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The MLA Educational Media and Technologies Section: A Twenty-Five Year History

Developed by the section for MLA's Centennial in 1998.

For all that the Educational Media and Technologies Section (EMTS) is one of the newest sections within MLA, or perhaps because of its youth, EMTS has had an eventful and sometimes turbulent twenty-five years. Marlene Smith, the current EMTS chair, has written a surprisingly colorful essay which explores some of the issues, events, and personalities which have contributed to our first twenty-five years. Read on...


Birthing Pains

In Kansas City, MO, on Thursday, May 31, 1973, a group of concerned Medical Library Association (MLA) members met informally at breakfast to discuss the relationship of medical audiovisuals and their effect upon medical librarianship.

During this brief meeting, many critical questions were raised dealing with the role of MLA and its support of information and education for librarians who were faced with the task of developing and implementing audiovisual facilities. Although audiovisual resources for educational support began to flourish in the post-World War II era, this little breakfast group was the first to formally request that MLA address itself to this growing area of informational resources.

And so, on that spring morning twenty-five years ago, a seed was planted. By August 17th of that year, the group had grown to sixteen. It was time to seek recognition. Dorothy A. Spencer of the Medical College of Georgia wrote to Sarah Brown, the president of the Medical Library Association, as the "Acting Spokeswoman for the Unofficial Special Interest Group for Medical Media" to ask for MLA approval.

It is interesting that the proposed "Special Interest Group for Medical Media" should change their name to "Health Sciences Audiovisual Group" (HSAG) by November 16, 1973. The original term "media" was actually a broader based application and closer to the current moniker "Educational Media and Technologies Section." "HSAG" first appears on a "List of Petitioner's in Support of the Proposed Health Sciences Audiovisual Group" prepared for the 1973 MLA December board meeting. By this time, the swell of support provided fifty names on the petition and represented nineteen states. The petition included familiar names such as Susan Crawford and Nancy Lorenzi. As a new "Special Interest Group" we were hard to resist.

Letters of support included a variety of concerns which causes one to smile even now. The reason? So much of the early discussion was as valid then as it is today. Nancy Sauro of the University of Minnesota wrote, "One thing I would like to see accomplished is acomprehensive catalog of the health sciences audiovisual materials currently available for purchase or loan, from commercial and academic sources. This would be something like a Books in Print." Ahhh well, Nancy, ... twenty-five years later we wish the same thing.

Other concerns in those early letters of support revolved around our relationship with other groups, federal legislation and outreach education. Joe Taylor of the Houston Academy of Medicine, Texas Medical Center Library, wrote, "The relationship between the medical librarian and the biomedical communicator deserves considerable scrutiny." "Another critical problem the group should examine is the impact of national legislation upon medical media, ...and federal outreach programs such as the Area Health Education Centers (AHEC)."

Today's hot topics still involve legislation and educational outreach programs affecting media. The "fair-use" copyright regulation of digital media is a major concern right now. Telemedicine is one of the current techniques for educational outreach (current term: distance education), and includes other applications such as diagnostic medicine. It's the same story, just a newer form of technology.


At any rate, the HSAG quickly gained momentum and recognition. On February 7, 1974, Dorothy Spencer received the official notice from John S. LoSasso, executive director of MLA, "....This is to confirm for your records that the board did grant official status to the Health Sciences Audiovisual Group and the meeting of your group will be publicized in the official program for the annual meeting in San Antonio this June." From that first little breakfast meeting in Kansas City, MO, to our first meeting in San Antonio, TX, it took less than a year for our seed to grow and establish our roots as an official MLA Special Interest Group.


Marlene B. Smith, Chair, MLA's Educational Media and Technologies Section, University of Missouri-Kansas City, School of Medicine Medical Education Media Center, 2411 Holmes St, Kansas City, MO 64108.


Sidebar: EMTS and HeSCA/BLIG

The development of HSAG and their early interest in relationships with other groups was nearly simultaneous with the birth of the Health Sciences Communication Association (HeSCA) Biomedical Libraries Interest Group (BLIG). At the 1973 annual HeSCA meeting, a group of attending media librarians met to discuss the formation of BLIG.

By February 18, 1974, Helene Zubkoff (chair of BLIG) sent out a formal letter to media librarians inviting them to participate in the formation of this group. The competition seemed to have MLA a little worried. In a letter written on March 26th by MLA President Sarah Brown to our HSAG Chair Dorothy Spencer, the last paragraph addressed the HeSCA invitation.

I am sending a copy of a letter that was received by MLA concerning a group of media librarians. I wonder if you might interest these people in becoming MLA members and coming to your particular subject group (SIG?). The fact that 'MeSCA' (Sarah obviously meant HeSCA) is attracting people with health science interest is of much concern to many members of the board. Do you have any ideas about this? Please get in touch with me.

Although we do not have records of Dorothy's response to MLA, we do know that Jack Hartley, D.D.S., M.S. of HeSCA, took a direct approach in his letter "proposing a liaison between HeSCA and MLA" (March 20, 1974). MLA did respond by appointing a representative to HeSCA for 1974/75, Reba Benschoter, but felt that it would not work out on an administrative level. The last two sent sentences of the MLA letter to HeSCA dated May 24th indicated that: "There is a new special interest group in MLA—the Audiovisual Group—which certainly would be interested in HeSCA's activities. Contact Dorothy Spencer....."

Records pick up again with the first publication of a joint HSAVS HeSCA newsletter in 1984. The joint newsletter was published once annually and was later issued once every other year. The November 1985 joint issue provided a description of both organizations detailing the complimentary nature of each group and "...the need for networking with other biocommunications professionals."

In recent years the association has drifted apart as HeSCA/BLIG membership has dwindled. This trend may be linked to a combination of less funding for academic biomedical communications divisions, the development of more computer-based material or the increased commerical distribution of such products.


Early Enterprise

Our early HSAG pioneers were very industrious. Along with successfully organizing their new Health Sciences Audiovisual Group, they contributed speakers for a session. (This was not a sponsored "Contributed Papers Session" as we know them now). The MLAPreliminary Program for the 1974 Annual Meeting provided the following listing for June 5th:

General Session II - "Learning Resource Centers" Moderator: David A. Kronick, Ph.D., Librarian, University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio; Panelists: Dr. William G. Cooper, Project Director AAMC/AADS Educational Resources Project, American Association of Medical Colleges; Col. Howard Gutin, Dir., Brooke Army Medical Center TV Facility; Phil Rosenstein, Director of Libraries, College of Medicine and Dentistry, New Jersey ; James F. Williams II, Medical Librarian, Shiffman Medical Library, Detroit.

The HSAG also invited Brenda Cross, a visual communications specialist from Eastman Kodak for their business meeting program. Her presentation, "The Care and Feeding of Media," dealt with equipment and software ("software" meant AV programs in 1974) for various formats of film. They asked for a room capacity of 150 to 200 chairs, anticipating a strong interest for this new agenda at the annual meeting. They were right on the mark, the MLA membership was excited enough about the new HSAG SIG that more than 175 attended this first business meeting! That's some SIG!

The only down side to an incredibly successful first meeting was that by July 23, 1974, the HSAG received a copy of a memo questioning the use of commercial firms from Sam Hitt (president of MLA): "Those of you on the board at the time (December 1973) will remember that we reiterated MLA policy that commercial sources would not be allowed to teach CE courses, ...will you be prepared to discuss this issue again at the meetings in December, in light of Miss Spencer's (HSAG chair) report?"

Although the HSAG chair's report specified that, "Kodak paid all of the expenses, and the program was professional, polished, and relatively free of commercial messages," it did not quite meet with MLA approval. HSAG did not offer continuing education (CE) credit for this presentation at the business meeting, but perhaps there was a misunderstanding as to what constituted a "CE Course" in 1974. According to Sam Hitt's interpretation it might have meant that any speech was considered "CE." Needless to say, HSAG did make a slight mistake on their first time out. With more than 175 people attending our business meeting, maybe it was worth it!

As an aside, while MLA may not have been quite sure about this new SIG and the ethics of having a Kodak representative speak at the HSAG business meeting, but they certainly utilized the audiovisual format at the MLA annual meeting that year. Twenty-one of the thirty-three "educational exhibits" presented at MLA utilized an audiovisual format (two videotape presentations, seventeen slide/tape presentations, and one slide presentation. An MLA film on medical librarianship, Rx Information, was also shown at the 1974 meeting.)

One very interesting result of this controversy may have resulted in a restructuring of group responsibilities. On September 19, 1974, Julie Virgo, MLA's director of education, sent a letter to the Committee on Continuing Education in which she quotes the last paragraph of Dorothy Spencer's report to MLA on the "Kodak business meeting." "How may the Health Sciences Audiovisual Group help and support the board, Continuing Education, Local Arrangements Committee, and others interested in this common goal?" Ms. Virgo then writes, "I think that we can expect that in the future, special interest groups are going to become much stronger entities in the association, developing their own programming." (Later, an MLA restructuring did occur and large SIGs became sections which, of course, do provide programming).

Another significant event during the first year was the establishment of Media Notes, a series of columns to provide a forum for an exchange of ideas. The first column appeared in the July 1974 issue of the MLA News. Several congratulatory letters were written to the HSAG chair in praise of this new contribution. The letters were welcome and must have represented the calm before the storm. Perhaps "micro-burst" is a better term for what happened next.

HSAG initiated another controversy which lasted several years with a proposal to the Exchange Committee to develop a clearinghouse for the exchange media on a "par" basis. The committee unanimously decided against the MLA Exchange becoming involved in the project citing among other things, "lack of a bibliographic format, shipping problems, and media being classed as ephemeral." Ephemeral!? However, it is an interesting insight into the thinking of the more traditional librarian during the mid-seventies. Correspondence at the time indicates that HSAG members felt there was..., shall we say..., a bias against this "up-start" medium. The exchange list idea did not go away with this initial denial.



Throughout the rest of the 1970's there were more lively discussions, specifically, concerning a comprehensive "AV-in-Print" database." HSAG became involved in the AVline project from 1976-1977. By July 8, 1976, Bruce Ardis, chair of HSAG Ad Hoc Committee on AVline, in a letter to Joseph Leiter, associate director of library operations at the National Library of Medicine, expressed the dissatisfaction of media professions regarding AVline.


A more complete media file is needed rather than the present evaluative system which is too small, takes too long to create, and drops a significant percentage of titles recommended for evaluation. We further recommend that AVline make an aggressive attempt to include all media titles in the health sciences on its data base. [fulltext]

In response, Mr. Leiter of NLM did give a variety of reasons for the difficulties with AVline. Among those:


the preponderance of materials were either out-of-date or very poor," "file difficulties were not due to the evaluation procedure, but...because of the logistics of selection and processing," [and] "reluctance of producers to make material available...." "...NLM is firmly committed to announce media titles that have had an evaluation...." I regret that we cannot at this time give any further consideration to your suggestion that we abandon the peer review system....and invest a considerable manpower and cost in acquiring and cataloging media of little or dubious value. 

With audiovisual materials being labeled as "ephemeral" and "of little or dubious value," it doesn't take a stretch of the imagination to understand why our early HSAG felt that a bias existed at the upper most levels of our profession. If NLM considered media to be of "dubious value," the early work on AVline must have reflected the same value. Obviously, the terms chosen to describe our vocation did not reflect the current desire to be politically correct. I would also like to point out that audiovisual/software "evaluation" is no longer an AVline practice at NLM. The author feels that it is possible to assume that producers did not look too kindly upon this policy either.

Editor's note: For more information about AVline, please see the special page devoted to this topic in the Memories area of the section's Web site.

Continuing Efforts

By 1978 the AV exchange list idea was still on the burner. The MLA Exchange Committee had not changed their previous ruling against handling this project. The lack of acceptance of non-print materials seemed to be a dominant sentiment among HSAG members. A HSAG committee entitled "Members of the Special Interest Health Sciences Audiovisual Group/MLA Section to Study Exchange of Surplus, Current Materials on National and International Level" was established. Yes, our SIG drew a mighty group of activists!

During the late 1970's various correspondence makes a reference to our group as the "Health Sciences Audiovisual Section (HSAS)," but the designation HSAG (SIG) remains as well. This is explained by the fact that MLA began the task of restructuring the organization (as mention before). There must have been some confusion until it was cleared up by Fred O'Bryant in a letter to HSAG Chair Janette Closurdo. It suggests that, part of the bylaws revision that were proposed, the group should be called Health Sciences Audiovisual Section of the Medical Library Association..., ...the term 'section' must appear in the name, as this term is the one used to designate special interest organizations under the proposed new [MLA] group structure.

Although work had begun on the HSAG bylaws in 1976 and submitted to MLA in 1977, we were asked put off this activity until after the annual meeting that year when MLA restructuring would be announced. So, in June 1978 at the annual business meeting in Chicago, IL, the first section bylaws were presented and our new name became official, "Health Sciences Audio-Visual Section (HSAVS)."

The year 1978 was also significant as the year we initiated the first "Media Festival." There were nineteen programs which ran from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Topics were heavily clinical but also included patient education video.

As the years passed, section bylaws were revised, handbooks were created, newsletters were published, programs were planned and we generally consolidated our organization.

In 1986 our first "Core List of Audiovisual Programs" by Janis Brown and Margaret Tomkins was published as a special issue of theHSAVS Newsletter in July. The "core" lists were the result of HSAVS surveys and became very popular. In 1991 a "Computer-Assisted Instruction Core List" by Pat Thibodeau was added to our newsletter. Pat continued to survey our section for the most recommended AV and CAI programs until May 1993. The return on surveys were poor and so the practice was almost abandoned.


Building Up Speed

Exactly ten years ago the technology of the media scene had altered enough to change the direction of our group. "Health Sciences Audiovisual Section" no longer applied to the learning resource facilities of our membership, nor did it apply to our section. The rapid development of interactive computer-based learning added a new format to media collections across the globe.

Now, as the digital world expands to offer more technologically advanced methods of education, we can look back and realize that the name change was almost prophetic. On May 22, 1988, at the New Orleans, LA, annual business meeting the name was formally changed to "Educational Media and Technologies Section."

The development of the EMTS listserv by Charles Greenberg in the fall of 1993 made communication to our membership speedy and efficient. [Our listserv ( is now administered by Dave Piper]. With the listserv EMTS activities could receive instant attention and response. One of those activities was the beginning of an online newsletter in 1996. The ease of listserv use also brought about the re emergence of the core list.

In 1994 Bill Karnoscak and Marlene Smith took on the responsibility of the new core list. As returns drifted in, it was determined that "core" list might be presumptuous and a name change was in order. The "Highly Recommended AV and Computer-Based Learning Survey" results were posted to a Web site. In 1996 Marlene took over the committee and continues to add survey results along with titles from the Learning Resource Center exhibit on an annual basis.

The EMTS Learning Resource Center (LRC) seems like its been around for a long time because just the words alone reflect what EMTS is all about. Once again, Charles Greenberg was responsible for the first LRC in 1994 (see Sidebar: The EMTS Learning Centers Through Time) and it continues to flourish under his committee chairship. The LRC is certainly one of the more popular exhibits at the annual meeting. The spring 1994 EMTS Newsletter announced it as an "exciting new initiative offering a hands-on demonstration/discovery laboratory for MLA members to preview state-of-the-art computer-based instruction."

The May 1995 issue of the EMTS Newsletter announced another contribution by Charles Greenberg (chair, 1994/95). He produced our first web-site with lists of officers, annual reports, programs, publications and other activities. In 1997 Eric Schnell took over our Web site. As the Web site grows it has become an archival source for our newsletters and records, current EMTS and MLA activities, as well as a link to related information and resources.


Despite earlier disagreements over the direction and future of AVline, NLM has moved into a true leadership role with information technologies and multimedia funding and development. We all know that NLM took over the loan operations of the National Medical Audiovisual Center in Atlanta (NMAC) many years ago. And, of course, they created a Learning Resource Laboratory at NLM's Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications. They have conducted studies of the efficacy of computer-assisted-instruction, and contributed vast amounts of information to medical education through the publication of their own videodisc projects. Much of this information has been made available to the wider community (to the benefit of those of us in EMTS) through their multimedia outreach intiative, ETnet.

The attitude of the mid-1970's had obviously changed. In fact, NLM established itself as a pioneer in the multimedia field. A report of the first NLM videodisc project which began in 1982 with field testing was reported in the January-February 1984 issue of the NLM News. The videodisc, "Basic Medical Pathology," was accompanied by software. Other early projects included topics on radiology and dental simulations.

Certainly, today, the most well-known and widely utilized of the NLM supported media projects is "The Visible Human Project" which was originally offered on the internet. It required total commitment of a mainframe computer for two weeks of downloading time! Now available on videodisc and in subsets on commercial CDs, its potential is boundless.


Onward Bound

And now, EMTS is in its twenty-fifth year. In this year of MLA's Centennial Celebration, we're still the "pups" of the litter, but during our short span we have contributed a great deal to the profession and to MLA. Audiovisual and computer-based learning is no longer considered to be "ephemeral" or "of dubious value."

As technology grows into the next century, surely EMTS members will continue to be an integral component of its development. It's kind of nice to think that perhaps we were just a little ahead of our time in 1973. We couldn't help being a little misunderstood. In the next century, however, when digitally-based information is the norm, home computers are as common as phones, and the virtual library is an old concept, there will be new technology to take it's place. There will be skeptics. We cannot afford to be among them; EMTS must continue to look forward. The future of educational technology is the future of EMTS.