Submitted by Lisa K. Traditi, AHIP, President, MLA, and Mary M. Langman, Director, Information Issues and Policy
In 2020, MLA and MLA caucuses and chapters issued statements on important social and political issues in response to significant events. MLA also issued its customary statements and positions on information issues and policies directly related to MLA’s mission in health information.
This is the time for the association to provide clarity to MLA members on its process for issuing and approving statements.
How does MLA establish a position and make a statement on an issue?
MLA has two approaches for developing MLA public statements about issues that matter to our members and our profession.
1. Time-sensitive, unanticipated issues:
Those typically result from real-time events. Recent examples are:
- June 2020 statement in response to the death of George Floyd and many other victims of police brutality confirming MLA’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion
- January 2021 statement about the attack on the US Capitol
The MLA Board of Directors approves those statements either as MLA’s own statements or by signing onto the statement of another organization.
The MLA Board of Directors will consider issuing MLA statements on issues that are not directly aligned with MLA's mission on a case-by-case and exceptional basis, and provided they do not violate MLA’s status as a 501(c)(3) organization.
The fastest way to raise an issue for consideration by the MLA Board of Directors for a possible MLA statement or MLA signing onto another group’s public statement is to email the MLA president with information including why you think it is important for MLA to take a position.
2. Positions in areas of MLA’s practice expertise
MLA establishes positions on issues relevant to health sciences librarianship and responds to a limited number of requests for information (RFIs) issued by a federal agency. MLA statements are recognized as highly pertinent and valuable.
Statements on issues based on existing MLA positions do not require board approval, which makes the process faster. If they are not based on existing MLA positions, the MLA Board of Directors reviews and approves the statement, which then establishes MLA’s position.
MLA relies on the expertise of MLA members as subject matter experts to provide the knowledge that will define MLA’s position. This collaborative effort has worked effectively and efficiently.
See below for details on the process by which legislative priorities are established, how positions are developed on specific issues, and the roles of committees, caucuses, and the Board of Directors.
May an MLA caucus or chapter issue their own independent statement or take a different position than MLA?
MLA is committed to publishing a diversity of opinions from its members, caucuses, and chapters. Those opinions or statements may be on topics that MLA does not have an official position or may not necessarily reflect the official position of MLA.
MLA asks its caucuses and chapters issuing their own opinions or statements to ensure that those are not construed as official MLA positions (unless they specifically are). MLA requires the following language:
“This statement [or other descriptor] reflects the opinion of the [xxx caucus] or [xxx chapter] of MLA, and does not necessarily reflect the official position of the Medical Library Association (MLA).”
As MLA caucuses are part of MLA, MLA editors may determine not to publish a statement on MLANET (including MLAConnect) should the statement, for example, violate MLA’s Statement of Appropriate Conduct or MLA’s status as a 501(c)(3) organization or subject MLA to potential liability. The Board of Directors has final authority in case of a disagreement.
MLA has dedicated space on MLANET, the Statements by MLA and MLA Communities page, where these statements can be made available either publicly or to members only. Opinions may also be submitted for publication in MLAConnect.
Please contact Mary Langman, MLA’s director of information issues and policy, for guidance on the process of publication on MLANET. Please contact Christine Willis, AHIP, MLAConnect editor, for submissions to MLAConnect.
Additional information on MLA legislative priorities
Legislative priorities are established by the Joint MLA/Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL) Legislation Committee. These address broad, as well as specific, areas of information issues and policy relevant to the health sciences library community.
Starting in June 2021, the Joint MLA/AAHSL Legislation Committee and the MLA director of information issues and policy will assume the responsibilities of the Governmental Relations Committee, which include developing and promulgating a consistent association position on information policy issues relevant to health sciences libraries and librarianship, and on governmental actions affecting medical libraries.
Examples of 2021 priorities are:
- National Library of Medicine (NLM) appropriations addressed by Congress annually
- Public access to government information especially if linked to specific pieces of legislation
- Health information equity and relevant NLM resources
- Pandemic relief for hospitals and academic health centers
How can MLA members participate?
When specific expertise is required, the MLA director of information issues and policy reaches out to relevant caucuses to create a working group that will develop a document.
For example in 2020, MLA submitted eight statements to federal agencies including:
- Comments on NLM’s strategic plan, with several caucuses and committees working collaboratively
- Manifesto for Evidence‐Based Practice, developed by a group of veterinarians, vet nurses, and academics at the Evidence Live conference in Oxford in July 2019, and endorsed by the Animal and Veterinary Information Specialist Caucus and by MLA (find information about the manifesto in the September 2020 VetRecord).
A complete listing of comments is available from the Latest News section of the MLA Public Policy Center.
What are other types of actions MLA takes on behalf of the library community?
Other types of actions MLA takes on behalf of the library community include:
- Developing fact sheets on specific issues or legislation for distribution to Congressional offices (e.g., Support for the National Library of Medicine)
- Writing statements and testimonies for submission to congressional committees such as the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Labor, Health, Education and Related Agencies (e.g., Support for the National Library of Medicine)
- Issuing action alerts through MLA email discussion lists, phone calls, and fax as required (e.g., Take Action To Oppose the Case Act of 2019)
- Developing comments in response to federal RFIs (e.g., MLA/AAHSL Comments on Information and Data Resources Needed by the Health Services Research Community)
- Writing educational guidelines for use by MLA members in the practice of health sciences librarianship (e.g., The Copyright Law and Health Sciences Librarian)
For additional information, please contact Mary Langman.