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What We Learned:MLA 2012

Posted by on June 5th, 2012 Posted in: All Posts

From May 18 to May 23 NN/LM SE/A staff attended the 2012 MLA Annual Meeting and Exhibition in Seattle, WA. The theme of the conference was “Growing Opportunities: Changing Our Game.” Each of us went to the conference with different expectations, responsibilities, and viewpoints; following, and throughout this week, are brief summations or highlights of what we learned in light of those qualities. There may be overlap, and there will certainly be gaps since we did not approach the conference systematically to ensure complete coverage, but we hope that you will be able to learn something from our experiences. We begin this series with M.J. Tooey and Sheila Snow-Croft. Please feel free to follow up with us if you would like more or deeper information.

MLA 2012 – M.J. Tooey, Director, NN/LM, SE/A Region

There was so much good content at MLA this year but I guess I will focus on two of the “big” sessions.  I was very impressed by Mark Funk’s Janet Doe Lecture “Our Words, Our Story:  A Textual Analysis of Articles Published in the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association /Journal of the Medical Library Association from 1961 to 2010.”  I have seen similar presentations done by Google where they mine text from Google in order to chart trends and historical significance of social movements, health issues and so on.  This is the first time I have seen that type of analysis applied to our profession.  It was fascinating to hear Mark’s methodology and watch the evolution of our profession through our words.  He used audience participation to keep us all engaged.  Extremely well done, Mark!

I was also taken by T.R. Reid who gave the final plenary based on his book The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care.  I enjoyed hearing his analysis of the international healthcare scene (who knew Otto Von Bismarck was so concerned about health?).  He had done his research and I was shocked to learn that 22,000 people die per year due to lack of healthcare coverage.  I came away with three points regarding healthcare reform:

1.      Reforming our healthcare system will result in economies and efficiencies.

2.      We should be making good public health decisions and support our citizen’s health womb to tomb.

3.      We can reform health care if it becomes a moral imperative to do so.  We could do it tomorrow.

Throughout his talk, he jokingly exhorted the audience to buy his book.  I did.


MLA 2012 – Sheila Snow-Croft, Public Health Coordinator, NN/LM, SE/A Region

Condensing what I learned at this year’s MLA conference into one blog post is a formidable task; weeding out the social aspects, like spending time with colleagues and witnessing their accomplishments and hearing their work referred to in sessions and seeing them at podiums and in front of posters and dancing their hearts out after long days of learning: these make up the fabric of the conference for me. I want to focus on the actual conference content, however, and this year’s meeting was the best yet in my opinion. With the clear perspective of a full week, two sessions stand out in my memory: Mark Funk’s Janet Doe lecture and the last section programming session I attended, “Your Audience is Comatose: moving beyond powerpoint flatlining” by Bill McGann. The latter session was sponsored by the Educational Media and Technology Section (EMTS) of which I am chair-elect, and cosponsored by the Medical Informatics Section, the Complementary and Alternative Medicine SIG, the Libraries in Curriculum SIG, the Osteopathic Libraries SIG, and the Outreach SIG.

Mark Funk’s Janet Doe lecture was both interesting and fun: he successfully incorporated self-deprecating humor and audience interactivity. He immediately grabbed my attention when he began by noting that he has a severe lack of historical research skills and planned to quote the Talking Heads rather than old philosophers. An article from Science (331:176, 2011) that tracked change of word usage over time served as his inspiration to do a similar project: focusing on the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association and the Journal of the Medical Library Association from 1961-2010, he used spark lines to help visualize and track word usage and show how our profession has changed over the last 50 years. The process was not easy but the results were fascinating. As expected, “librarian/s” was the word most used; “information” came in second. Changes in technology clearly created much of the flux, but seeing the rate at which our literature reflected these changes brought them to life. There were huge recent increases in the use of words like “team/s,” “partner/s,” and “consumer/s” with variations of “health” (including “healthy” and “healthcare”) replacing the use of “medicine” and “medical.” Much more can be done to pull meaning from this data, but research like this is needed in our profession and I am pleased Mark Funk chose this project for his turn in the spotlight that is the Janet Doe lecture.

On a much smaller and more practical note, Bill McGann’s session discussed moving away from standard PowerPoint presentations when teaching. He is a speech therapist in the public school system, a mediator, and a presentation consultant. Obviously, PowerPoint works, it’s quick and easy and useful, but McGann showed how slides can and should support the speaker rather than distract an audience. Traditional text-filled slides divide audience attention, as viewers are reading rather than listening and don’t need presenters reading for them; small text can’t be read by those in the back; different fonts and colors and too many facts distract rather than assist. McGann consistently asked these questions, helping the audience remember them: “What is the point?” “What are you trying to say?” and “How are your materials supporting you?” Clear intention is the goal; like an elevator speech, attendees should walk away knowing what you were talking about and why you were talking. He included a demonstration of the pecha kucha model, 20 images that remain on the screen for exactly 20 seconds each, which forces the speaker to fine tune and focus on the message.  Other points included incorporating stories, because that is how we process information, and personalizing the information being presented using pictures rather than text whenever possible. A good tip is to use one’s own camera to build a catalog of usable personal photos and avoid copyright issues. Also, have an online handout with all references, videos, pictures, and slides included, so note-taking isn’t necessary and the audience can better focus. McGann is right: effective presentations are harder to do and require more work up front, but the results are memorable and, well, effective.

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