Henriette Avram:
A Pioneer in Information Science
by Joan Lussky
Assistant Professor
The Catholic University of America
School of Library and Information Science
CUA-SLIS Bridging the Spectrum
A Symposium on Scholarship & Practice in Library and Information Science
January 30, 2009
Henriette Davidson Avram
Henriette Davidson Avram
Historical context
Successful strategy for change
Historical context within the
United States in the 1960s
 The post-WWII economy
 Leadership
 The work force
United States in the 1960s
Technology – IBM 701 (Essentially the 2nd major computer in
existence. The computer occupied a whole room.)
The post-WWII economy -- a time of economic growth,
introduction of many new social programs, and a surge in government
funding for R&D especially in science and technology.
U.S. presidents -- Kennedy (1961 – 63); Johnson (1963 – 69)
Nixon (1969 – 74)
The work force – beginning of formal initiatives to ensure the
rights of minorities and women. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, initially
designed to protect the rights of African Americans and amended to
explicitly protecht women too. The Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (EEOC) was created as part of this Act.
Historical context within the
Library of Congress
 Funding from Congress
 Leadership
 The work force
Library of Congress in the1960s
Technology – by late 1960s LC had acquired minimal computer
technology: one IBM 1410 for processing payroll
Funding – a general trend toward increased support by Congressional.
Annual appropriations for 1958 = $11,770K; 1961 = $16,086K;
1965 = $24, 082K
Leadership -- Luther Harris Evans
The work force – LC’s participation in the war effort plus the increased
(1945–1953) expanded the collection
to 32 million – especially in the area of research and overseas material; L.
Quincy Munford (1954-1974) 1st professionally trained librarian in this post,
expanded the staff
backlog due to Evans’ expansion of the collection stressed the staff so much
that they left in droves for other federal jobs. During Mumford’s administration
there were ~300 appointments and promotions which ultimately helped speedup the time it took to process new library acquisitions.
Early years
 Pre-Library of Congress
 Library of Congress
Influences – the early years
Born 1919
Father: employed as a distributor of watch-making material
Mother: employed as a reporter for the Philadelphia Ledger
Frequent visitor to the local public library
Some coursework in pre-med at Hunter College; some
coursework in mathematics at George Washington University
Married Herbert Avram at the age of 21 (1941)
Relocated to suburbs of DC in 1952 due to her husband’s job
with the National Security Agency (NSA).
Influences – Pre-LC
Employed at NSA (1952-1959). Worked with
Dorothy Bloom, a major influence on Avram
(Pattie 1998 pp.72). There she became one of
~100 people worldwide who was programming
on a computer
Worked as a systems analyst and programmer
for American Research Bureau and Datatrol
Corporation (second U.S. software company).
Also set up a computer science library at
Influences – Dorothy T. Blum
Blum introduced Avram, while
at NSA, to computers and
impressed upon her “the prime
necessity of thoroughly
understanding the subject
before tackling the computer
(Pattie 1998 pp72).
Influences – Library of Congress
The James Madison Memorial Building of the Library of Congress.
Avram moved here, from her previous office in the Jefferson Building, in
1980 after its construction was completed.
Influences --LC
In 1964, the year before Avram started work at the Library of Congress,
the Information Systems staff had only two employees.
In 1965, hired as a systems analyst. Now the Office had seven
employees including Henriette Avram.
Assigned to work with Kay Guiles (cataloging staff) and Ruth Frietag
(reference staff) to develop a computer format that would “read”
bibliographic information for all the library formats and different languages
and alphabets embodied in LC’s collection of 32 million items.
Initially met with Mumford once a week to instruct him on automation
John G. Lorenz (Deputy Librarian 1965-76) and William J. Welsch (Head
of Processing Department 1968-1976, Deputy Librarian 1976-88) both
quite supportive of Avram’s work. She reports that “with rare exception,
[they] made the impossible possible” (Pattie 1998 pp73).
Influences –Librarian of Congress
Quincy Munford, Librarian of
Congress from 1954-1974.
MARC – Machine-readable cataloging
“MARC is an assemblage of formats, publications, procedures, people, standards,
systems, equipment, etc. that has evolved over the years stimulating the
development of library automation and information networks.” (Avram, 1975)
MARC Distribution Service (1969-) --Distribution of machine-readable cataloging
data. Start of computer-to-computer linking to access local/remote data. Facilitated
bibliographic utilities, state and regional networks and systems for local processing
of library material
Cooperative cataloging initiatives -- Linked Systems Project (LSP) and National
RECON Pilot Project – although ultimately not undertaken by LC, she did begin
Cooperative Cataloging Program (NCCP) –designed for sharing data across
bibliographic utilities & avoid costly duplication of effort. These initiatives continue
today under the umbrella program: Program for Cooperative Cataloging (begun in
many conversations about how to move forward with the retrospective conversion of
print catalog records into machine-readable. 1969-71 LC undertook a feasibility
study, funded by Council on Library Resources (CLR).
Copyright of bibliographic records – another topic area where Avram initiated
national conversations on ownership, digital rights, and the propriety of selling
bibliographic records.
“To a great a great extent, Avram and [Fred] Kilgour
were the two most critical pioneers in creating the
ability for libraries to share metadata easily and
efficiently: Avram through the development of MARC,
and Kilgour as the founding director of OCLC.
Between the two of them, they set the stage for an
incredible revolution in libraries, as the MARCbased network became the vital underpinnings of a
nation-wide collaboration that informed the last
40 years of library development.” [emphasis added by author]
Hilmann, Diane I. (2006) “Taking a Fresh look at Standards” Technicalities 26(6): pp8.
Achievements -- MARC
Format structure and data content
Other elements (extended character set, the country
and language codes, etc.)
Accompanying publications (written, maintained, and
ANSI and NISO standards
MARC Distribution Service (launched in 1969)
Beta test with sixteen libraries from across the country
was started in 1966. The first set of MARC records
were distributed on computer tapes in October of 1966.
The operational distribution service was launched in
March of 1969.
A Sample of her Awards
“[S]he has won about every top honor that can be bestowed
on a librarian” (Rather & Wiggins (1989) pp 856).
1971 Margaret Mann Citation
 1974 Federal Women’s Award
 1981 Melville Dewey Award
 1987 Honorary Fellow of IFLA
 1988 Joseph W. Lippincott Award
 1989 NISO Fellow
 1990 Professional Award, SLA
 1990 John Ames Humphrey/Forest Press Award
 1992 LC Distinguished Service Award
 1997 ALA Honorary Membership
Successful Strategy for Change
 Stakeholders
 Standards
 Education
 Iterative
 Play
Successful Strategy for Change
“A key factor in her success had much to do with
the character of the lady herself – in her typical
fashion, she stepped into the world of libraries
and learned libraries’ problems, adopting them
as her own. She was never one to be spoon-fed
by others. […] no matter how hectic things got in
those pioneering days, she was writing,
publishing, speaking, taking work home, advising
people, and performing myriad other tasks to
further the acceptance of MARC.”
(Rather & Wiggins 1989 pp856)
Successful Strategy for Change
Communicate – talked with those around her at LC: bosses, coworkers, and librarians in other departments. Wrote numerous
publication about MARC
Stakeholders – reached out to the stakeholders of MARC
Standards – actively pursued the adoption of MARC as a national and
international standard
-- held institutes all over the US to teach librarians MARC. First
institute held in July 1968 in Seattle, Washington. First edition of MARC
Manuals issued in 1969 by Library of Congress.
Iterative – maintained a sustained and ongoing effort to see her vision.
Play – enjoyed taking time off from work
Henriette Davidson Avram
Truly impressive library pioneer
Lasting impact on library automation
Worked tirelessly and fearlessly
Appreciated that initiating and maintaining
“conversations” with stakeholders was
Avram, H.D. (1975) MARC, its History and Implications. Washington, Library of Congress.
Avram, H.D. (1987) “Toward a Nationwide Library Network” Journal of Library Administration.
Conaway, James (2000) America’s Library: the Story of the Library of Congress 1800-2000. New Haven:
Yale University Press in association with The Library of Congress.
Fox, Margalit (2006) “Henriette D. Avram, Modernizer of Libraries, Dies at 86” New York Times. May 3,
Hilmann, D.I. (2006) “Taking a Fresh Look at Standards” Technicalities 26(6): 8-11.
Intner, S. (2007) “Passing of an Era” Technicalities 27(2):1, 3-4.
Library of Congress. (1958-1965) Annual Report of the Librarian of Congress. U.S. G.P.O.
Library of Congress, Program for Cooperative Cataloging (2008) “Towards a New Beginning in
Cooperative Cataloging” available at: http://www.loc.gov/catdir/pcc/introduction.html
Pattie, L.W. (1998) “Henriette Davidson Avram, the Great Legacy” Cataloging & Classification 25(2/3): 6781.
Rather, L.J. & B. Wiggins (1989) “Close-up on the Career of a Towering Figure in Library Automation and
Bibliographic Control” American Libraries 20(9): 855-859.
Schudel, Matt (2006) “Henriette D. Avram; Transfomed Libraries” Washington Post. April 28, 2006.

Organization of Information CLSC--551