Thank You, Irma Johnson

Many, many years ago when I was shelving books in the MIT Humanities Library I was fortunate to have the benefit of advice from several members of the staff who took an interest in my “career.”  One of them was the Science Librarian, Irma Johnson.  I got to know Irma well because every summer she would want some portion of her collection shifted to better serve her clientele—and I did the shifting.  It was an interesting way to learn the literature of the sciences!

That was the beginning of a 31-year stay in the MIT Libraries during which time I became Irma’s boss and my real learning from her began.  She had her finger on the pulse of the needs of her users—mathematicians are heavily dependent upon the literature of the past, similar to historians; materials science was a discipline invented at MIT and heavily dependent on the literatures of many sciences; demanding chemists need access to their literature 24×7; the food and nutrition folks were doing interesting work with freeze-drying that might have library preservation applications, etc.  Irma clearly shaped my curiosity about user behavior and my lifelong perspective of looking at everything we do from the user’s viewpoint.

I kept in touch with Irma throughout my career each time thanking her for those early lessons.  She passed away in 2010 at the age of 86.  I recently came across a memo Irma sent me at the end of April 1980.  I’m not sure what triggered the message, but it did bring back fond memories of my time with her influence on my life.

“People who desire it will continue to learn from each other throughout their professional lives.  I think you and I are such people.

Not everyone will take the time to credit their colleagues.  Yet it is as important when we are older as we when we are young.

Thanks, David.”

Do you have someone to thank today?

3 thoughts on “Thank You, Irma Johnson

  1. RIP Irma Johnson. It is obvious that you have put a lot of effort into this! I thought I’d just leave a quick message saying good job!!

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