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Transforming MLA Communities: Detailed Information

November 2018

The plan to transform MLA communities is grounded in the essential objectives of inclusion, enhanced collaboration between our diverse member communities, strengthening of those communities as our “professional home,” and improved experience and value for us as MLA members.

Inclusion and Diversity

The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, chaired by Sandra G. Franklin, AHIP, FMLA, and the Communities Strategic Goal Task Force, chaired by Rikke Ogawa, AHIP, worked together to align on the following recommendations, which the MLA Board approved:

  • replace the dual-level of MLA member communities (sections and special interest groups [SIGs]) with a single tier (caucuses); and
  • eliminate the financial barrier to joining an MLA member community by setting MLA member community dues to $0.

As an MLA member, you will be able to join and participate in any member community, at no extra cost, starting September 1, 2019 (until then, you continue to join SIGs at no extra cost and sections at the current section membership rate).

When is this change effective?
In September 2019, when the 2020 membership cycle begins (2019 membership is not affected).

What happens now?
No change: join any SIG at no extra cost, and join sections at their regular member rate.

Will my MLA dues increase because of this change?

What will happen to my section or SIG after September 2019?
By default all SIGs and sections become caucuses (no action required).

How will caucuses that were sections be able to fund their activities in the future?
We have a process in place to determine the various funding needs by October 2019 for inclusion in the 2020 MLA budget.

What will happen to section funds?
Decisions on section fund reallocation will be deferred to October 2019, with a process in place to propose compelling options by that time.

Introducing “Caucuses” and the “Community Council”

All MLA member communities will be referred to as “caucuses” as of September 2019. From an MLA Bylaws compliance perspective (as recommended by the MLA Bylaws Committee led by Emily Ginier), caucuses will technically be sections.

Starting September 2019, SIGs will become sections, all sections (including SIGs) will be referred to as caucuses, and “section” dues are set to $0. At the same time, the Section Council will be renamed the “Community Council” and will continue to abide with the MLA Bylaws, which are unchanged.

These changes will have an immediate positive effect on MLA diversity and inclusion as well: all caucuses will now be represented in the Community Council. All MLA member communities will therefore have a voice in:

  • governing MLA communities
  • electing the Community Council chair, who has an ex-officio voting seat on the MLA Board of Directors (three years)
  • nominating candidates to the MLA Nominating Committee

Currently, SIGs do operate in a simpler fashion than sections, while both SIGs and sections greatly vary in size from ten or so (fifty for a section) to several hundred. In the spirit of administrative simplification, the board has followed the Communities Strategic Goal Task Force and Bylaws Committee recommendations to:

  • set the minimum size for any caucus to 10
  • eliminate all section bylaws, and replace those by a simpler Caucus Procedural Manual that:
    • allows for simple operation for small groups, as well as larger ones,
    • complies with the MLA Bylaws with regards to leadership elections,
    • specifies how to appoint nonelected roles,
    • requires midyear executive reports and annual reports, and
    • requires one annual meeting (face-to-face or virtual).

Therefore, administration will be simpler for sections, while it may be a little more work for SIGs. We had to find the right middle ground that is compliant with MLA Bylaws because we will just have one member community type (caucuses).

Will my section or SIG disappear or be broken up?
No. It stays the same, unless members want it to change (just as it happens now, with review by Section Council).

What happens to SIG co-conveners?
Nothing in 2019. In early 2020, SIGs (now caucuses) will need to elect a chair-elect every year, who will become the chair the following year and immediate past-chair in their third year of service. That is a bylaws requirement for all caucuses to be represented in the Community Council, participate in the election of the Community Council chair who sits on the MLA Board of Directors, and have input in the composition of the MLA Nominating Committee.

Do we have to meet in person at the annual meeting?
Not if you do not want to. You are required to meet as a group once a year, and you can do that virtually.

Do we really have to fill out a midyear and an annual report?
Yes, but the midyear report is simply a list of highlights, and the annual report becomes part of MLA’s permanent record, which is archived at the National Library of Medicine. Both are helpful for all members to see and for the Community Council and the Board of Directors to have a good understanding of the issues that are important to your community.

Who administers caucuses?
Caucuses are administered by the Community Council, which is composed of all caucus immediate past chairs. Because it will become fairly large (e.g., fifty), the council will have an executive committee comprising a subset of the full Community Council to deal with the day-to-day administration of caucuses (new requests, changes in name or purpose, compliance, etc.). More detail on that by September 2019.

What will happen to my SIG (or section) email discussion list?
Nothing, it keeps on serving, with the same name, unless you want it changed.

Enhancing Collaboration

If MLA did just the above (change SIGs and sections to caucuses, and make them free for members), that would not achieve much added value to you as a member and to MLA as an advocate for our profession.

To unleash value, the Communities Strategic Goal Task Force recommended, and the MLA Board approved, the creation of seven collaborative areas for caucuses, each aligned with a professional practice area, which are called domain hubs.

Domain hubs are groups where caucuses come together to collaborate on activities and programs of interest to a broad audience (e.g., MLA members, the public, health care providers) and to connect to MLA-wide activities and programs (e.g., annual meeting, continuing education, MLA News, and MLANET). Domain hubs are organized by domains of practice of the health information profession: they are the go-to place for members to access integrated content, and they provide the public a window into the profession and access to open resources.

In the next year, you will see MLA activities align to MLA domain hubs, with the most visible being member communities and the MLA annual meeting (starting with MLA ’19 in Chicago).

  1. Information Services
    Larger Common Themes: research assistance; outreach to specific communities; subject knowledge development; expert searching

  2. Information Management
    Larger Common Themes: meta-data; representation of information; collection of information; research data management

  3. Education
    Larger Common Themes: pedagogy/andragogy; instruction to health professionals; educational technology; librarian as instructor; instructional design; information literacy

  4. Professionalism and Leadership
    Larger Common Themes: ethics; equity, diversity, and inclusion; development of leaders; management (HR, fiscal, project, etc.); influence in health care organizations; education of and advocacy for health information professionals

  5. Innovation and Research Practice
    Larger Common Themes: evidence-based librarianship; informatics; research training; diversity in scientific research; assessment and evaluation

  6. Clinical Support
    Larger Common Themes: evidence-based practice (EBP) curriculum and habits in health professions; role of librarianship in clinical settings; providing high-quality health information to consumers

  7. Global Health and Health Equity
    Larger Common Themes: development of health information professionals globally; equity in access to health information; international collaborations for MLA and medical librarianship
Who defined the seven domains?
The Communities Strategic Goal Task Force recommended them to the MLA Board, which approved them. They are derived from the six official professional competency domains for our profession so as to correspond to your professional domains of practice and were presented during open meetings at MLA ’18 in Atlanta. They were also reviewed and supported by the MLA Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. The board may, from time to time, as our profession evolves, change these domains based on recommendations from the Community Council.

Why isn’t there a grouping for library specialty types or for communities representing a specific ethnicity, for example?
Domain hubs are not caucus groupings. They are collaboration areas related to a broad area of practice. We encourage all caucuses to participate in multiple domain hubs, based on specific areas that they wish to influence or contribute to.

Diversity and inclusion is so critical, so shouldn’t there be a specific domain hub for them?
We believe that diversity and inclusion should be present everywhere and that by creating a specific domain hub for diversity and inclusion, we would achieve the opposite result by siloing diversity and inclusion. There are, however, specific diversity and inclusion topics included in several domain hubs, as they are an inherent core area of those respective professional practices.

Enhancing Collaboration: How Will Hubs Work?

Here are highlights of how domain hubs will operate and be fully operational by May 2020:

  • Caucuses (not MLA members) join one or more domain hubs (starting September 2019) and by doing so, become active participants of that domain hub’s governance and strategy.

  • Hubs will be connected to MLA programs and committees (fully implemented by June 1, 2020, when committee cycles begin) and work with MLA staff in areas such as website member and public resources.

  • MLA News Editor Christine Willis, AHIP, will appoint a column editor for each hub to encourage publication of content from caucuses and hubs (starting September 2019).

  • MLA staff will launch a collaborative workspace area to facilitate the connection of individuals and groups to launch and work on grassroots projects (think of it as the “GIG” economy model for volunteer organizations), which will have the long-term effect to shift some tasks from appointed committees and task forces to members and groups with individual initiative.

  • We expect caucuses to spawn many of the projects, either on their own or in collaboration with others.

The board will set up a Community Transition Team that will work collaboratively with current sections and SIGs to get domain hubs started and to define the initial domain hub vision by end of July 2019. The goal is for sections and SIGs, once they become caucuses in September 2019, to be able to make informed decisions regarding their participation in one or more domain hubs starting October 2019.

What are the different roles in a domain hub, and how will those be filled?
The answer to this question will be worked out in the next twelve months by the Communities Transition Team. This is a wonderful opportunity to take what works, change what does not, integrate recommendations from the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, and evolve to an ecosystem that is attractive to our younger members as well.

What do you mean by GIG economy model for volunteer organizations?
GIG volunteering is basically signing up for a task that another has reached out for help on. Tasks can be diverse, such as mentoring, writing an article, creating an annual meeting session, or updating an MLANET resource. Therefore, project initiators find project contributors to get the project done and then move on to another project. That is a very different approach to committees, task forces, and appointments, and is made possible by technology.

Who will get domain hubs started?
That is a “chicken and the egg” question…how does my caucus know to be interested in a domain hub if I do not know what is in the domain hub, and if I am not in the domain hub, how do I help define what is in it? The short answer is that the next year is a “transition” year, where all sections and SIGs will have the opportunity to shape the initial vision for the seven domain hubs and then make an informed decision on whether to participate in their leadership teams. We should have all that fully operational by May 2020.

Will domain hubs have their own websites?
That is for domain hubs to figure out with the MLA staff team, but it is reasonable to expect that there will be a major change in MLA’s external website (MLANET), so that it represents the profession along the seven areas of practice with easily available public resources and that the “member” website will likely have resources organized in a similar fashion.

Will caucuses have their own websites?
Not any longer (some sections had websites). The vision is to simplify by having public resources and member-only resources.

What happens to my section blog?
In general, caucuses will be encouraged to post articles via an expanded MLA News, with visibility either to all members or to the public. There may be some exceptions, which you will need to discuss with the transition team.

What web features will caucuses have?
Same as a SIG today: join/unjoin, member list, file library, email discussion list.

How You Will Benefit

We have come full circle back to the Community Strategic Goal Task Force’s first outreach to MLA members: the Communities Guiding Principles. Those are summarized as follows:

  • Communities provide valuable homes to their members
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion are the threads that strengthen the fabric of the Medical Library Association
  • Communities are organized to retain existing members and attract new ones
  • Communities embody and advance the MLA mission
  • Communities are judicious in their use of limited resources

Communities provide valuable homes to their members:

  • Coalesce around topics of mutual interest.
  • Initiatives are interesting; causes are meaningful; activities are fun.
  • Shared ideas and experiences can improve performance at work.
  • Group and personal achievements are recognized.
  • MLA engagement and leadership development path is clear; training is available.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are the threads that strengthen the fabric of the Medical Library Association:

  • Communities are inclusive for all MLA members seeking a place to exchange ideas and experiences.
  • Communities reflect the diversity of MLA member interests.
  • Communities are a safe space for members to exchange ideas and experiences.

Communities are organized to retain existing members and attract new ones:

  • Communities are segmented in relevant and focused areas of interest.
  • Communities are adapted to the current and future needs and expectations stage of career.
  • Communities are active throughout the year through in-person and virtual involvement.
  • Communities are easy to promote and to join for MLA members and nonmembers; the value proposition and business model (dues, membership structure) is easily communicated and demonstrated.

Communities embody and advance the MLA mission:

  • The roles to contribute to MLA programs (education, annual meeting, MLA News, JMLA, advocacy, awards and scholarships, AHIP) are clearly defined and productive.
  • Member and group content use and visibility are maximized (no silos!).
  • The paths and processes for outreach to community members, MLA members, and the public (nonmembers) are clearly defined and simple to navigate.
  • Vanguard to help shape MLA attention/activities
    • basic demonstrated leadership skills;
    • 3 to 5 year horizon for their thinking (not about term of leadership, but about a state of mind thinking beyond your immediate leadership term: continuity);
    • ability to inspire and empower others;
    • understanding of value creation in a limited resources environment.

Communities are judicious in their use of limited resources:

  • Volunteer time is used effectively.
  • Staff time and headquarters resources are used effectively within budget.
  • Members value the use of their community dues.
  • Initiatives are prioritized based on value (mission) and resource use (volunteer, staff, budget).

The Communities Strategic Goal Task Force recommendations include a plan and metrics to assess how MLA does in achieving your improved experience and value. There are a number of practical moving parts as well, that various MLA committees will be looking at, including Academy of Health Information Professionals (AHIP) points related to volunteer contributions.

I just want to listen to conversations and occasionally participate. Is that OK?
Engaging at your desired level of comfort is perfect. Simply join a caucus and jump onto the email discussion list whenever you feel like it.

I really care about my peer group in my current MLA community. Will I still find a home?
Your caucus remains your professional home at MLA. If you are interested, you can take on a leadership role at the caucus level. Those will vary depending on the caucus and its size, as determined by each caucus.

I am interested in the collaborative aspect of domain hubs. What kind of roles do you envision?
There will be many ways to participate in domain hub activities: as a caucus delegate to a domain hub, you would join the domain hub leadership team. You could also be appointed to the many MLA committees that will have a connection to each domain hub and, thereby, participate in the overall strategy to advance that practice area. If you are more the project-type volunteer, our GIG economy concept should work great for you.

I am interested in the leadership and governance opportunities. What are my options?
You can be elected caucus chair and focus on leading your caucus. As a caucus past-chair, you will be a member of the Community Council, and you can rise up from there to be elected Community Council chair by your fellow council members and, hence, join the MLA Board for a three-year term via that path. You could instead join a domain hub leadership team by becoming a caucus delegate to a domain hub and get elected to chair the domain hub.


The MLA Board has deferred decisions on section finances to September 2019 and the 2020 budget, for two main reasons:

  1. 2019 finances are not affected by the community transformation
  2. Several foundational elements need to be in place to allow informed decision making on allocating section funds:
    • defining an MLA-wide scholarship vision that is attractive to MLA communities
    • funding that vision
    • providing a substantive picture of each domain hub’s activities that would identify initiatives that may need seed funding
    • working out the details that are specific to each section

Please expect more communication on the process and timeline of the above, and be ready to be involved in the months leading to and including MLA ’19 in Chicago.

Can my section set up an endowment?
Yes, if your section has $25,000 or more in accumulated funds. That should yield, on average, $1,000 of scholarships per year. Endowments must be approved by the Board of Directors.

Doesn’t MLA already have an MLA-wide scholarship vision?
Actually, no. Currently, scholarships are provided by individually endowed funds, external grant funding, or sections, which each have their own specific objectives and corresponding eligibility requirements. There is no overall MLA scholarship vision.

Why is defining an MLA-wide scholarship vision so important?
MLA seeks to increase the amount of scholarships that it provides for continuing education and attendance at the annual meeting, and it needs to direct that support to segments that MLA members have prioritized. Those could be merit-based, need-based, advancement of specific groups, and so on. A compelling scholarship vision is a foundational element for sections to consider allocating section funds to an MLA-wide scholarship fund and for MLA to launch a 125-year anniversary fundraising campaign with large donors and institutions.

My section has specific expenses to fund important initiatives that need to continue. What happens when no more revenue comes in?
We have given ourselves through 2019 to sort out funding, starting with the 2020 budget. The Communities Transition Team will be working with all the sections.

Quick Timeline

As a Member:

  • 2019 membership: nothing changes (join SIGs for free, pay section dues)
  • 2019 section awards and scholarships: nothing changes (apply as usual)
  • 2020 membership: join any caucus (previously SIGs and sections) as an MLA member benefit at no extra cost
  • 2020 awards and scholarships: look for MLA-wide scholarships

As a SIG:

  • Through June 2019: participate in discussions on:
    • MLA scholarship vision
    • domain hub initial vision
  • September 2019:
    • Your SIG becomes a caucus.
    • Select the domain hubs you wish to actively participate in; appoint a domain hub “delegate.”
  • Early 2020: hold leadership elections, start date effective June 1, 2020
  • Starting June 1, 2020: fully comply with caucus requirements, and fully participate in all caucus activities (including Community Council)

As a Section:

  • Through June 2019: participate in discussions on:
    • MLA scholarship vision
    • domain hub initial vision
  • September 2019:
    • Your section becomes a caucus.
    • Your section funds are reallocated based on your recommendations, review by the Finance Committee, and approval by the MLA Board.
    • Continue to operate as you would a section (except finances).
    • If your section benefits from pass-through funding from an external organization, those are unaffected and remain in effect.
  • October 2019
    • Select the domain hub(s) you wish to actively participate in;
    • Appoint a domain hub “delegate” for each hub you choose
  • Early 2020: hold leadership elections, start date effective June 1, 2020
  • Starting June 1, 2020: fully comply with caucus requirements, and fully participate in all caucus activities (including Community Council)

For further questions, please contact MLA’s Executive Director Kevin Baliozian.

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