Like many travelers, I frequently notice historical markers in small towns, in cities, and on roadsides. When I have time, I love to stop, read the marker and be reminded that history is all around us. Pennsylvania has over 2000 such markers and has a database to find ones in a given location or on a specific topic. On November 4, 2015, I had the unique pleasure of celebrating the unveiling of a new marker in Philadelphia. The marker commemorates the founding of the Medical Library Association (MLA), the national professional association of health sciences library and information professionals.
The marker was the brainchild of June Fulton, a fellow and past president of the Medical Library Association. When I asked Fulton what made her decide to apply for a historical marker, she provided the following explanation.
“It was my privilege to serve as Chair of MLA’s Centennial Coordinating Committee for the 1998 Centennial Annual Meeting in Philadelphia. It was during this meeting that I took the short walk from the Pennsylvania Convention Center to the site of MLA’s founding at 1420 Chestnut Street. I had never visited the site before and I was disappointed to see there was no recognition of the event that had occurred there and that holds such significance in the life of our association.”
Fulton continued: “As the years flew by, I would occasionally think about the idea of obtaining a historical marker for MLA. Then in 2014, Carla Funk, MLA’s Executive Director for almost 23 years, announced her retirement. I had worked closely with Carla and it was not enough to just say thank you for all she had done for me personally and for the Association. I wanted to find a way to pay tribute to Carla and her service to MLA that would be both tangible and permanent. A historical marker would fulfill both requirements. It would be highly visible on Chestnut Street, and once installed, would be maintained by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC).”
Dan Kipnis, chair of the Philadelphia Regional Chapter of MLA, says “the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission receives hundreds of applications for historical markers and they accept approximately 24 a year and June led the way on this impactful project.”
The marker is located at 1420-22 Chestnut Street, in the center of historic Philadelphia, and blocks away from such notable sites as Independence Hall, City Hall, and Penn’s Landing. The Philadelphia Chapter of the Medical Library Association held a reception at the Union League following the unveiling. The reception was attended by Chapter members, the Interim Director of the National Library of Medicine, MLA staff and board members, a representative from the PHMC, and other librarians. Speakers talked about the history of the Medical Library Association, the significance of the event, and the process of applying for a marker.
After the reception, I walked the block from the Union League to the marker, taking pictures and watching hundreds of people walk past it on the busy street. I had a sense of pride knowing that many of those people will look up and learn a little about a profession that has been invaluable to scientific and medical progress.