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I Am MLA: Neville Prendergast

Submitted by Neville Prendergast; edited by JJ Pionke.
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Institution: Tulane University School of Medicine

Title: Director, Matas Library of the Health Sciences

Brief description of responsibilities:

Enable librarians and staff to do their work duties with the best available tools and advice, while ensuring that the community of users have the necessary best resources available to them via a highly trained and competent library workforce.

Why is MLA important to you?

MLA is the primary institution that pulls medical librarians, health sciences librarians, public health librarians, and more to a single place to discuss information best practices to serve our communities and to cross-teach each other in order to expand experiences.

Why did you become a librarian?

As a practicing scientist in an underdeveloped country, information was not readily available for me. It was a struggle to find recent, readily accessible data to inform one's work. I did a postgraduate library course in my home country, but it was not enough. I moved to the US via a postgraduate grant to do the MLS at the University of Buffalo, New York.

What was your first library job or first professional position?

I got my first job as a new faculty member on the tenure track at the University of Buffalo Health Sciences Library as assistant librarian in their Information Dissemination Services. It was/still is an arm of the library that works most directly with the outside community of scientists, legal personnel, and scientific businesses in the area. It was more like a self-contained ILL/Information Dissemination hub.

What is your advice to someone taking on a new role in leadership in MLA or in some other capacity?

First, know who you are and why you wish to take on this role. Then, be clear on how best to represent yourself and your organization and on the value of the role to the membership.

What has been the most interesting project you have worked on?

I have done work in MLA over many years, but the most satisfying to date is the work on the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force (2017–2019), which is now a full-fledged MLA DEI Committee as a result of changes in MLA's forward outlook.

What do you consider to be the most pressing issues or trends in librarianship?

The most pressing issue in librarianship is to maintain membership levels and interest with valuable learning and leading activities that will expand the value of information services and research support to the communities we serve, in all our places of work.

Bucket list:

I have never given any serious thought on a "bucket list." I love to do a number of things, and I've done many things. For pastime entertainment I love to dance, and my wife and I would do that very regularly on a weekly basis. COVID-19 interrupted, but we still do on our own at home. We listen to all kinds of music, and our favorite now is the LoveZone music provided at

What do you do in your spare time?

Listen to music of all genres, but my favorite is of course Reggae. I'm a big fan of Bob Marley, whom I knew very well before he passed. We lived on the same road as adult folks. As a youngster, I used to listen to his early band practicing in the 1960s in Trench Town—my dad ran a small grocery store there.

What is the best thing you’ve read/watched/listened to recently?

Read Ibram X Kendi's work. Listened to him give a presentation at Tulane last week. Watched a Marley concert coming out of Jamaica—now run by the Marley clan of kids.

Five words to describe you:

Live, love, enjoy life today.

Is there anything about you that others might be surprised to know?

I was Student of the Year at the University of the West Indies in 1973 based on academics and community organization. I was the secretary of the Union of Democratic Students (UDS). As a high school teacher (before getting into librarianship), I also helped form the National Union of Democratic Teachers (NUDT) in Jamaica after a group of us got fed up with the JTA (Jamaica Teachers Association). They were all about only the principals, and we protested at one of their meetings and eight of us were expelled. It was a blessing—we were about the issues that affect classroom teachers and all teachers, not just the principals.

What are you most proud of?

Of my attitude to work ethic and community involvement, and the connectivity within my immediate family and extended family—brothers and sisters—who live all over the world (France, Canada, England). We communicate constantly and visit as often as possible.

Additional thought:

My dream career was to be a soccer player—I was very good at it and represented my high school and university—but got my left knee broken up, and it took a long time to heal. I was on crutches for almost six months in 1971. Up to today, that knee still bothers me—but no one would know.

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