This post is the last in a four-part series showcasing notable figures in the history of the Academy Library as we celebrate our 175th anniversary. The first post focused on Dr. Samuel Smith Purple, the second post featured Dr. Archibald Malloch, and the third post featured Frank Place. A blog post on Janet Doe, another Library Luminary, appeared in 2021.
By Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian
In a Medical Library Association Oral History Committee interview published in 1978, Gertrude Annan (1904–1993), recounted the serendipitous turn of events that led her to the Library at the New York Academy of Medicine. Annan was born on December 4, 1904, grew up in Rhode Island, and graduated from Brown University in 1925 with a degree in English. A problem with her eyes initially prevented her from working, and during that time she decided not to pursue a teaching career, enrolling in secretarial school instead. She then accepted a job at the John Carter Brown Library, working for the librarian, Lawrence Wroth. Here she found the “most exciting, rewarding, enriching world that I never knew existed.” Wroth recognized how talented she was, quickly shifted her away from her secretarial duties and took her on as his assistant, teaching her about the history of books and printing, and how to catalog rare materials.
For two years Annan worked on a cataloging project at the JCB, but when she expressed an interest in going to New York, Wroth provided her with letters of introduction to scholars and bookmen. The book dealer Lathrop C. Harper introduced her to Archibald Malloch, who had become the Librarian at the Academy in 1926. Malloch already had plans to enrich the Library with a Rare Book and History Room, having purchased the Edward Clark Streeter collection of rare historical medical texts in 1928. When he offered Annan a job in 1929, Wroth told her to “Give it a good try. Stay at least 6 weeks.” She stayed for 41 years.
Annan took on the position of Head of the Rare Books Department shortly after her arrival in the Library, serving in that role for the next quarter century, a period of significant growth. The deep knowledge of Americana and the history of books and printing that she developed at the JCB combined with Malloch’s expertise in the history of medicine to make them ideal partners. Committed to developing the rare book holdings, they also recognized that building an extraordinary collection of reference books about the history of books and printing and the history of science and medicine was the key to making the Library even more useful. Their legacy endures: these reference works continue to be consulted by readers and library staff alike.
With her encouragement, in 1946 a group of interested Fellows formed the Friends of the Rare Book Room, and she worked closely with that group from its inception until her retirement. When the Friends decided in 1948 to launch a small periodical, The Academy Bookman, they did so because they were assured of her full collaboration. She collected content, provided editorial assistance, and documented the many gifts and purchases that arrived in the Library due to the generosity of the Friends and other donors in issue after issue over the course of the next several decades.
In 1953, Janet Doe, who stepped into the role of Librarian in 1949 after Malloch’s retirement, moved Annan into the position of Associate Librarian, and she became the Librarian herself when Doe retired in 1956. Annan and Doe already had a history of collaboration. Doe asked her to write two chapters, one on rare books and the history of medicine and the other a guide to the most useful reference works for a historical medical collection, for the first edition of the Handbook of Medical Library Practice, published in 1943. Annan later took on the role of editor herself, with Jacqueline Felter, for the third edition, which appeared in 1970.
As she shifted into her new administrative role in the Library, Annan also took on national leadership roles, as the leader or a member of the publication, finance, and nominating committees of the Medical Library Association, and then as its president in 1961, shepherding the association through the process of creating a central administrative office. She delivered the inaugural Janet Doe Lecture at the MLA annual meeting in 1967, and in 1968 was the recipient of its Marcia C. Noyes award. An advocate for collaboration among libraries, she was instrumental in the creation of the Medical Library Center of New York, which began providing services in 1961 at NYAM itself until its own headquarters opened in 1964. With others, she then worked on a model to expand the reach of the MLC into the broader New York metropolitan area and the state.
Annan’s interests in the history of medicine, the history of NYAM itself, and the development of the library profession led to a wide range of publications on many topics. She wrote short biographical articles about early Academy Fellows, including Alexander Stevens and Valentine Mott, and wrote extensively about the importance of collecting the history of medicine, and about the changing roles of medical and rare book librarians. A special tribute issue of The Academy Bookman published in 1971 provides a long (but not complete) list. A founder of the Medical Archivists of New York, after her retirement Annan spent years sorting and organizing the Academy’s own archives, and the meticulous finding aids she created are invaluable to anyone searching for information about NYAM’s history up through the early 1980s.
Joseph Tamerin began his Bookman tribute piece to Annan and her work with archives with an illustration of her with one of her acknowledged Academy heroes, Samuel Smith Purple.
To honor her years of devoted service, in 1974 NYAM awarded the Academy Plaque to its two great woman librarians, Gertrude Annan and Janet Doe. It was a well-deserved honor for them both. Annan died on December 2, 1993.
Annan, Gertrude L. (Gertrude Louise), Vicki Glasgow, Myrl Ebert, and Estelle Brodman. Medical Library Association Oral History Committee Interview with Gertrude Louise Annan. Chicago, IL: Medical Library Association, 1978.
Annan, Gertrude L., Jacqueline W. Felter, Erich Meyerhoff, and Lee Ash. “Regional Plans for Medical Library Service New York State and the New York Metropolitan Area.” Bulletin of the Medical Library Association 52, no. 3 (1964): 503.
Keys, Thomas E. “Past presidents I have known.” Bulletin of the Medical Library Association 63, no. 1 (1975): 49.
Lambert Jr, S. W. “Presentation of the Academy Plaque to Miss Gertrude L. Annan.” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 50, no. 10 (1974): 1059.
Meyerhoff, E. “Gertrude Louise Annan, 1904–1993.” Bulletin of the Medical Library Association 82, no. 4 (1994): 458.
Morgenstern, S., P. Cranefield, P. Wade, J. W. Felter, M. H. Saffron, J. A. Tamerin, C. C. Morchand, and A. S. Lyons. “Tributes to Gertrude L. Annan.” The Academy Bookman 24, no. 2 (1971): 2–20.
 Gertrude L. (Gertrude Louise) Annan, et al. Medical Library Association Oral History Committee Interview with Gertrude Louise Annan. Medical Library Association, 1978, p. 2.