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Diversity and Inclusion Fish Bowl, MLA ’18, Special Workshop Summary

Submitted by Jane Morgan-Daniel, AHIP, and Amy Taylor, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force

On May 21, the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force ran a special workshop at MLA ’18 called the “Diversity and Inclusion Fish Bowl Meeting.” Thirty-four meeting attendees participated in the 1.5-hour session, which was facilitated by Blair Anton, AHIP, Welch Medical Library, Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, MD; Alexa Mayo, AHIP, Health Sciences & Human Services Library, University of Maryland–Baltimore; Anne Seymour, Welch Medical Library, Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, MD; and M. J. Tooey, AHIP, FMLA, Health Sciences & Human Services Library, University of Maryland–Baltimore.

Diversity and inclusion is a new strategic goal for MLA. As such, the objective of the workshop was to gather participants’ thoughts and opinions on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility issues in relation to MLA. The fish bowl technique was chosen to encourage discussion and to enhance participatory dialogue. The participants’ responses to the following three questions were recorded by Jane Morgan-Daniel, AHIP, Health Science Center Libraries, University of Florida–Gainesville, and Amy Taylor, Library, Texas Medical Center–Houston:

  1. In an ideal world, what would diversity and inclusion look like for MLA?
  2. What strategies can MLA develop and adopt to ensure diversity and inclusion in offices, committees, and other leadership positions in the association and its units?
  3. What can MLA do to attract and retain members of diverse backgrounds and experiences? What are strategies for mentoring and encouraging them effectively?

Five overarching themes emerged from the fish bowl: recruitment and retention, organizational structure, resources, mentorship, and communication. These themes will inform future Diversity and Inclusion Task Force initiatives and recommendations.

Recruitment and retention

  • Using election times to remind leaders to consider additional methods to reach new members
  • Increasing support for new members, which could be achieved through more programming opportunities for the New Members Special Interest Group (SIG)
  • Developing a clear pathway for new members, in terms of support for networking and finding appropriate SIGs, sections, and mentors
  • Partnering with more library schools, outreach from MLA to graduate students
  • Advocating for curriculum changes in library schools to include a health sciences track
  • Increasing outreach to minorities in relation to the viability of health sciences librarianship as a career path
  • Recognizing the value of nontraditional skill sets, non–master’s of library science (MLS) positions, and new MLS graduates
  • Encouraging critical thinking and questioning amongst members
  • On an individual level, striving for retention in the profession through fostering positive and encouraging work environments

Organizational structure

  • Ensuring a diverse MLA Board and leadership
  • Increasing opportunities for whole representation
  • Ensuring that inclusion and diversity initiatives are sincere and integrative
  • Encouraging more new SIGs for underrepresented groups, alongside an inherent understanding of why minority SIGs are important
  • Ensuring that length of time in the profession is not the only consideration for appointments
  • Encouraging minorities to apply for committees


  • Recognizing invisible disabilities
  • Supporting innovative programming ideas; for example, examining the many forms of privilege
  • Identifying allies and creating resources for those who wish to be allies
  • Creating diverse spaces for members
  • Enabling remote participation to allow more inclusion with MLA sessions and events, especially in relation to the annual meeting due to the cost of attending
  • Developing cultural competencies
  • Improving accommodations for families at the MLA annual meeting; for example, child care or child passes for the exhibit hall
  • Having gender neutral restrooms at meetings, as well as halal meal options and accommodations for prayer
  • Training about safe spaces


  • Launching initiatives to assist mentors and mentees to find one another, through improving the visibility of MLA’s mentoring program sign-up
  • Encouraging more mentorship offers, especially from minority leaders
  • Creating a mentoring competency checklist and offering training, so that mentors can increase their own confidence
  • Providing opportunities for mentees to seek mentors from minority groups
  • Ensuring mentorship agreements are honored on both sides
  • Providing mid-career mentorship


  • Limiting the use of acronyms to minimize confusion for new members
  • Creating a framework of cultural humility
  • Understanding that colorblindness is invalidating and finding ways to encourage dialogue regarding the different backgrounds of members
  • Tailoring meeting event options with both extroverts and introverts in mind
  • Keeping current with evolving diversity, inclusion, and equity terminology and conversations

If you would like to join the conversation, send your comments via Twitter using #MLADiversity.

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