Priscilla M. Mayden, M.L.S.

Director, Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library 1971-1984

By Mike Thelin

Catching sight at dusk the snowcapped Wasatch Mountains for the first time in September, 1945, Priscilla Mayden wondered what it would be like to live in Salt Lake.

Career Path

Stoughton, Massachusetts

Born in Boston September 2, 1918, Priscilla Maltby grew up in the nearby working class town of Stoughton where her parents operated a small business school. Upon graduation from the local high school Priscilla spent a year at her parents’ Maltby School before enrolling at Simmons College.


Hartford Public LibrarySimmons had a reputable library school and so in her second year Priscilla transferred into the program. Graduating in 1941 – and saddled with a two-thousand dollar debt from loans secured from her brother and sister – Priscilla accepted a job at the Hartford (Connecticut) Public Library in the Business and Technical Branch where she worked for the next two years.

War Effort

Bendix Marine

A not uncommon detour for many women at the time led Priscilla in a different direction that would eventually put her on a course to Salt Lake and its beckoning mountains. The demands of war meant that many women were contributing to the war effort working in war-related industries. The Bendix Aviation Corporation had opened a plant close by to manufacture marine instruments for the Navy.

In October, 1944 Priscilla joined the Women’s Army Corps and was sent to Fort Oglethorpe (Georgia) for basic training and later to the school at Washington & Lee University (Virginia) for instruction in special services in order to learn how to work with the returning war-wounded. At the end of the six week orientation, Priscilla was transferred to the Army Air Base in Santa Ana, California.

I was just a private in the WAC, I did the best I could, and got out as soon as I could.”

AAB Santa Ana
Photo by: H. Lorren Au Jr. / The Orange County Register.
 “From the collections of the Costa Mesa Historical Society”.


Assigned to the library of the rehabilitation hospital, Priscilla dutifully discharged her duties but never felt she was able to put to work any of what she had learned, “I was just a private in the WAC, I did the best I could, and got out as soon as I could.”  Despite the disappointment, the experience Priscilla recollected, “Put me into the business of hospital libraries.”

Leaving the Army in February, 1946 Priscilla for a time remained in California wondering whether or not she still wanted a library career.  Staying with relatives in Los Angeles, Priscilla applied to stewardess school and was to her surprise, accepted. Thinking it would be exciting, Priscilla flew to New York and was soon disabused.

“I found the training embarrassingly dull.”

Westward Ho!

Priscilla’s library career path resumed once again when her sister, who was working at the Veterans Administration regional office in Boston, phoned one day to alert her about a job posting for a chief librarian at the VA Hospital in Bedford.

 I was thinking of someplace I could ski.”

Alta, UtahReturning to the west always held appeal for Priscilla since skiing had become a particular passion, “I wanted to live in a new location, I wanted to live close to skiing.” Hoping to marry her vocation with her avocation, Priscilla began applying to places that would match her extramural interest. It was during her job search that Priscilla decided to attend a meeting of the American Library Association in New York. It was at the convention where Priscilla met Foster Mohrhardt who was head of Library Services for the Veterans Administration in Washington. As Priscilla recited her employment conditions – skiing high on the list – Mohrhardt, with some puzzlement asked, “Why didn’t you get in touch with me, we just built a new prototype VA hospital in Salt Lake City and we’re looking for the right person to be the chief librarian, how would you like to do that?” The snowcapped mountains that had so impressed Priscilla during that half-hour whistle stop years earlier suddenly became the reason to return.

49 FordNot knowing anything about Utah, Priscilla, revealing her lack of knowledge, answered, “I was thinking of someplace I could ski.”  “What do you mean?  There are all kinds of ski areas there,” Mohrhardt chuckled with amusement.  It took Priscilla ten seconds: “I’ll take it!”  With her job prospects settled, with her worldly possessions packed, Priscilla pointed her ’49 Ford west that July eager to build a new collection in a new building in a new city.

I’ll take it!”


Salt Lake City VA

Arriving in Salt Lake Priscilla found an “absolutely beautiful” hospital and library waiting

Construction on the new University of Utah Medical Center began in 1962 and it was realized then that the awkward arrangement of a divided collection (clinical materials housed at the Salt Lake County General Hospital and books and journals maintained at the Thomas Library) would need to be addressed before the building was completed.

Columbia UniversityPriscilla felt she had done everything she was going to be able to do at the VA and not wanting to “ride out” her retirement began thinking seriously about improving her professional credentials with a graduate degree.  The VA had begun to offer a six-week leave-of-absence for librarians interested in upgrading their skills by enrolling in courses at a number of accredited library schools around the country.  In 1964, Priscilla attended a course offered at Columbia University.


In early 1966, Priscilla was put in touch with Dr. Kenneth Castleton, Dean of the College of Medicine, who tendered her an offer-of-hire.

Castleton with UUMC model

The clinical collection from the old General Hospital had already been moved to the basement of the hospital when the Medical Center opened in 1965.  The B Level “branch library” was located next to the mechanical room.

Too small to house all of the books there, and not wanting to “temporarily” integrate them into the life sciences collection at the Marriott Library – where they might eventually take up permanent residence – Priscilla went to Dr. Castleton to request the space diagonally opposite the branch library.  The space Priscilla coveted was a dirt floor with concrete walls, “Unventilated, unheated with overhead pipes of every variety dripping hot and cold.”

Elena Eyzaguirre

Elena EyzaguirreIt was during this difficult period of transition that “the most influential and most helpful person in my professional life” came to work with Priscilla: Elena Eyzaguirre.

Elena had worked at the Welch Library at Johns Hopkins with Dr. Sanford Larkey on an early automation and indexing project for the NLM that was a precursor of MEDLARS which eventually led to the development MEDLINE.  A prestigious paper was later published about the implementation of the project crediting Elena’s contribution.

Library Construction Grant

Library Construction GrantIn a “tiny, tiny room” with the oil portraits of the founding fathers of the medical school looking down from the conference walls, through a pall of pipe, cigarette and cigar smoke Priscilla made her presentation. Priscilla listened as Vern Pings asked: “Is it your understanding,’ turning to Ralph Thomson, who was determined to retain administrative and economic control, ‘that there will be a Technical Services department in this new building?’

Birth of a Library

Dr. Castleton performed miracles

Spencer S. Eccles

Spencer S. Eccles, a well-respected local banker, was a good friend and golf partner of Dr. Castleton.  One afternoon while the two were golfing Mr. Eccles, who was aware he had cancer, mentioned to Dr. Castleton that he intended to make a donation by way of his Will to the University stipulating it be directed towards cancer research.  Dr. Castleton had the Medical Center and now the one building he still wanted was a medical library.  “There is plenty of money for cancer research from NIH and lots of private foundations,’” Dr. Castleton assured Mr. Eccles, ‘what I need most is money to support all our research and what I lack most is a medical library.’” The Commonwealth Fund and Markle Foundation provided the remaining total needed to satisfy the three-to-one requirement specified in the government grant.


Library Funding, Castleton with CheckRecalling it as “the darkest snowiest day” that January Priscilla was summoned to Dr. Castleton’s office.   “’Priscilla, yes, what was I going to see you about? … ‘Oh yes, I’ve just received word from Senator (Wallace F.) Bennett that the money for the building has been released.’”


Medical Library Administrative Reporting

King's LetterBefore ground was broken on November, 25, 1969, Dr. Thomas C. King, the University Provost, made an appointment to meet with Priscilla.  The thorny question of whether the medical library would function independently or remain under the control of the main campus library yet to be resolved.  Surveying the now-determined site, Dr. King turned to Priscilla and announced, “I’ve decided that the library should be separate.”

Ground Breaking

Throughout 1970, sitting on the south steps of the Medical Center Priscilla and Elena would take their coffee breaks every morning and every afternoon watching the library being built “living for the day they would allow us to go inside” (which they never did).  It would be another year before the Spencer S. Health Sciences Library would be dedicated on October 4, 1971.

Dedication, 1971


Medical Library Leaf Icon
Library’s Identity Mark 1971-2012


Priscilla would serve as its Director for another thirteen years, retiring in 1984.  Although Priscilla would during those years oversee a number of significant projects that would bring her further professional satisfaction and the library national recognition, the true capstone of her career is the building with no one around she sneaked into on that Sunday afternoon of Thanksgiving weekend.

I walked up the stairs to the second floor for the first time, the west wall had not been put in.  I stood there on the second floor and looked out over the valley thinking what a lovely sight.”

Priscilla M. Mayden
Director, Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library 1971-1984


Priscilla M. Mayden Oil Portrait

Priscilla M. Mayden

Director, Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library 1971-1984

The portrait of Ms. Mayden was painted by Paul Davis in 1995

Digital Publishing, History of the Health Sciences


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Bedford Historical Society
Columbia University
Costa Mesa Historical Society
Hartford Public Library
Library of Congress
Vintage Winter