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MLA Glossary

Are you new to MLA? Hear some terms being tossed around that make no sense to you? Wonder what the heck an “IRP” is? (Hint: it’s not something babies do.) Check out the MLA glossary and familiarize yourself with words you will come to use regularly!

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Academy of Health Information Professionals is MLA’s peer-reviewed professional development and career recognition program. Also known as “the academy” or “AHIP.”


Board of Directors, MLA, is a group of elected representatives who serve for three-year terms. The MLA Board is chaired by the MLA president and meets at least three times a year. Each MLA committee and task force has a board liaison who will bring committee reports and motions to the board. See this year’s board members.


Chapters are independently incorporated organizations affiliated with MLA. Thirteen regional chapters are located throughout the United States and Canada. Each offers additional opportunities for continuing education and meeting participation at a regional level. Chapter membership is open to all MLA members, health sciences librarians, information specialists, and others sharing an interest in health sciences librarianship. The MLA chapters page provides a list of and links to all chapters and their meeting information and news.

Committees have varied roles in the association and include “standing committees” (those with ongoing responsibility for furthering MLA’s interests, programs, and projects), Nominating and Executive Committees (as mandated by the bylaws), and ad hoc committees (appointed for a special purpose and discharged when their tasks are completed). Learn the basics about committees and committee appointments and find a list of the standing committees.

Competency is a term used in MLA to identify specific areas in which a health sciences information professional should have knowledge or expertise. MLA’s professional competencies were revised in 2017; visit the competencies page on MLANET for both the competencies and the performance criteria associated with each one.

Continuing education (or CE) sessions are offered online, on-demand, as well as at MLA’s annual meeting and are available on a variety of topics. Choose from programs by the seven Professional Competency Areas as described in MLA’s educational policy statement, Competencies for Lifelong Learning and Professional Success, find one for the date you are available, or choose an on-demand option. For a list of each year’s offerings, visit the annual meeting site. You can also participate in the Independent Reading Program (IRP; see below).


Email discussion lists or forums offer an opportunity to share ideas and advice or request the advice of colleagues. MLA has some general topic lists and some topic-specific lists (i.e., expert searching). For details on what is available as well as where to sign up, see MLA’s community forums page.

Doe Lecturers (Janet) are individuals chosen annually by MLA for their unique perspectives on the history or philosophy of medical librarianship. The Doe Lectureship was established in 1966 by an anonymous donor. The selected lecture is presented at the association’s annual meeting and is subsequently published in the Journal of the Medical Library Association. Janet Doe served as secretary and then president of MLA in 1948/49 and was the first editor of the Handbook of Medical Library Practice. Who has been a Janet Doe lecturer? Wish you knew what they said? Take a look at the Janet Doe Lectureship page to see past recipients and to access the text of their speeches, back to 1984.


Headquarters staff, MLA, are hired and based in Chicago, IL. Staff members have committee or task force liaison roles as well as other assignments. For a listing of MLA staff and their contact information, refer to the Contact Us page.


The Independent Reading Program (IRP) is designed to provide members with a on-demand education opportunity to earn continuing education credits. This involves reading a preselected article from the Journal of the Medical Library Association, completing an IRP article analysis application, and purchasing a credit certificate. Academy members may use up to 3 IRP credits per year.


The Journal of the Medical Library Association (JMLA) is a quarterly peer-reviewed journal that aims to advance the practice and research knowledgebase of health sciences librarianship. When you join MLA, it is an included member benefit, and your dues support continued open access of the JMLA. You can receive print copies of the JMLA for $50 in addition to your membership fee.

Juries recommend recipients of awards, prizes, grants, and scholarships. You can view all awards and honors juries and their members and grants, scholarships, and fellowships juries and their members on the MLA committee page.


Leiter Lectureship (Joseph NLM/MLA) was established in 1983 to stimulate intellectual liaison between MLA and the National Library of Medicine (NLM). The lecture is presented every other year at the association’s annual meeting and in alternate years at NLM. Lecturers are chosen for their ability to discuss subjects related to biomedical communications. Joseph Leiter was associate director for library operations, NLM.

LISTSERV®: see also email discussion lists. The term “LISTSERV” is a registered trademark of L-Soft International and represents a specific type of email list software. MEDLIB-L is run on the LISTSERV platform; for other email lists, the term “email discussion list” is correct.


McGovern Lectureship (John P.) was established in 1983 in honor of John P. McGovern, noted physician, educator, author, and medical historian. The chosen lecturers are significant national or international figures qualified to speak on a topic of importance to health sciences information professionals.

MEDLIB-L is a public discussion list of interest to health sciences librarians. Archives and a web subscription interface are also available.

Medical Library Association (MLA) is a nonprofit, educational organization with health sciences information professional members worldwide. Founded in 1898, MLA provides lifelong educational opportunities, supports a knowledgebase of health information research, and works with a global network of partners to promote the importance of quality information for improved health to the health care community and the public. The About MLA pages provide details on our leaders, our organization, and our history.

MLAConnect is an MLA publication and email newsletter issued weekly online for members. Find out how to submit articles


The National Library of Medicine (NLM) is the largest medical library in the United States and is part of the federal government. It is located in Bethesda, MD, as part of the National Institutes of Health. It is known for supporting health sciences libraries through systems such as MEDLINE, DOCLINE, and SERHOLD as well as for its futuristic programs and training fellowships.


Panels are occasionally appointed to serve as peer-review and evaluation boards for MLA’s publication and credentialing programs.

Plenary session is a term used at meetings for those sessions where all members are in attendance. MLA’s annual meeting usually has three to four plenary sessions, which include the McGovern Lecture, the Doe Lecture, the Leiter Lecture (every other year), and a special topic session on the last day of the meeting. At the MLA meeting, these sessions generally have no other competing sessions.


Sections are an official part of MLA and represent MLA members’ subject interests or library types. New members can enroll in one of the twenty-two sections free for one year. Sections meet and sponsor programs at the MLA annual meeting. Information about each section, news items, and officers can be found in the community area.

Special interest groups (SIGs) are ad hoc groups that provide a forum for members with unique interests to identify and meet without the governance requirements of sections. SIGs range from a series of informal meetings on a specific, short-term issue to an established subgroup within an MLA section. For a list of the SIGs or more details on setting up a SIG, visit the MLANET SIG page.

Specialization in the MLA context means the certificate programs in which health information professionals and others can demonstrate knowledge and expertise in specific areas. MLA offers two specializations, the Consumer Health Information Specialization and the Disaster Information Specialization; each offers a certificate that the user has completed continuing education in the area of specialization.


Task forces are appointed for a specific study or topic investigation and usually for a specific and limited period of time. Current task forces and their charges and members are listed on the MLANET committee page.

Seen another term you are not sure about? Submit your question or request and we will get back to you with the definition and add it to this page!

Last updated 3/22/2019