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Alumna Lucretia McClure is one of America’s longest-practicing medical librarians

Lucretia McClure flies from New York to Boston every week to work at the Countway Library of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Photo: Rose Lincoln/Harvard University

“Medical students are very bright to get into medical school. But they’re totally ignorant of medical literature.”

This provocative statement comes from one who should know. Lucretia McClure (MA ’64) learned her trade at the University of Denver’s School of Librarianship (now the Library and Information Science Program) and is now one of the oldest practicing librarians in the Medical Library Association (MLA).

As a medical librarian, McClure is charged with knowing the full breadth of medical research materials old and new—from journals to textbooks to specific articles on any medical subject—thereby serving as an essential resource for a doctor in need of crucial information.

“I see medical students who have not been given the instruction in college they used to give,” says McClure, who spent almost 30 years at the Edward G. Miner Library at the University of Rochester Medical Center and now works at the Countway Library of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, where she has been for nearly 15 years. Now 85, she takes the one-hour flight to campus from her home in Rochester, N.Y., every week and stays at her apartment in Boston.

“It’s presumed that anybody in college is computer literate and doesn’t need help,” she says. “But they do, because there’s so much wonderful old medical literature, and students who never look at it are missing what makes medicine so rich.”

McClure grew up in Denver, attended the University of Missouri and moved to Rochester with her husband in 1951. As their two sons got older, McClure wanted a career. She enrolled at DU in part because she and the boys could stay with her mother while she attended school.

After college, McClure returned home to Rochester. In 1964 she got a job at the Miner Library, where she worked for almost three decades, eventually rising to the position of director. She became eminent in the field, serving as president of the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries and the MLA and sitting on the New York State Board of Regents Council on Libraries.

Along the way, she became a prominent advocate for her profession: fighting hard to secure funding, speaking at industry events and representing the MLA’s position on various issues.

McClure’s husband passed away in 1992 and she retired a year later, but when a friend at the Countway Library asked for her assistance on a project, she couldn’t say no. She became a Countway employee shortly thereafter, and she has been there ever since.

“She’s the quintessential librarian and a fountain of knowledge,” says Judith Messerle, the former director of the Countway Library. “Lucretia understands the literature of medicine and the history of the field, so she can talk the same language as doctors and medical students. And because she knows the literature, she’s an incredible sleuth. She can find the hardest answer.”

McClure has thought about retiring again, but she understands from experience that an attempt at retirement could be just the next step on what has been a long, distinguished and rewarding career.

“As soon as I retired the first time, I got calls asking me to do things,” she says. “I figure the same thing will happen again — something will come my way that I hadn’t planned. So I figure that I’ll find out when I retire what’s out there.”

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