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PRODUCED BY AND FOR MEMBERS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF SURGERY August 2017 | Archived Issues

Librarian Brings Wit and Intellect to Her Work

Janet Wulf, a recent President's Award winner, has worked at Cedars-Sinai for more than four decades, most of those in the Medical Library.

"Objects Removed From Human Airways" was the title of one of Janet Wulf's previous exhibits in the Medical Library. The objects included:

  • Meat impacted in esophagus
  • Fishbone in larynx
  • Pin in trachea
  • Chicken bone in esophagus
  • Safety pin in esophagus
  • Bone in right bronchus
  • Peanut in bronchus
  • Sandbur in right bronchus
  • Bone; forceps tip in esophagus
  • Rabbit thigh in esophagus
  • Penny in esophagus
  • Nickel in esophagus
  • Potato in trachea
  • Jigsaw puzzle piece in esophagus
  • Corn kernel in right bronchus
  • Dog tag in esophagus
  • Open safety pin in esophagus
  • Glass bead in right main esophagus
  • Eggshell in larynx
  • Nickel in esophagus
  • Quarter in esophagus
  • Screw in right main bronchus
  • Sewing machine bobbin in esophagus
  • Whistle in esophagus
  • Upholstery tack in left bronchus
  • Nutshell in larynx

(This list was compiled in commemoration of Barney M. Kully, MD, 1896-1975.)

Even for a medical center, Janet Wulf's desk is a bit unusual.

Between a Hewlett-Packard printer and bottle of green aloe Purell is a glass replica of a life-size human head. On top of the transparent cranium sits a spongy gray brain, the size of a child's fist. Within arm's reach of the desk is a small model of a human body and its acupuncture points.

"I bought the head at Ross [Dress for Less]," said Wulf, an administrative services associate in the Medical Library who has worked at Cedars-Sinai for 42 years. "I got the brain from a vendor."

The scavenged items, like so many strange and exotic earlier ones, will only temporarily reside on her desk, which functions more as a runway to the library's main display case near the front entrance. The collection, which also will feature vintage pill boxes and a 1972 research paper entitled "The Headache in History, Literature, and Legend," are all earmarked for an upcoming exhibit on the headache.

Her desk and its multivaried contents merely reflect the bright and curious mind that has curated it for decades. With an inquisitive energy and a wry sense of humor, Wulf has established herself as an indispensable fixture in the Medical Library. Staging the library's popular exhibits are just the start of her duties, which also include purchashing, cataloguing, circulation, event planning and organizing an ongoing lecture series featuring authors affiliated with Cedars-Sinai.

"She's a driving force for the library," said Janet Hobbs, the library's manager. "She's just super creative and very interested in politcs, history and music. She's been an invaluable way for us to engage with our users in different and meaningful ways."

On any given day, this Cedars-Sinai President's Award winner engages in a host of traditional library duties. They include everything from answering questions at the reference desk, registering new library patrons and cataloging the facility's 25,000 bound books to helping a medical student hunt down obscure references in one of the library's 22,000 electronic medical journals.

When Wulf arrived in 1975, just one year before the first patient was admitted to the newly formed medical center created by the merging of Cedars of Lebanon and Mount Sinai Hospital, she didn't start out in the library.

At that time, jobs for new college graduates were hard to come by and the hospital needed phone operators as it transitioned from the switchboard phones to a modern-day telecommunications system. So Wulf — armed with an English degree from California State University, Northridge — applied for the job and was hired.

"People were asking for stuff like, 'Can I speak to the epidemiologist?' And I'd go, 'What?'" she laughed. "So I had to learn — while running on my feet — all the medical terminology."

She later worked in admissions before landing in the Medical Library in the late 1980s. Back then, card catalogues were still used and copies were made with a mimeograph machine.

Wulf found these vintage containers for headache remedies to use in an upcoming exhibit.

"The correction fluid smell would make you dizzy," she said. "It was awful and messy. I had gloves and a lab coat and ink flying. It was terrible."

But for a sense of what makes Wulf tick, library patrons need look no further than the display case just inside the library entrance. About six times a year, she and her colleagues set up a new exhibit to showcase the library's archives. And it's Wulf's quirky sensibilities that typically flavor what patrons see, read and learn from them.

She fondly recalled a display on western frontier medicine, which included her own cowboy and horse models, a Stetson hat, an advertisement for snake oil remedies and a wanted poster. To invoke a bit more wild west realism, she drizzled fake blood left over from Halloween on some rags she slung over the side of an old tin bowl.

"I sort of have an interesting sense of humor," she said with a smile.

Few library visitors who observed her "Foreign Objects Removed from Human Airways" exhibit would disagree. Other topics she's helped bring to life include Civil War medicine, healthcare ethics, patent medicine bottles and a history of Cedars-Sinai.

That historical look at the medical center showcased commemorative keys to the hospital next to prehistoric bones excavated during hospital construction and a collection of maps of the facility dating back to 1938.

To give it a splash of color and fun, Wulf threw in a bright Mount Sinai Hospital brochure featuring a yellow convertible, circa 1954. Nearby, she displayed a hospital café menu from 1962 that advertised a 10-cent cup of coffee and a 75-cent hamburger.

"The prices were just so ridiculous," said Wulf whose interests outside of work includes horses and classic Hollywood cinema. "But I hope when people come away from that exhibit or any others, they leave with a sense of enlightened interest."

While many of the items on display come from the library's collection that's stored in boxes on its shelves, some of it comes from Wulf's own stash of vintage books and assorted knickknacks she enjoys collecting.

While recently antiquing with her sister, Wulf found some vintage tins and bottles that held analgesia medications for headaches. That served as the inspiration for the upcoming exhibit on the history of the headache.

"The history of medicine … is just fascinating," she said. "It's is one of my favorite topics here in the library."

Wulf sits before a table of material earmarked for an upcoming library display.