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We Need an International Strategy

cropped_international.jpgLast March, when MLA leadership canceled MLA’s longstanding institutional membership with the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), several members were disappointed. Leadership’s rationale was  that spending $20,000 on IFLA membership and travel expenses was not affordable in
today’s belt-tightening environment. Those opposed to the decision argued that MLA should not turn its back on the “global voice of the library and information profession,” and that IFLA should be part of MLA’s international strategy.

Does MLA have an international strategy? Not really. We do have international programs and there is an international scope to MLA’s mission. Without a clearly established and communicated strategy, how can we make judicious decisions on questions like membership in IFLA?

In May 2015, based on the ongoing decisions that face us on how we should be involved internationally, the MLA board decided it was time to fully define an international strategy and then consider how that strategy fits in MLA’s overall priorities. The board asked me to work with MLA members directly invested and knowledgeable in international initiative and MLA Executive Director Kevin Baliozian, who has expertise in the realm of international relations. With insights and contributions from Gurpreet Rana, chair of the Librarian Without Borders Committee and close cohort of Lenny Rhine; Megan von Isenburg, chair of the International Cooperation Section (ICS); Katherine Downton from the Membership Committee; and Kathy Kwan, an expert in MLA’s bilateral international agreements, we created an international goal outline, which the board reviewed in November 2015.

Here is the outline of the proposed goal:

Goal: Strengthen MLA’s international presence and worldwide impact in health information and care, by

  1. developing and delivering educational programs for audiences in underserved countries and developed economies,
  2. building on MLA’s international network of health information practitioners and their professional organizations,
  3. understanding – and exploring whether to collaboratively define – the different roles in, and standards for, health information governance and management around the world,
  4. advocating for the adoption by industry of country models for access to information,

in order to

  1. Empower information professionals and researchers in developing countries,
  2. Enable MLA members to play a positive role in their global communities,
  3. Facilitate mutual learning from the worldwide community,
  4. Promote awareness of international issues,
  5. Enhance the quality of health care, education and research throughout the world (MLA mission).

In May, the board will reexamine the international goal and associated strategies (which need to be detailed further) to determine how best to proceed.

We want to hear your thoughts on the specifics, and how you feel those strategies should fit into MLA’s overall priorities. You can comment here, or provide your thoughts as part of this brief survey (where your comments will not be publicly visible).


International Strategy

February 3, 2016 10:46 AM by M.J. Tooey, AHIP, FMLA

Since hitting return posted only the title of my comment, I figured I better actually submit something. So, at first I was going to just do the survey but felt the questions didn't address my questions and concerns with the proposed goal and were simply leading me through commentary suggesting I agreed with the goal.  Fundamentally, developing this goal is a good thing. MLA has a complex history of international involvement that has as times been very confusing. So my first questions is: Is the intent of this goal to gather all international activities under one umbrella and to fit them into one of the points? I would like to see a stronger statement regarding MLA's role as the premier association for health sciences librarians providing leadership in matters regarding information on the international level. That goes beyond "strengthening." If not MLA, then who? General comments: the goals are too wordy and in some cases hard to understand. The "in order to's" are soft and I found myself asking "how?" Are there stronger words that could be used? Finally, some suggestions for additions: An explicit statement regarding increasing international memberships and partnerships. Anything needed about emergency response including ongoing dialogue with NLM and NNLM regarding promotion of the Emergency Access Initiative? What about seeking partnerships to advance MLA's priorities. There are some things that allude to building international membership and understanding governmental/political issues surrounding health information and governance but they could perhaps be more explicit? Anyway, that is it for now. I want to get this posted before I hit another untoward key and lose the whole thing for the third time. Thanks for asking our opinion.

International Presence

February 3, 2016 08:48 PM by Ken Edison Petre, II

International presence is an important part of true multicultural awareness, which is a key component of any information agency's ability to reach as many people within as many populations as possible.  Furthermore, this is directly in keeping with the spirit of collaboration and even moreso in regards to the health information field, which can change its colors daily, if not hourly, because communication is an integral part and of paramount importance to the promotion of information and knowledge literacy, currency, and relevance.  For we all have a voice, but only together can we create true harmony.

Are we an international association?

February 4, 2016 05:10 PM by T. Scott Plutchak, AHIP, FMLA

I've always felt that MLA had the opportunity to be a truly global association for health sciences librarians, but we've always waffled about that.  I think it would be useful, in the current discussion, to address that explicitly.  Is MLA an association of US health sciences librarians that encourages membership by librarians outside of the US and has some international programs, or is MLA an international association of health sciences librarians that happens to be based in the US with a predominantly US membership?  Depending on how we answer this question, the strategies will develop along different lines.

In either case, of course, the realities of effective use of resources places realistic limits around our ambitions.  And since, in either case, the vast majority of members are from the US, their environment, issues and needs must be the primary drivers of program development.  But if we adopt the 1st stance described above, then our international programs can be modest and there will be little need to address the different challenges that our non-US members face.  In the increasingly global environment in which we live, and with unviersities across the country developing robust programs in global health, and with the increasing awareness that the major public health challenges are global in nature, I think that would be unfortunate.  If we adopt the 2nd stance, then our strategies need to include explicit recruitment of non-US members and a methodological approach that has us asking what are the global ramifications of each of our program areas, how do we address those and how do we make sure that our activities are useful to our non-US members.  It requires us to be more inclusive and to develop stronger partnerships with librarians outside of the US, partnerships that will be essential if we are to be effective in addressing the global health challenges of the future.

Meeting outside of the US this year provides an appropriate backdrop to consider this question and to be explicit about what kind of association we want to be.

MLA's International Strategy

February 22, 2016 10:03 AM by Sandra G. Franklin, AHIP, FMLA

Posted on behalf of Donna Flake:

I appreciate the three comments made so far to this blog.  I say “MLA is an international association of health sciences librarians that happens to be based in the US with a predominantly US membership.”  I quote Scott Plutchatt here who brought up two possible roles for MLA (the alternate role is that MLA is an association of US health sciences librarians that encourages membership internationally.)  Because MLA is an international association, we must fully develop our plan to work with health sciences librarians and health sciences library associations and to plan our future – fully incorporating international goals.  My suggestions for doing this are:

  1. Offer MLA membership to health sciences librarians from poor countries outside the US for a rate they could afford (annually $25 or less). The poor countries could be those that get HINARI free or at a reduced rate.
  2. Advertise that we have Bilateral Agreements with many other medical library associations. I was the MLA representative for 2 three-year terms to EAHIL (European Association of Health and Information Libraries.)  During that 6 year period I regularly published articles in the International Cooperation Section’s newsletter and sometimes in MLA News on events at EAHIL.  When MLA appoints a representative to a health sciences library association with whom it has a Bilateral Agreement, it should be with the understanding those representatives will write two reports per year on their library association’s activities.  And MLA should provide a mechanism for those reports to be published in JMLA, or MLA News (I realize MLA News may be too short for this).  The reports could at least be prominent on the MLA website.  Also – I would suggest the MLA representative to international library associations should work hard to promote MLA, and educate the membership of the international association about MLA.  (If the MLA representative is assigned to a library association with poor countries, then the representative could inform the librarians of the reduced cost of MLA membership).
  3. For 5 years I have served as a reviewer for the Elsevier Foundation which accepts grant applications from medical librarians in underserved countries. This is a wonderful and far reaching program that has done tremendous good for international medical libraries.  I suggest that MLA work with EBSCO, Wolterskluwer, and other very prosperous vendors to encourage them to adopt a similar program to help underserved libraries with funding grants.  When MLA had its Sister Library Initiative with Latvia from 1999-2001, our International Cooperation Committee contacted Elsevier, EBSCO, OVID, and many more vendors for support, and these vendors were happy to help with this MLA endeavor.  They did it for many reasons – but two big ones were 1) helping MLA with something MLA valued, and 2) making a difference in the world.  Furthermore, I suggest that MLA ask each of our wealthiest vendors to select a continent to help (one vendor does Africa, one vendor does South America, etc.).  Actually Elsevier mainly does Africa because most of the grant applications come from there.  If MLA got behind this and gave major free publicity to our vendors for the projects they funded, this would be great.  Additionally, each major vendor could offer one free year of access to their major database (like UpToDate, DynaMedPlus, Clinical Key, etc.) to poor countries that could never afford the database anyway.  Actually that would be a way of the vendor marketing the database and making it known in a country and, also, in nearby countries.  The database vendors offered their primary database to Latvia when we had our Sister Library Initiative.  (Our International Cooperation Committee put up signs of appreciations in vendor booths in the MLA exhibit hall during the MLA meeting.  The signs congratulated each vendor by name for their work with Latvia.  Most International Cooperation Section members stopped by the booths that helped Latvia and thanked the vendor personally).  This scenario of having MLA’s wealthiest vendors fund grants to poor libraries was a suggestion I made as a member of the Librarians Without Borders Committee – probably three years ago.  I think this is what is meant by MLA’s 4th goal which states: “Strengthen MLA’s international presence and worldwide impact in health information and care by advocating for the adoption by industry of country models for access to information.”
  4. I strongly suggest MLA rejoins IFLA. (How can we possibly be an international organization without being an IFLA member – even if it does cost $20,000?)
  5. I suggest changes to the current Cunningham Fellow. There is far too little publicity given to MLA members about the Cunningham Fellowship.  Even though the Cunningham Fellow attends MLA – hardly anyone is aware of this.  Have a big picture of the Cunningham Fellow at the registration desk at the MLA meeting with a note that says “look for our Cunningham Fellow, get to know him/her and find out about librarianship in his/her country”.  Cunningham Fellows who come to the US have expressed that the 2 or 3 week duration is much too short a time to 1) get over jet lag, 2) get over culture shock, and 3) let them learn about medical librarianship in the US.  Almost all of the Cunningham Fellows now only visit libraries around DC since they need to visit NLM.  Most of these DC libraries are large and complex, whereas many Cunningham Fellows come from smaller libraries.  This is not a good fit.  I have hosted 6 Cunningham Fellows and they appreciated a more rural setting and smaller libraries.
  6. Coordination of MLA meetings and other medical library association meetings internationally:   We should make it easier for MLA members to visit annual meetings of other international library associations.  Both MLA and EAHIL used to offer reduced registration to each other’s members to attend MLA and EAHIL meetings (thus an MLA member could attend EAHIL’s annual meeting at the same price as an EAHIL member could attend and vice versa).  Is this still in effect?  If so, it is not advertised.  It should be advertised and it should be in effect.
  7. In M.J. Tooey’s post, she mentioned “MLA’s role as the premier association for health sciences librarians providing leadership in matters regarding information on the international level.” I have heard this before, and I think this phrase is written in the MLA’s goals somewhere (not a reflection on M.J. who just mentioned it) but I think this phrasing is boastful.  I am sure this statement would be seen as a negative to EAHIL members and some other international medical library associations as well.  I would like MLA to collaborate with EAHIL and other library associations internationally.  “Premier Association” sets the wrong tone.  In the international arena, it is all about collaboration, inclusiveness, and the ultimate goal of helping each other.
  8. Two primary groups in MLA handle international activities:  Librarians Without Borders and International Cooperation Section. These two groups are doing a better job in keeping each other informed and working together.
  9. This is a small, but important point in promoting international relations. When international librarians attend MLA, they should be given a ribbon that says “International Visitor” when they check-in at the registration desk.  I have noticed that when international visitors wear this ribbon, many people come up and speak to them.  It is easy for an international visitor to get lost in the crowd at an MLA meeting.  Sometimes our international visitors feel left out.  I would like the hired help at the MLA registration desk to be told it is mandatory that an “international visitor” ribbon be given to each person from outside the US.  I would particularly like to see the MLA Board members and Officers reach out to international visitors and talk to them.  Members of the International Cooperation Section do this well and the ribbon helps everyone identify international visitors.
  10. I have been an MLA member since 1977 and I have seen a big transition in MLA’s global outlook. I have seen more global activity and more global awareness.  Before the year 2000, it seemed MLA was much more US centered.  I am delighted to see this improvement.
  11. I agree with others that the MLA’s international strategies goals and objectives need to be fleshed out. For example, objective #1:  “developing and delivering educational programs for audiences and underserved countries and developing economies,” could go on to say by #1) promoting HINARI, etc.
  12. Finally, you can see I am very passionate about MLA’s international activities. I hope I have not been too verbose, but I really wanted to provide my thoughts.

Donna Flake | Fales Health Sciences Library | South East Area Health Education Center | Wilmington, NC

International Strategy

March 8, 2016 10:40 AM by Michelle Kraft, AHIP, FMLA


Thank you for your thoughtful comments last week about an international strategy and goals for MLA.  An International Strategy Open Forum will take place in Toronto, and I encourage you to attend. Check the program for date and time.  You obviously have numerous experiences on the international front and a passion for the topic that will add value to the open forum discussions.  

There are several challenges that MLA may face in discussing the international strategy, based on your comments:

  • How do we identify unknown librarians who may be interested in connecting with MLA?
  • If vendors are interested in expanding existing resource funding to libraries in developing countries, how do they identify these libraries?
  • How do we deliver educational programs to audiences in underserved countries?

In addition, many of the points you emphasized could be initiatives or projects for further investigation by ICS or LWB.  Promoting the visibility of international visitors at the annual meeting, for example, may be as simple as you suggest by supplying a special ribbon for their badges. Every year we have an International Visitors Reception which is well attended by international annual meeting attendees. 

Again, thanks for your points of view. We are working hard on the international side, Gurpreet Rana's recent post talks about MLA's expansion of Librarians without Borders E-Library Traning Initiative program.   I look forward to seeing you at MLA.

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