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Chapter News: Highlights from the 2019 NCNMLG/MLGSCA Joint Meeting: We Are Not Neutral!


Submitted by Courtney Hoffner, Bethany Myers, AHIP, Antonia Osuna-Garcia, and Wynn Tranfield, Science Libraries, University of California–Los Angeles (UCLA)

The Northern California and Nevada Medical Library Group (NCNMLG) and the Medical Library Group of Southern California and Arizona (MLGSCA) held an annual joint meeting from June 12–14, 2019, at the University of San Francisco (USF). The joint meeting brought together 114 colleagues from California, Nevada, and Arizona.

The meeting theme was “Critical Health Sciences Librarianship: Examining Our Role in Social Justice.” The conference speakers, sessions, and posters were aimed at critical perspectives in library practice and ways to bring social justice principles into our work in health sciences libraries. The theme was a first for the NCNMLG/MLGSCA, and organizers were unable to find a similar theme for health sciences librarianship conferences.

The pre-conference began with four (free!) continuing education (CE) sessions, with more than sixty attendees. The CE sessions varied from evidence-based health care and examining bias in searching to diverse ways to connect with patrons. In the evening, colleagues gathered for a happy hour at Barrelhead Brew House, near the USF campus, and enjoyed the San Francisco nightlife.

The plenary speakers gave inspiring talks that covered systemic problems in both US health care and libraries. Odette Harris, a neurosurgeon from Stanford University, gave the first plenary presentation about her own path to neurology and her work on identifying and treating traumatic brain injury (TBI) in female veterans, which can have different outcomes than TBI in males. Nicole A. Cooke’s plenary presentation called on conference attendees to reflect on and critique social structures, and to move beyond cultural awareness to cultural humility.

Conference attendees rose to the challenge to get creative in their breakout session submissions, as evident in the diverse and thought-provoking presentations and discussions. The content included critical data studies, critical library instruction, vulnerable health populations, LGBTQ+ resources and programming, and student diversity spaces. The following are some highlights.

Alvaro Quezada, Frances Lezcano, and Hannah Schilperoort, Norris Medical Library, University of Southern California–Los Angeles, presented their research, “Words Matter: Interpretations and Implications of ‘Para’ in Paraprofessional and Paralibrarian.” The authors surveyed library staff about preferences in work titles, and their findings showed that most staff considered the term “para” to be demeaning. In response to this study, MLGSCA has changed the name of their “MLGSCA Outstanding Health Sciences Library Paraprofessional of the Year Award” to “MLGSCA Library Staff Excellence Award.” This presentation also became a hot topic during the unconference on day two; specifically, one group focused on how to apply critlib principles to the way we interact with our colleagues.

Colleen Cuddy, Heidi Heilemann, AHIP, and James Liu, Lane Medical Library, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, presented their project, “Hosting a Student Diversity Center in the Medical Library.” They shared some of the rewards and challenges they experienced while creating and maintaining a student-run space in their medical library, and they recommended best practices for other institutions looking to open a center of their own. The project grew out of a need expressed by medical students for a place where minority students could meet, gather, and support each other.

The conference also had a diverse and lively poster session with topics varying from health literacy to census data to power and privilege in libraries. Posters can be viewed online.

The special content session for day one was the “Introduction to Transgender Allyship in Library Instruction,” hosted by Amy Gilgan of the University of San Francisco. The session used group activities, discussion, and self-reflection methods to explore ways to make library instruction more inclusive to students on the transgender spectrum.

On day two, Alan F. Carr, AHIP, and the staff of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM)/Pacific Southwest Region (PSR) gave an update on the PSR office at the University of California–Los Angeles (UCLA), in which they introduced new hires and discussed PSR’s current projects.

A highlight of day two was the unconference session, “#critlib@work: How Can We Apply #critlib to Our Jobs?” This unconference was an interactive forum to provide structure for generating practical ideas to apply critical librarianship in the health sciences. Conference attendees reflected on themes they learned about throughout the conference and broke into groups to brainstorm how to incorporate these themes into their work. Each group focused on a different user group (students, colleagues, clinicians, public communities) to strategize on how librarians can advocate for these groups through the lens of critlib.

Overall, this small but powerful conference offered a wonderful professional development opportunity for colleagues in the health sciences to discuss critical librarianship and think creatively about how to apply these theories to librarians’ work. We hope what we learned truly creates innovation and change at our institutions and are eager to see more social justice content in future library conferences. Many thanks to all the participants and planners who made it such a success!


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