MLA Annual Meeting: Medical Librarians Focus on Cultural Transformation

Article excerpt

Futuro Magnifico! Celebrating Our Diversity" was the rallying cry for some 2,400 health-information librarians who convened May 14-19 in San Antonio for the Medical Library Association (MLA) Annual Meeting and Exhibition. Among the many programs and special events--all geared around the diversity theme--attendees also had time for fun and became experts in singing "Happy Birthday," with two guest speakers and one longtime member celebrating their natal days during or near conference time.

In her welcoming and presidential address, 2004-2005 President Joanne Gard Marshall noted the year's priorities, which emphasized diversity, advocacy, lifelong learning, and building the knowledge base of medical librarians. "The achievements of MLA represent hard work," Marshall, distinguished alumna professor, School of Information and Library Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told the assembly. "Every member makes an important contribution."

She noted MLA's $2,500 contribution to the UNICEF Disaster Relief Fund for tsunami-hit areas and the doubling of support for the American Library Association Spectrum Initiative Scholarship Program for minority students who express an interest in health science librarianship.

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"I'm here today to challenge you," author and National Patient Safety Foundation founding board member John J. Nance said in his John P. McGovern Lecture. "Medical libraries are one of the key elements of patient safety and we're not going to get where we need to go without your help." Nance exclaimed that the battle cry for medical librarians should be "providing the right information, to the right practitioner, at the right moment."

Fred Roper, retired director of the University of South Carolina School of Library and Information Science, served as MLA's Janet Doe lecturer. He took attendees on a course of history regarding the association's professional development programs in a talk titled "A Look Back at the Way Ahead."

"Professional development has been a hallmark of MLA for many years, which includes continuing education, credentialing, research and publications, formal education, and professional service," Roper noted. "For much of the association's life, there was no integrated professional development program. Individual committees carried our association activities." He added that partnerships with other associations, agencies, and institutions are also essential.

Despite having been fired, former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, who was Joseph Leiter National Library of Medicine (NLM)/MLA lecturer, said, "I enjoyed being your surgeon general and if I had to do it all over again starting this morning, I'd do it the same way." Professor emeritus of pediatric endocrinology at the University of Arkansas School of Medical Science, Elders added that she has been called "controversial so much that I thought my middle name was controversial."

The United States has "a very expensive sick-care system," she noted, with 44 million people at any one time without health care coverage and ranking 21st behind other industrialized nations in infant mortality--which is considerably higher among minority populations.

"Medical librarians may think they're playing a very small role," she added, "but it's a very small role on a very big stage. What you do is absolutely critical to making medicine move forward." Elders emphasized the importance of education and commended medical librarians for their community outreach efforts, urging them to remember the 5 C's--have clarity of vision and be competent, committed, consistent, and in control. She added that MLA can continue to celebrate diversity by following a few guidelines: "Care enough to share, communicate and cooperate, educate, listen to users, learn and lead, empower, and be bold in the determination to make a difference. …