By Ojala, Marydee
Online Searcher , Vol. 37, No. 4
IF YOU'RE ONLY AFFILIATED with one professional association, you may think that the way it handles a conference is the only way. Certainly, there are constants to any association conference. There are keynote speeches, session presentations, panel discussions, business meetings, an exhibit hall, the opportunity to network with colleagues, and the entrancing prospect of eating good meals in a city where you don't live without going over budget.
Some associations have annual meetings; others meet every other year. The schedule differs as to when the keynote speeches take place and how long the conference runs. Will there be a continuing education component with separate pricing either before or after the main conference? What hours will the exhibit hall be open? Does the conference run over a weekend or during the week?
The Medical Library Association (MLA) met in Boston in early May this year, only 3 weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings, and took as its theme One Health: Information in an Interdependent World. Apparently in an attempt to increase the number of attendees and to add an international component, MLA co-located its 2013 conference with three other conferences--the 11th International Congress on Medical Librarianship (ICML), the 7th International Conference of Animal Health Information Specialists (ICAHIS), and the 6th International Clinical Librarian Conference (ICLC). The strategy worked. Some 2,500 people attended, and 35 countries were represented. About 110 booths populated the exhibit floor.
The librarians at MLA work in academic libraries (including medical, dental, pharmacy, chiropractic, and veterinary schools), hospitals, and other health-related institutions. Few attendees were from the corporate sector--their conference of preference is SLA (Special Libraries Association). MLA attendees' interests revolved around pedagogy, public health, medical research, open access, and helping clinicians and patients with their informational needs. Attendees also evinced great interest in informatics, evidence-based medicine and research, and communications strategies. An underlying theme was one familiar to all types of librarians--how to stay relevant and employed.
The opening keynote speaker, Richard Besser, ABC News' senior health and medical editor, explained the intricacies of boiling down complicated medical issues into a 45-to-90second news slot. He stressed the importance of storytelling to communicate. However, very few conference presentations picked up on this idea. Perhaps the predominance of a structured approach in much of the literature and by regulatory bodies, involving systematic reviews, clinical trials, and approval processes, contributes to this.
Innovations from the MLA conference exhibitors included the expansion of JoVE, the Journal of Visualized Experiments (jove.com), which now has 430 subscribers worldwide and stresses the importance of showing how an experiment works rather than telling about it. Brian Alper, medical director of clinical reference and consumer health products for EBSCO's DynaMed product, stressed that its core material changes quickly and frequently due to new evidence, new guidance, external feedback, and internal quality improvement.
On the international front, Marie Teissier, information specialist at the World Organisation for Animal Health (oie.int) talked about the increased cooperation among transnational agencies--her own employer plus the Food and Agriculture Organization (fao.org) and the World Health Organization (who.int) in the realm of animal health. Raisa Iivonen, Helsinki University, explained the importance of embedding information literacy in the veterinary curriculum.
Many speakers advised attendees to get out of the library, partner with those around them, be visible, stay abreast of newer technologies, and guarantee that library funders appreciate the awesomeness of medical librarians. …