The UCLA Library has received a $2 million gift from the estate of Irla “Lee” Zimmerman Oetzel, who earned three degrees from UCLA, including a doctorate in psychology in 1953.
The unrestricted gift will help the Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library build, maintain, preserve and promote its collection of nearly 700,000 print volumes and thousands of electronic resources, including journals, databases and other materials.
“Lee’s bequest reflects her professional background and appreciation for her time spent conducting extensive research in the biomedical library, both as a student and in recent years with intermittent reference requests,” said Virginia Steel, UCLA’s Norman and Armena Powell University Librarian. “The library is extremely grateful to Lee and her estate for this generous gift, and with it, the opportunity to achieve our new strategic directions more quickly.”
The biomedical library is a crucial resource for students, faculty and medical staff from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, the schools of Dentistry and Nursing and the UCLA College life sciences division, as well as UCLA research centers and institutes, and the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
Oetzel was a Southern California resident for most of her life and a longtime supporter of the biomedical library. Although she died in January 2020 at the age of 96, her legacy includes research that led to the creation of Preschool Language Scale, a language skills assessment tool for children. Oetzel developed the test with a speech therapist and an early childhood educator she met while working as a consultant for Head Start, the federally funded child development program. The first version of the test was published in 1969.
The fifth edition of the assessment, the PLS-5, was published in 2011 and is now the most widely used preschool language assessment in schools and health care settings in the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia. A copy of the second edition, from 1979, is housed in the biomedical library.
“Lee always felt very strongly that, had she not gone to UCLA and gleaned the knowledge in her undergraduate and graduate work, she would not have had the ability to develop the PLS test,” said Ellen Baskin, a close friend and the trustee of Oetzel’s estate. “She knew and respected the value of hard work, and her wealth came in large part from the test royalties, and so she wanted to give back to UCLA, and specifically to the library, in recognition of all she had learned there.”
Even after the test was first published, Oetzel would regularly visit the biomedical library to look for articles about the test.
“She would update the test based on feedback she read about in these articles,” Baskin said.