Archive for the ‘Latest Blog posts’ Category

Henry J. Kaiser and the New Economics of Medical Care

posted on March 13, 2018

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Funding for hospital construction may seem like a dry subject.  But it’s vital if you live in a community that doesn’t have adequate facilities for health care.  And that was the situation after the Great Depression and World War II, when hospital construction virtually stopped. In this stirring speech before the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. in 1954, Henry J. Kaiser appealed to the information influencers to promote passage of legislation for building more hospitals. In it, he uttered this bold challenge:

If we can build ships, and planes, and tanks, and guns, and bullets to protect our national security, can we not build hospitals, and clinics to protect the lives of our people?

This podcast explores many of the same themes as this one by Kaiser Permanente’s founding physician, Sidney Garfield, MD: the challenges of providing affordable, quality health care to a population that was new to the concept of a health plan. In this speech, Henry Kaiser artfully engages his audience by pointing out the economic similarities between prepaid health care and print journalism:

Your services are paid for monthly by the subscribers of the thousands of newspapers all over the country.  You offer comprehensive news coverage on a monthly payment basis. We do have that in common.

Health care for the people, a challenge in 1954 as it is today.


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Slacks, Not Slackers – Women’s Role in Winning World War II

posted on March 8, 2018

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

Gladys Theus, welder in Kaiser Richmond shipyard #2 who won “fastest welder” contest, 10/15/1944. Photo by E.F. Joseph; courtesy Careth Reid collection.

March 8 – International Women’s Day.

Women played a vital role in the World War II home front. But advancements in workplace equality didn’t come easily. Women faced significant hurdles at the start, and then had to struggle for recognition afterward. Still, women who worked in the Kaiser shipyards helped lay the groundwork for a new era that included, among other advances, greater employment opportunities and child care options.

Breaking Down Employment Barriers

Women were initially excluded from membership in the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders and Helpers of America, the largest union in the WWII shipyards and a gateway to employment there. So, on September 8, 1942, women welders and burners, representing hundreds barred from war production jobs in the new Marinship Corporation shipyards at Sausalito, stormed Boilermakers Local No. 6 offices in San Francisco, demanding the right to work. These white women were the first excluded group to win full admission to the Boilermakers Union.

The impact of women going into previously male-dominated occupations was the subject of heated public discussion. Just as they had during World War I, women in industry raised eyebrows as they donned trousers, overalls, and the more modern equivalent – slacks.

As National Park Ranger Betty Reid Soskin points out, black women would later be allowed work, but only through a second-tier level of the union, and after black men had gotten jobs.

Medical checkup at Kaiser Oregonship child development center, circa 1944

First Steps for Child Care

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the Kaiser Company shipyard on the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington, on April 5, 1943 to personally launch the new aircraft carrier U.S.S. Casablanca. But Eleanor was more interested in the social programs affiliated with the massive shipbuilding projects, including child care, prepared meals for double-duty women, and health care.

President Roosevelt, at Eleanor’s suggestion, had supported the first government-sponsored child care center in the summer of 1942 under the Lanham Act. But this was private industry. Henry J. Kaiser listened to her and responded by introducing two controversial (at the time) programs for shipyard workers – model child care facilities near two of the shipyards and pre-cooked meals for working moms. These centers at the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond, California, and Portland, Oregon, yielded valuable research results that helped fuel the study of early childhood education for decades after the war.

International Women’s Day – a  time to reflect, a time to plan.


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The Amazing True Story of Park Ranger Betty Reid Soskin

posted on February 22, 2018

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

Podcast interview

Betty Reid Soskin is 96 years old yet lives her life with more energy and vitality than many people half her age. Over the course of her eventful life, she has been a staff member for the California legislature, a mother, an artist, a singer and an activist.

In her current role as a park ranger (she is the oldest national park ranger in the country), she gives weekly tours at the Rosie the Riveter World War II National Home Front Park in Richmond, California. Kaiser Permanente, through the Rosie the Riveter Trust, has been a major sponsor and champion of the park, which is the birthplace of our health plan.

In this podcast, Betty talks about her childhood and coming of age in Richmond, working for the union representing the African-American shipyard workers there during World War II, and finding her identity as an African-American woman.

She also shares her admiration for Kaiser Permanente co-founder, Henry J. Kaiser, who she considers to be a “great industrialist” and a man who forged ahead with audacity, both in building ships and creating a health plan for workers.

Path to Employment: African-American Workers in Kaiser Shipyards

posted on February 22, 2018

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Before World War II, shipyards and unions made no special effort to hire women or people of color. But after Pearl Harbor, and all that was required to defend the home front, Henry J. Kaiser immediately understood that a diverse industrial workforce would be essential for defense production as white men went away to war.

By federal law the shipyards were closed shops, and could only employ union members. But the Boilermakers union, the largest of the shipyard unions, would not hire African-Americans as full members.

Kaiser was known for working well with organized labor, but in this situation the union’s hiring policies were an impediment to production. When Kaiser at first tried to hire workers directly without going through the union, he began one of the most fundamental struggles between management and labor during the home front period. At stake was the right of workers to gainful employment regardless of gender or race.

The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders and Helpers of America had created a “separate but unequal” membership tier for African Americans in 1937. These were called “auxiliary” unions (the Richmond, California, auxiliary was “A-36”), and limited members’ job opportunities, grievance procedures, and voice in union affairs. By 1942, over 1,500 black workers were working in auxiliaries, but as wartime employment increased so did racial tension over these limitations.

Kaiser shipyard worker hires from New York en route to Portland; The Oregonian 9/30/1942

The first skirmish in this battle took place in Portland, Oregon. Kaiser’s eldest son, Edgar, was in charge of three shipyards there, and he sought help in hiring as many people as he could. He found a responsive official in Anna Rosenberg, the New York regional director of the War Manpower Commission, who authorized the United States Employment Services to support the recruitment of Kaiser’s workers in early September 1942. They signed up at the rate of 400 an hour, then headed west to the Kaiser shipyards in Oakland and Portland areas.

On September 8, 1942, women – the other group affected by the Boilermaker employment policies – were finally allowed to join the Boilermakers after picketing their office in San Francisco.

Tom Ray, secretary and business agent for Portland’s Boilermakers Lodge 72, threatened that the union would “take matters into its own hands” unless Kaiser revoked the promotions of 8 black shipyard workers from common laborers to skilled tradesmen.

The Daily Oregonian on September 30 announced “’Magic Carpet’ Special Bearing Kaiser Crews Approaches Vancouver”:

Out of the east and into the far west rolled the “Henry J. Kaiser magic carpet” tonight, bearing 490 enthusiastic, happy, future shipyard workers from New York, the first contingent of a new movement over the new Oregon trail… [to] the Kaiser shipyard at Vancouver, Washington, where they will work.

Buried in the article was the single mention that “in the train are 30 Negroes.”

Telegram from John P. Frey (president of the American Federation of Labor’s Metal Trades Department) about labor issue involving black workers in Portland yards, 10/22/1942

On that same page was an article about citizens of Portland’s Albina district meeting to “protest further influx of Negroes into the area” and demanding federal housing authorities “halt construction of dormitories for Negro shipyard workers.”

The Boilermakers pushed back for control. Lodge 72 refused to hire the 30 New York black workers except for menial jobs. They complained, and the conflict forced Anna Rosenberg to withdraw USES from Kaiser’s hiring program. After further negotiation, the Boilermakers seemed to consider hiring black workers.

It wasn’t until October 7, 1942, that the Portland Kaiser shipyard and the Boilermakers union agreed to permit black workers to be employed at the shipyards, “…making use of ‘their highest skills’ in all departments.” But that interpretation was up to the union.

The situation proceeded to get uglier.

The Oakland Tribune announced October 21, 1942, “The Henry J. Kaiser Company shipyard at Vancouver, Washington, stood firm today behind a decision to use Negro workers in skilled jobs despite protests by A.F.L. unions.”

By mid-December 1942, resistance mounted. A representative for 150 black shipyard workers at Kaiser’s Vancouver, Washington, yard charged that the auxiliary union represented “downright open discrimination.” In California, 18 black shipyard workers petitioned a federal judge for a permanent injunction restraining the Bechtel’s Marinship yard in Sausalito from discharging them for failure to pay dues to the auxiliary union.

Hamstrung by Boilermaker intransigence, the Oregon Kaiser shipyards were forced to fire more than 300 black workers in July 1943 for refusing to join the auxiliary. The Fair Employment Practices Commission held public hearings and issued a “cease and desist” order, with little result. So, in November 1943, virtually all black workers at Marinship stopped working after the Boilermakers said they would fire 430 black workers for failure to join the auxiliary.

“Pioneer for Union Rights: Joe James, Welder at Marinship, Sausalito, CA” RORI NPS trading card, 2016.

The Marinship workers went to court. The plaintiff was Joseph James, on behalf of himself and 1,000 others. James had claimed that black workers at their shipyard were forced to join the auxiliary union, without gaining union privileges.

Intervention by the Fair Employment Practices Commission resulted in a favorable ruling in early 1944, later upheld by the California Supreme Court. By then, the war, and shipyard production, was almost over.

It’s now 2018. Betty Reid Soskin, the country’s oldest national park ranger who works at the Rosie the Riveter World II Home Front National Historical Park on the site of the bustling Kaiser Richmond shipyards, was a clerk for the all-black Boilermakers Union A-36, and appreciates how the union has come a long way toward correcting past injustices. Today, the union is a major supporter of the park and actively recruits women in the trade.

Kaiser Permanente, Henry J. Kaiser’s sole remaining institutional legacy, follows good business practices in hiring a diverse and inclusive workforce. We are proud to have been part of the struggle to achieve equal opportunity, led by disenfranchised workers eager to do their part for America and supported in that effort by an enlightened business leader – Henry J. Kaiser.


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Discriminatory Aspects of the Segregated Boilermaker’s Auxiliary Unions

posted on February 22, 2018

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Boilermakers Union A-36 auxiliary, Richmond Calif., circa 1943. Photo by E.F. Joseph, courtesy National Park Service, RORI #686.

Auxiliary unions were a separate-but-unequal tactic by the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders and Helpers of America to expand membership to black workers. The massive expansion of the industrial workforce during World War II wasn’t the first time the union had to reckon with black workers at their gates; a proposal for the auxiliary concept had been floated at their 1920 national convention, but failed because of light voter turnout. The union’s Executive Council raised it again at the next convention in 1937, where it passed. By 1942, over 1,500 black workers were members. After Pearl Harbor the numbers climbed, eventually reaching more than 12,000.

The first Boilermakers auxiliary was established in Memphis, Tenn. on May 11, 1938.

In the regions where Kaiser operated shipyards, Local A-26 (Oakland, Calif) was established on Feb. 2, 1942; Local A-33 (San Francisco, Calif.) on Jan. 22, 1943, and Local A-36 (Richmond, Calif.) on Feb. 4, 1943. The Portland, Oregon area Local A-42 (Vancouver, Wash.) was established on January 2, 1943.

On November 15 and 16, 1943, the President’s Committee on Fair Employment Practice held hearings on the discriminatory nature of the Boilermakers union auxiliary system, and outlined 10 separate ways that the system hurt African-American workers.

Cover of Boilermakers conference proceedings 1944

Labor scholar Herbert R. Northrup summarized these findings in 1974:

  • Each Negro local was subservient to the nearest White local.
  • The auxiliaries had no democratic participation in the control of the International Brotherhood of the union. In fact, its members were not admitted to the International Brotherhood.
  • Negro locals were denied the right to have business agents. White local agents represented the auxiliaries.
  • Auxiliaries were denied their own grievance committees, having to accept the committee of the nearest white local to which it could send but one representative.
  • A severe limitation was placed upon the ability of the Negro to advance from helper to mechanic; such advancement requiring the approval of the auxiliary, the governing white local, and the International president.
  • Insurance programs paid lower benefits to the Negro, and they could not subscribe to increased insurance as could whites.
  • Negroes were denied the right to transfer except to other auxiliaries.
  • Negro apprenticeships were excluded.
  • Negroes were punished for creating disturbances in lodge rooms; no such restriction appeared in the white by-laws.
  • Negroes were discriminated against due to age; whites could be admitted between 16-70 years of age, while Negroes could be admitted between 16-60 years of age.

Source: Rubin, L., Swift, W. S., & Northrop, H. R. (1974). Negro employment in the maritime industries: A study of racial policies in the shipbuilding, longshore, and offshore maritime industries. University of Pennsylvania Press.

The complete list of findings was earlier published in the “Proceedings of the 17th Consolidated Convention of the International Brotherhood of Boiler Makers, Iron Ship Builders and Helpers of America” 1/31/1944-2/9/1944.


Also see: “Path to Employment: African American Workers in Kaiser Shipyards”
“An Industrial Revolution All Their Own: World War II Women Stand Up for Equality”



Dust to Dust: Kaiser Oakland Hospital Deconstructed

posted on February 16, 2018

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Kaiser Oakland hospital demolition, Macarthur Boulevard entrance

Just as the country launched its defense effort during World War II, the Permanente Health Plan built a low cluster of buildings on Oakland, Calfornia’s Macarthur Boulevard to serve a growing population of Kaiser shipyard workers. A block of unremarkable buildings, where these workers received remarkable care, will be gone forever by the end of the year.

The original 4-story, 70-bed Fabiola hospital was opened August 1, 1942. A year later, a two-story “Unit A” added 54 beds, followed by 120-bed “Unit B” in January 1945. Major remodeling in 1961 sheathed the sprawling low structures (located between Howe Street and Broadway) in aluminum siding for a modern look.

Other expansions followed over the years, culminated by the 12-story hospital tower which opened in 1972. Because this was added within a small footprint of available courtyard space among the low buildings, massive, custom “X-beams” were fabricated and installed.

Oakland Permanente Foundation Hospital, June 1944

The “topping out” ceremony for the tower was a gala affair, with physicians and nurses signing the big steel beams at the top of the building.

I managed to snag a visit to the demolition on a recent tour of the site. Not only did we see the base of the exotic “X-beam,” but we also looked at what appears to be the topping out beam, emblazoned with a bold “KAISER STEEL” logo.

Now, dust returns to dust in the difficult and tedious process of deconstruction. A humble facility that served thousands of home front workers during World War II has completed its mission. The hospital and specialty care facility across the street, opened in 2014, has picked up the scalpel.


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Dropping custom X-beam into Oakland Tower, January 1970

X-beam at ground level of hospital under demolition, 2017

RNs Pat Bayliss and Madeline “Tex” Ruffato signing “topping out” I-beam for Oakland Hospital, 1971

“Topping out” I beam, Oakland hospital, 2017







An Industrial Revolution All Their Own: World War II Women Stand Up for Equality

posted on February 7, 2018

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Mary Carroll, The Bos’n’s Whistle, 8/13/1942

In April of 1942, Mary Carroll, Jeanne Wilde and Louise Cox reported for duty at Kaiser shipyards in Portland, Oregon, and Richmond, California — the first women to work as welders in America’s ship-building industry.

Carroll, Wilde and Cox were at the tip of a movement that turned industry and labor relations upside down during World War II. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, everything had changed. The standard industrial shipyard workforce, which for generations had been composed of healthy white men, found their ranks depleted as those workers joined the military.

Thousands of other women later joined these three, earning good wages and going where women had never been before. The home front was a watershed moment in the struggle for equal opportunity, when women stood up for the right to work alongside men despite hurdles that included resistance from labor unions.

Carroll and Wilde started working at the Kaiser shipyards in Portland after completing welding school. Carroll was a Gold Star Mother, having lost her 27-year-old son in the fighting on Bataan. Louise Cox was also hired in April. She was the first woman welder trainee at Kaiser Richmond’s Shipyard 2, replacing her brother on the production line after he joined the Navy.

Louise Cox, first woman welder in Kaiser Richmond shipyard #2, Fore ‘n’ Aft, 8/27/1942

Massive Labor Migration

Who was left to build ships after men went to war? Everybody else. A massive labor migration to defense industries began. And the most difficult labor decision Henry J. Kaiser faced was how to handle union opposition to accepting the new workforce in his shipyards.

An Associated Press news story from November 1942 — less than a year after Pearl Harbor — pointed out that women had “managed to accomplish an industrial revolution all their own within a very short time” through the first large-scale unionization of women, winning the first legislation for equal opportunity through the War Labor Board, and revising “protective” legislation that hampered employment opportunities.

But these victories did not come easily.

Kaiser was an atypical industrialist who had long before learned that good labor relations was a smart business practice. During WWII, the shipyards were closed shops — that is, they could only employ union members. But in this case, the Boilermakers Union (full name: International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders and Helpers of America) stood in the way of wartime production and social progress.

Mary Carroll and Jeanne Wilde, The Bos’n’s Whistle, 8/13/1942

Mary Carroll, Jeanne Wilde and Louise Cox —as well as dozens of other women in the Kaiser shipyards — had been hired through the United States Employment Service, not by the union. In early 1942, Kaiser’s eldest son, Edgar, who ran the Oregon shipyards, met with Anne Rosenberg, New York regional director of the War Manpower Commission. Given the wartime labor crisis, she authorized the USES to support the recruitment of Kaiser’s workers. The women hired were issued temporary work permit cards from the Boilermakers at no cost, pending a referendum on admitting them to full union membership.

Although President Roosevelt created the Committee on Fair Employment Practice (commonly known as the Fair Employment Practice Committee) on June 25, 1941, to see that “there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or government because of race,” this directive didn’t apply to gender discrimination. And the Boilermakers excluded both women and African Americans.

“Local no. 6 of the Boilermakers’ Ship Builders, Welders, and Helpers felt the woman’s touch yesterday when these 20 be-slacked lady welders appeared at headquarters to protest their not being given union clearance for shipyard jobs. Only assurance they received from Business Manager Ed Rainbow was that the matter would remain in status quo until results of the international’s referendum on feminine membership were tabulated. The ladies were silenced but not satisfied.” San Francisco Chronicle, 9/9/1942

Unions Start to Open Doors

The Boilermakers were by far the biggest of all the unions in the shipyards. By spring of 1943, their Local 513 represented 38,082 out of the 77,330 workers in the four Kaiser Richmond yards.

White women were the first excluded group to win full admission to the Boilermakers Union.

A group of 22 women welders and burners, representing hundreds barred from war production jobs in the new Marinship Corporation shipyards at Sausalito, stormed Boilermakers Local No. 6 offices in San Francisco at 155 Tenth Street on September 8, 1942, demanding the right to work. An account in the San Francisco Chronicle described the protest:

The feminine influx took the union Business Manager, Ed Rainbow, by surprise. His first reaction was belligerent. “If these girls attempt a publicity campaign against the union — an organization that seeks to protect women — we’ll yank all women workers out of the shipyards and let the government decide who’s right.”

All sides pointed fingers. Rainbow declared that adequate restroom facilities had not been installed, and Marinship said that they had. A spokeswoman for the protesters retorted: “If we want to walk a couple of extra blocks to a restroom that’s our business and not the union’s.”

Direct action worked. The next day’s news described how “The international headquarters of the union announced from Kansas City [that] the membership rolls of its 600 lodges would be opened to women.”

“Pat Centola, welder leaderman, shows pretty June Beesley, welder trainee, how to use his new weapons of war.” Fore ‘n’ Aft, 10/1/1942

Even though a July 22 resolution for women’s membership yielded 12,000 votes for and 7,000 against, it failed on a quorum technicality. Union leadership then took the dramatic step of overriding their own bylaws on September 10, stating: “By authority of the Executive Council, you are directed to accept women, who are or who may become employed in jobs or work coming under the jurisdiction of our International Brotherhood, to membership.”

The doors were opened. By late November 1944, more than 3,000 women at the Kaiser Shipyards in Portland had received their union cards; a similar influx took place in Richmond.

That was then, and this is now. The arc of justice has moved forward; the Boilermakers Union is a major sponsor of the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park and actively recruits women in the trade.


Special thanks to San Francisco Chronicle archivist Bill Niekerken for help with this article.

Also see: “Path to Employment: African American Workers in Kaiser Shipyards”

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A ‘Great, Big Social Idea’: Historian Kevin Starr Looks Back

posted on January 26, 2018

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Kaiser Richmond shipyard voluntary health plan recruitment poster, 1942

The Kaiser Permanente health plan was the “great, big social idea” to come out of World War II and was core to California’s developing concept of community.

That was the theme of a talk at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club in 2002 by Kevin Starr, the beloved San Francisco-born, seventh-generation Californian who served as State Librarian from 1994 to 2004 and was widely known as a historian and chronicler of California lore.

Starr, who died last year at age 76, gave his Commonwealth Club talk just before the release of his 2002 book, Embattled Dreams: California in War and Peace, 1940-1950, part of his extensive history of California series. His talk was recently transcribed.

Robbie Pearl, MD — then the executive director of The Permanente Medical Group — introduced Starr, noting, “Mr. Kaiser and Dr. Garfield established Kaiser Permanente. Their founding principles, which remain unaltered in Kaiser Permanente today, include a commitment to physician autonomy for clinical decision making… a focus on disease prevention, and a belief that patients get better care when doctors, hospitals and health plans work collaboratively.”

Starr offered some insights into the unique role these founders played during World War II and its aftermath. He discussed Henry J. Kaiser’s dream of a post-World War II era in which home-front social features such as day care and medical care would be available to all Americans. Starr also pointed out that “The war was terrible but it brought us together in extraordinary ways.”

Starr highlighted Kaiser Permanente’s humble beginnings in the shipyards. He talked about how the organization is connected to the “idea of community” and reflects the importance of “working together.”

“The fact that the Kaiser Permanente program could go from just a few thousand shipyard workers in Richmond, arriving to the millions and millions today and still maintain its relationship to quality and to community is extremely important,” Starr said.

And the fuel that has kept Kaiser Permanente growing is the larger idea of the importance of building community, Starr added.

“Coming out of a need to face an unprecedented situation is part of what has kept the Kaiser Permanente program growing and making adjustments over the years,” he said. “It certainly is the great big idea, but it’s part of another, even larger idea — that idea of community. Of working together and feeling a sense of transformation and renewal in the face of social stress, and being animated, always by the preciousness of life itself — and California as a delightful place to live that life.”

Thank you, Mr. Starr.

Full C-SPAN video of Kevin Starr’s talk


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Happy New Year – 1942!

posted on December 28, 2017

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Fore ‘n’ Aft, January 1, 1942

New years are a time of reflection and hope – of birth, death, and hopefully a healthy life in between.

The caption for this cover of the Kaiser Richmond shipyard weekly magazine Fore ‘n’ Aft was: “Happy New Year goes double. Left is Jo-Anne and her twin brother, George Thomas, three-months-old children of George W. Peterson, purchasing agent at the Todd-California shipyard.”

Note that this issue came out the month after Pearl Harbor was attacked, and the Kaiser yards had already built five cargo ships for the British government. With the United States now involved in the war, the F&A editorial soberly pointed out the new reality:

The New Year will be a Defense Year. It will be a year in which we must all do our utmost to defend our country – our freedom, our rights- all that we live for. Our young men are giving their lives, or, at least, important years of their lives, to the Army, the Navy and the Marines. They are fighting on land, sea, and in the air to defend our coasts and outposts.

This 2018, we wish the best for all the Jo-Annes, and Georges, and children of the world.


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From Boats to Books: A Short History of Kaiser Permanente’s Medical Libraries

posted on December 19, 2017

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Kaiser Permanente Oakland librarians Alice Katzung and Irma Hickman, 1959

Librarians use the expression “marking and parking” to describe the essence of their craft: tagging content and storing it for future access. It sounds simple, but the devil’s in the details. There are an enormous number of steps – including accession, organization, and cataloging –  that happen behind the scenes to make for a smooth and user-friendly library experience. It’s called “library science” for a reason.

During World War II, Avram Yedidia was hired at the Kaiser Richmond shipyards to manage the enormous volume of material required to build these vessels. Having earlier processed collections at San Francisco’s Sutro Library, he realized that he could apply those same methods of marking and parking to tracking railroad cars and storing steel.

Librarian Mrs. Hickman with physicians in Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center library, circa 1970

Yedidia’s tools for managing that industrial workflow served after the war when he become the economist for the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, which had accumulated an enormous volume of research while providing affordable, high-quality care to the public. Just as Yedidia’s system kept track of shipbuilding materials and got them to the right location, librarians took charge of organizing medical books and journals and getting research results into the hands of physicians and nurses.

Now celebrating a 70-year anniversary, Kaiser Permanente librarians continue to help clinicians and administrators find the information they need to provide great care.

Kaiser Foundation School of Nursing library, 1963

Like many things, it started small. When the first Permanente Foundation hospital in Oakland opened in 1942 to provide medical care for the Kaiser Richmond shipyard workers, the medical library collection was a single shelf of books in the office of founding physician Dr. Sidney R. Garfield. The first librarian at Oakland was hired May 1947 to assist and support libraries at the expansion facilities.

Libraries are much more than just books, though. In 1969, the pioneering Health Education Research Center opened next to the Oakland hospital, featuring a health library equipped with 24 individual projection booths for viewing films, slide-sound programs, and videotaped TV programs.

Kaiser Permanente library systems began to be linked by computer networks in the mid-1980s, and in the mid-1990s began conversion of manual card catalogs to digital records. Today, electronic resources are essential; the joint catalog includes more than 1,700 eBooks and 8,500 eJournals. The “kpLibraries systemwide online access catalog was launched in 2005.

Physicians are still the heaviest users of library resources and services; last year, librarians handled more than 8,000 requests for articles and literature searches from physicians nationwide. Nurses comprise the second largest group of library users, making more than 2,000 informational requests.

Carolyn Fishel and Walnut Creek Physician collaborating on a literature search, 2014 (photo courtesy Eve Melton)

But it takes librarians to make a library work. As Baldwin Park Medical Center Library Services Manager Kristyn Gonnerman recently described it,

The value we provide lies partly in just being there to work alongside our clinicians and employees and providing answers and support to them as they work on day-to-day clinical questions… the relationships we build with them over the years [means] they know they can come to us with their questions and get answers.

Avram Yedidia would have been proud.


The author has a Masters of Information Management from U.C. Berkeley

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