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Is MLA an International Organization?


MLA Librarians without Borders holds workshops on the use of free and low-cost resources around the world.


Is MLA an international organization? Should we be? What does that mean in terms of what we do?

It shouldn’t surprise you that the MLA board of directors will be looking at this important topic as part of MLA’s strategic goal 1, “What MLA Does,” when it meets in Chicago in November.

Referring back to our vision and mission statements is always helpful when we ask ourselves existential questions! Our vision statement includes “MLA fosters excellence in the professional practice and leadership of health sciences library and information professionals in order to enhance the quality of health care, education and research throughout the world,” quite an ambitious realm. Our mission statement refers to building international partnerships and “supporting the information needs of underserved individuals.”

What is it that we currently do, internationally? As it turns out, quite a lot:

  • The International Cooperation Section (ICS) is in its 27th year of enabling more MLA members to become involved in international activities, fostering international collaboration, promoting awareness of international issues, and providing a mechanism for addressing the needs of international members. ICS held a well-attended open forum at MLA ’15.
  • The Librarians without Borders® program was established in 2005 to provide training in the field of information retrieval and library information assistance to underserved countries. Since then, it has held 57 workshops in 33 countries as well as developing an online train the trainers course.
  • The Cunningham Memorial International Fellowship provides a librarian outside of North America funding for attendance at the MLA Annual Meeting and observation and supervised work in one or more medical libraries in the US and Canada.
  • Discounted membership rates for individuals outside of the US and Canada
  • Bilateral agreements with 10 health library associations around the world, many of which attend the MLA annual meeting and its International Reception. MLA leaders occasionally speak at the national meetings of our colleagues outside the United States, such as when Past President Linda Walton spoke at the Mexican Libraries Association .
  • Joint meetings with our Canadian colleagues, the Canadian Health Libraries Association (see you at Mosaic '16 in Toronto, May 13-18, 2016!); 121 Canadians are also members of MLA.
  • MLA representatives on International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) committees

On the other hand, MLA has only 90 members from outside the United States and Canada, and had only 32 international attendees at MLA '15. So how many health sciences librarians outside of North America are we really touching via the initiatives outlined above? Is that good enough? Probably not. Not yet!

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