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About the RTI

The Medical Library Association’s (MLA) Research Training Institute (RTI) is an immersive online continuing education program that provides advanced research methods training and support for library professionals to complete a research project of their choosing. The RTI training program is unique in the country, funded in part by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and has proven to be a highly-effective training model with a laser-focus on propelling health sciences librarians to become successful researchers and authors. The RTI program also serves as a new model for research methods education in graduate library and information sciences master’s programs through its RTI Online Embedded Student Program and academic partnerships.

RTI Academic Outreach

The RTI program is designed to build a growing research community of health sciences librarians and Library and Information Sciences (LIS) graduate students who are interested in conducting research to improve health sciences library services and health care. During the 2021 and 2022 institutes, the RTI partnered with the University of North Texas (UNT), the Master of Science in Information Science program, and the Emporia State University (ESU), School of Library and Information Management program, to pilot a new embedded student program that provided highly-advanced research instruction and hands-on experience of conducting a research project that will be of practical use and importance to these students as future LIS practitioners. Based on the success of this pilot program, the RTI now admits a limited number of LIS graduate students each year, providing them full access to much-needed advanced research methods education as part of their formal LIS graduate-level courses. This dynamic and nontraditional educational approach, which brings together LIS practitioners and students, serves as a model for LIS continuing education and master’s programs for improving the quality of research methods instruction and innovatively offering real-world opportunities (experiential learning) for LIS graduate students to collaborate with LIS practitioners.

RTI Background Information

The RTI program is an essential component of MLA’s core values, mission, and strategic goals. In 2015 the MLA Board of Directors appointed the MLA Research Imperative Task Force (RITF) to advance research and evidence-based practices in health sciences libraries. The Task Force developed an action plan that established the MLA RTI, which was unanimously approved by the Board of Directors in 2016. In 2017, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awarded MLA a three-year Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program grant to plan and offer two five-day Institutes at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) in July 2018 and July 2019. In 2020, IMLS awarded MLA a second three-year grant to transition the successful in-person RTI research training program to online formats and to offer two online Institutes in 2021 and 2022. The new RTI online program capitalizes on the advantages of online learning (greater affordability, accessibility, and flexibility) while providing high-quality education in advanced research methods to a more diverse and inclusive health librarian-researcher workforce. In 2023, the RTI transitioned to a fee-based model offering many opportunities for scholarships and professional advancement, including earning an RTI Fellow Certificate.

RTI Updates

The RTI continually communicates information and research findings about RTI activities. In-person channels include meet-up sessions at professional meetings and faculty conference presentations. Electronic formats include the RTI website, the RTI News, and the social media platform “X”, formerly known as Twitter (@RTIatMLA). RTI participants also create publications and posters that spotlight significant findings resulting from their participation in the RTI. The RTI Leadership Team is dedicated to sharing information and educating the public about the important work of the RTI.

RTI Leadership Team

The RTI leadership team provides oversight of the RTI training program and program assessment; MLA education services support; grant activities; and RTI partnerships, fundraising, and the dissemination of program information and results.

Susan Lessick, AHIP, FMLA, RTI Founding Director,Susan Lessick, AHIP, FMLA ORCID, provides high-level oversight and advice on the RTI program, focusing on collaboration and communication activities. Lessick is a Distinguished Librarian Emerita, University of California, Irvine (UCI), and served for nearly 30 years at UCI as Head of the Grunigen Medical Library among other positions. Lessick’s research interests include librarian-led research, research education, emerging technologies, and copyright, and she has an extensive presentation and publication record that reflects these areas. Active in MLA, she served as chair of the Research Imperative Task Force (RITF), Research Section, Hospital Libraries Section, and an Editorial Board Member and Virtual Projects Section Editor of the Journal of the Medical Library Association (JMLA). Lessick received the MLA Fellowship Award in 2012, and the MLA Presidential Award in 2017 for her work on the Task Force to Review MLA’s Competencies for Lifelong Learning and Professional Success and in 2020 for her contributions to the RTI program.

Emily VardellEmily Vardell, PhD, AHIP, RTI Program Administrator and Co-Faculty Lead, ORCID, provides oversight of the RTI program, curriculum, and learning activities. Dr. Vardell is an associate professor in the School of Library and Information Management at Emporia State University, Emporia, KS. She is an expert instructor and researcher, specializing in qualitative research and health information behavior. She teaches graduate courses on the foundations of library and information science, reference services, research methods, health sciences librarianship, and disaster preparedness in libraries. Vardell’s research interests include health insurance literacy, health-related decision-making behavior, and library science education best practices and trends. She has received research and teaching awards, including the Lucretia W. McClure Excellence in Education Award (2023), the Beta Phi Mu Eugene Garfield Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship (2017), the MLA Thomson Reuters/MLA Doctoral Fellowship (2016 to 2017), the University of North Carolina (UNC)–Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science Deborah Barreau Award for Teaching Excellence (2016), and a Fulbright Award (2005 to 2006). Vardell is also the editor of the book The Medical Library Association Guide to Answering Questions about the Affordable Care Act (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), co-editor of the forthcoming Health Literacy and Libraries (Rowman & Littlefield, 2024), and the Online Updates Column Editor for Medical Reference Services Quarterly. She is an active member of the Midcontinental Chapter of MLA (MCMLA), serving as MCMLA Chair (2022-2023). Additionally, she is active in MLA and serves as the 2024 Co-Chair of the 2024 National Program Committee and a member of the Educational Steering Committee.

Jodi PhilbrickJodi Philbrick, PhD, AHIP, RTI Assessment Administrator, ORCID, provides oversight of the RTI program, focusing on RTI assessment activities. Dr. Philbrick is a Principal Lecturer at the College of Information, Department of Information Science, University of North Texas (UNT)–Denton. Philbrick teaches graduate-level courses in library and information sciences and health informatics at UNT. Prior to her faculty appointment, she was the assistant director of the Houston Program for the Department of Information Science. Philbrick’s research interests include mobile technology, virtual reference services, and professional competencies in health sciences libraries, and she has conducted research, presented, and published in these areas. Philbrick and her collaborators have received multiple Elizabeth K. Eaton Research Awards from the South Central Chapter of MLA. Active in MLA, she served as the chair of the Section Council and member of the MLA Board of Directors from 2012–2017. Philbrick received the MLA President’s Award in 2017 for her service to Section Council, work on the Task Force to Review MLA’s Competencies for Lifelong Learning and Professional Success, and participation in the Rising Star’s Program, and received the MLA Lucretia W. McClure Excellence in Education Award in 2021 for her outstanding work in library education.

Deb Cavanaugh,Debra Cavanaugh MLA Director of Professional Development, coordinates RTI, web, and web conferencing services, and manages the RTI registration services and RTI Jury review process. At MLA, Cavanaugh works in collaboration with the Director of Education and education committees to design and implement MLA curriculum and educational offerings. Cavanaugh also manages and advises the Contributed Content Work Group of the MLA National Program Committee and coordinates the abstract submission and review process for the MLA National Annual Conference.

Barry Grant,Barry Grant PhD, MLA Director of Education, ensures the delivery of a high-quality RTI learning program and oversees MLA education support services, RTI finances, and RTI grant staff. At MLA, Grant serves as Director of Education and leads the association’s professional development activities in four key areas: continuing education, annual meeting educational programming, relationships with external educational stakeholders, and credentialing.

Mary Langman,Mary Langman MLA Director of Information Issues and Policy, serves as Primary Contact/Grants Administrator, collecting, reviewing, and submitting IMLS grant documentation. Langman facilitates RTI collaboration across MLA units and with grant partners and oversees fundraising activities for RTI. At MLA, Langman is responsible for administration of recurring and non-recurring public policy issues, board and governance activities, archiving, fundraising, maintaining program website pages, committee and other volunteer records in the MLA member database.

RTI Grant Partners

2020-2023 RTI Partners

2017-2020 RTI Partners

Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Grant Proposals

2020 IMLS Grant Proposal

  • Read the narrative of MLA’s successful grant proposal funded by the IMLS.
  • List of references in grant proposal.

2017 IMLS Grant Proposal

  • Read the narrative of MLA’s successful grant proposal funded by the IMLS.
  • List of references in grant proposal.

MLA Grant Announcements

  • RTI News: IMLS Awards Second Grant to MLA to Deepen the Research Capacity of Health Sciences Librarians, July 30, 2020
  • MLA Press Release, August 3, 2017

For questions regarding the institute, please contact Susan Lessick, AHIP, FMLA, RTI project director.


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