several rural Pennsylvania hospitals, was funded initially in 1976 by the local Donald Guthrie Foundation for Medical Research. Later it was funded by an NLM grant beginning in 1979 to cover additional health facilities in northern Pennsylvania and south central New York.
“The circuit riders were like personal shoppers,” explains Gordner. They drove up to 600 miles per week to hospitals, medical clinics, counseling and psychiatric medical facilities, and nursing homes throughout northern Pennsylvania and south central New York to provide library services to physicians, nurses, and other hospital personnel and to build small library collections in the medical facilities.
Even after he began supervising other librarians, Gordner was still driving about 150-200 miles weekly to cover a few of the rural medical facilities. He needed a change. So he tried something different—very different.
He served as a librarian in a maximum-security prison. Although it was a new facility, running an active library program was problematic with changing budgets, personnel, and bureaucracy. He lasted six months and returned to working in medical libraries.
He didn’t have to look long for another position. Two offers came through right away, including one at NLM. His decision was easy. “Of course, it’s the mother ship,” he explained.
That was 27 years and thousands of requests ago.
In the beginning of his career at NLM, the Library was open six days a week and four nights a week. “There were ropes up like they have in the theater as people were lined up for help,” he said.
Even though the ropes and extended hours for the reading room are long gone, the Library still fulfills requests.
As Gordner says, “The world is our public.”
And that public is savvier than ever.
“They know about evidence-based medicine, and they want more authoritative information,” says Gordner. (On Friday, we’ll feature some of the unusual questions Gordner and his colleagues have received.)
Like other reference librarians at NLM, Gordner has many responsibilities. He reviews MedlinePlus health topics for content and evaluates new resources for possible addition to the Main Reading Room reference collection. He also reviews proposed MeSH terms (medical subject headings), updates a subject guide on drug information, and gives presentations to visitors on improving their search skills.
After all, Gordner is like a detective who will share all his sleuthing secrets.
This story is a part of our weeklong series on reference librarians. Tomorrow we’ll introduce Wanda Whitney, and on Friday, we’ll tell you about some of the more unusual requests that NLM reference librarians have received—and how they were answered.