The Evolving Work of a Research Librarian
Vol.9 Issue 3


In the early days of the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, around 1959, the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI) was originally known as the Civil Aeromedical Research Institute (CARI). The purpose of this new medical research center was to develop medical data to meet the challenges of civil air operations, as pilots were moving into higher altitudes and experiencing supersonic speeds. As new personnel came on board they reported to work at CARI, located on the second floor of Hangar 8. The early months were spent setting up laboratories and recruiting researchers and technicians. By May 1960, this team moved from the Aeronautical Center to Building 604 on the North Campus of Norman, OK. The location was part of the University of Oklahoma’s Research Institute.

Following small subsequent moves in the same location, it wasn’t until October of 1962 when the team moved back to the Aeronautical Center but to a new building. Building 803 became the location of the first CARI library. By the end of the year, several branches and services were established, including a library. A library committee was established, and subscriptions were circulated from desk to desk. Many reports and scientific articles were being developed through this unique facility, so it made sense to house many journals and books as they arrived in the mail. Topics under study involved predicting the success of air traffic controllers in training; investigations of air crashes and ways to improve air safety; preliminary investigations on toxic hazards in aerial applications of pesticides.

Miss Lilah B. Heck was the first CARI librarian at the Aeronautical Center. She came from the University of Oklahoma’s Medical School as a medical librarian. At the time, the CARI library was comprised of four rooms (1,175 sq. ft.). They housed a library office, current journals, a general reference room, a room for bound periodicals and book stacks and a photo duplication room. The librarians who have served at CARI/CAMI over the years include Lilah Heck; Alfreda Hanna, Ted Goulden, Jan Nakagawara, Katherine Wade and Roni Smith.

Today, the CAMI Library is a special library located on the south end of the Aeronautical Center within the CAMI facility. It comprises 2,667 sq ft. and is primarily committed to serving the unique informational needs of the research staff at the Institute. The library also supports the Office of Aerospace physicians in the Aeromedical Certification Division, regions, and FAA headquarters. Although the primary focus of the collection is on aviation and aerospace medicine, materials on human factors, engineering, management, and general reference are available.

CAMI’s Librarian

Roni Smith is the current librarian at the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute and she has 23 years of federal service. This is a job that she feels has been her life’s destiny as she has loved libraries and reading from a very young age. As a child, she and her grandmother would walk to the library and check out books when Roni and her siblings would visit in the summer. Roni’s career kicked off early when she was the classroom "librarian" in grade school. Then in middle school, she served as a library aide, shelving books during her lunch period and became a member of the Louisiana Teenage Librarians Association. She also served as a library aide throughout high school. One could say that Roni is a true bibliophile.

Roni G. Smith, Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI) Librarian
CAMI Librarians Kathy Wade and Roni Smith moving the library from the 2nd floor of the annex. Circa 2005

After college, she worked at the University of Central Oklahoma. At the end of each day, she would pass by a job board on her way out of the library. One day in particular, she felt compelled to look at some of the jobs that were posted. She saw an opening for a contract position at the Aeronautical Center’s library (formerly located in the FAA Academy building, where the bookstore is currently positioned). The job would require her to work with the Center’s librarian, who was Virginia "Ginny" Hughes at the time. She applied and was hired as a contractor. Working in that capacity for nearly 2-years, Roni then applied for and was accepted as a federal employee, working at the CAMI Library alongside Librarian, Katherine Wade (now retired). Roni shares, "I am thankful and blessed to have been mentored by these two supportive and amazing FAA Librarians! I know that I cannot fill their shoes, but I hope to continue to add to their legacy."

FAA employees may be surprised to learn that at one time, there were five physical libraries located within the agency: The FAA Headquarters Library, the FAA Law Library, the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center Library, the CAMI Library, and the William J. Hughes Technical Library. Today, only two of these facilities remain – the CAMI Library in Oklahoma City and the William J. Hughes Technical Library in Atlantic City.

Roni is a solo librarian and is the only employee who offices in the library. Her work activities include everything library-related from technical services to library management and administration – cataloging, circulation, shelving library materials, reference, collection development and management, acquisitions, literature searches, inter-library loans, and budgeting. Most libraries have librarians who specialize in certain areas, but working as a solo librarian is all encompassing. Roni loves the job that she performs and says, "I work in a great organization, and I have the opportunity to assist some of the brightest in aerospace medicine. It is rewarding to help people find the information they need. Knowing that I supply information that supports research, writing a technical report or article, pilot medical decisions, and expert witness testimony reinforces to me the importance of my role in promoting and making an impact on aviation safety."

Some of the main customers in the CAMI library are CAMI researchers, Aeromedical Certification physicians, OAM physicians in the regions/headquarters. The library supports the OAM patron base by providing authoritative information to assist with research, aeromedical pilot certification decision-making, and regulations and rulemaking.

Many employees may not realize that the library has a Cabin Safety exhibit that is popular among Cabin Safety seminar participants. It includes images of early egress studies, historical "stewardess" uniforms, and a first-aid kit from an aircraft accident which was donated to the library. The CAMI library also has an inviting patio on the south side of the building which is available for employee and contractor use.

Enjoying the patio area adjacent to the library, during CAMI’s open house. (L-R) Kathy Wade, Dr. Melchor Antunano, and Roni Smith. Circa 2005
During Virginia Hughes retirement party on June 2, 2005, held at the former FAA Academy Library. (L-R) Virginia Hughes (MMAC Librarian), Sharon Jorski (MMAC Contract Librarian), Roni Smith (CAMI Assistant Librarian), and Jan Nakagawara (former CAMI Librarian and MMAC contract Librarian).

As we have seen, the role of Librarian continues to evolve. Roni explains, "Over the years, I’ve seen how the library has evolved with new technology, especially with inter-library loan (IL). These ILs were once submitted in the IL software by entering the citation information by way of command prompts. The lending library would copy the article and mail it to the requesting library. It would take up to two weeks to receive an article. Later we were able to send and receive requested articles using a fax machine. Today, articles are received electronically through email or a website in just a matter of days or sometimes minutes."

Today in the U.S. there are over nine thousand public libraries and more than 125,000 librarians across the U.S. who provide a variety of resources and services to the communities they serve. Libraries continue to be used for a variety of reasons, whether its educational, informational, for self-improvement or recreation. While originally established as book-lending centers, these institutions remain steadfast in changing and expanding over the years.

Virginia "Ginny" Hughes, Aeronautical Center Librarian

In Memoriam

As noted in this article, one of the beloved Aeronautical Center librarians passed away this year. Ginny Hughes was a librarian at the FAA Academy for 30 years. Virginia Hughes Obituary - Oklahoma City, OK.

Historically, the 1,000th Report filed in the CAMI library was ’A Milestone of Aeromedical Research Contributions to Civil Aviation Safety: The 1,000th Report in the CARI/OAM Series [A23-26 in RPt]

Federal Aviation Aministration (FAA) seal