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What We Learned: MLA 2012

Posted by on June 6th, 2012 Posted in: All Posts

What We Learned:  MLA 2012

Day two of our reflections on the MLA experience brings entries from Terri Ottosen and David Midyette. Please feel free to follow up with us if you would like more or deeper information.

MLA 2012 – Terri Ottosen, Consumer Health Coordinator, NN/LM, SE/A Region

One of the best Section programs I’ve attended in years occurred at the MLA meeting in Seattle. Sponsored by the Medical Library Education Section and the New Members SIG, the Tuesday afternoon program included five presentations from librarians, each conducting projects that offered interesting and unique takes on community outreach. Prudence Dalrymple at Drexel University talked about a multidisciplinary partnership of librarians, health professionals and faculty who collaborated to encourage medically underserved patients to seek health information. One of the objectives of the project was to test whether sending tailored text messages to members of a prenatal class was effective and helpful. Anna Tatro spoke about Project SHARE, a unique program from the Health Sciences and Human Services Library at the University of Maryland in which students from a Baltimore high school gain the skills to advocate for improved health at the personal, family and community level. To read more about the program, see Anna’s LibGuide:

Jamie Peacock at the National Library of Medicine, Division of Specialized Information Services, relayed information about her project of using social media to engage family caregivers online. If you’d like to know more, NLM4Caregivers is on Facebook: Kimberly Pullen at Louisiana State University in Shreveport described her project with the Caddo Parish Public School librarians. She received funding from the South Central Region of NN/LM and was able to award four public school librarians money to conduct unique projects in each of their schools, including a medical research challenge for the students.

Michelle Eberle, the Consumer Health Information Coordinator in the New England Region of NN/LM, spoke about the challenges of doing outreach in Maine. Her presentation was chock full of information including the idea of a focused outreach model, but one thing struck me as particularly challenging; many Maine residents don’t have access to computers and even the public library may have only a few running at slow speeds. One way her outreach targeted that population was to develop posters with tear-aways with health information resources. You can see this poster at: She also worked with teachers and teens using a site that students can use to explore science careers,

All of the speakers were inspiring, enthusiastic and quite dedicated to providing outreach in their communities. As a veteran of MLA and conferences in general, it was a refreshing and informative session. Kudos to all you outreach warriors out there.


MLA 2012 – David Midyette, Outreach and Communications Coordinator, NN/LM, SE/A Region

Having not been to MLA in a decade, I’d forgotten that the meeting is a whirlwind of connecting and re-connecting, posters, paper sessions, section programming, exhibit openings, lectures, meetings, lunches, dinners, social events, in short, exhausting. However, I found a resonance within my experience at this particular meeting that is completely in line with one of my key interests in library students and new librarians. My first MLA in Dallas (2002) was as a new librarian, and no, with a decade of experience under my belt, I found myself focusing on those about to enter the field or in their early years. Quite frankly, I was surprised at the number of attendees in this statistic but it warmed my heart to see so many fresh faces full of passion for such a wonderful profession.  It was also great to reconnect with a former student of mine who is now a librarian in our region (Carolyn Schubert – James Madison University).

The paper that sticks in my mind most clearly is one given by two graduating students from the University of North Texas (David Howard and Valerie Howard) as part of the Medical Library Education Section session on Monday, May 22nd. As librarians about to enter the field, they have some concerns about job prospects and how best to leverage what we all understand is a flexible degree into a solid career. It is hard to deny the effect of the economy on the retirement plans of our senior colleagues and this is putting pressure on new LIS graduates to find employment in varying fields. Our intrepid students from UNT took a look at job ads for Data Visualization positions and were somewhat surprised to find that none of them required or even requested an MLIS degree. Their rationale was that as trained organizers of information, librarians would be well suited to such a career choice. However, their results clearly showed that the main requirements for jobs in the Data Visualization field focused on technology skills more than data organization skills.

As someone who has been involved in both MLA and SLA for many years, I have watched the ebb and flow of both job level and job type, but one thing that has struck me, particularly in the world of special libraries, is the way many librarians are adapting to different job titles and roles. The data from the aforementioned paper show that we as librarians need to do more marketing of our unique skills sets to a larger variety of employers and also be open to using our skills in non-traditional settings. While it may be disheartening to see libraries closing, it does lift my spirits to see new librarians going out and using what they have learned to adapt to a changing employment environment. I think we need to support them in those roles and help them advocate for our profession.

In line with my interest in the changing job environment, I attended the Open Forum: Game Changing Resumes, Cover Letters, and Interviews presented by the MLA Professional Recruitment and Retention Committee. The three panelists each presented their perspective on the hiring process at their various institutions (academic medical, hospital, and corporate medical). Their comments all centered on cover letters and resumes that were tailored to the requirements in the job ads, spell checking, grammar, punctuation, clarity, etc. However, what really struck me were their comments on using social media cautiously. All three indicated that people should keep their Facebook page(s), twitter feeds, blogs, and other channels VERY professional while they were searching for jobs. One panelist who was recently promoted stated that he had locked down his Facebook profile tightly during the interview process to avoid any undue attention on his personal life.

On one hand, I can certainly understand their comments and cautions, but I have concerns about how social media might impact some HR policies regarding fair hiring practices. For example, would it be inappropriate for a hiring manager to learn certain details about an applicant online? I find it immensely interesting how social media can affect seemingly innocuous behavior and drastically blur or even erase the line between public and private. I certainly hope that at future MLA meetings this topic can be explored in greater detail.

One final observation was about my participation as a new member on the MLA Credentialing Committee. MLA is making progress toward streamlining the AHIP application process and making it more accessible to librarians in both traditional and non-traditional settings, as well as non-librarians in librarian roles. I think this can only strengthen the profession as we seek to define levels of professionalism utilizing all of the skills and knowledge that make us incredible librarians. I was so grateful to attend MLA again, and I am definitely looking forward to Boston in 2013.

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