Task Force on Librarians without Borders®
Final Report and Recommendations
April 15, 2008
In May 2005 the MLA Board of Directors approved the final report of the Task Force on Global Initiatives.
Selected recommendations from that report include:
“Create visibility within MLA and internationally and build on an ICS initiative by establishing a new MLA International Award for Excellence in International Service in which either an individual(s) or an organization (U.S., Canada, International) could be honored for significant and broad contributions to improvement in international health information provision. This would not need to be a monetary award, but could be a citation for excellence presented at the honors and award luncheon. Establish a new MLA awards jury for the international award, but retain strong liaison, input, and ex-officio membership on the jury from ICS membership.”
“Design and implement a new international website on MLANET as a content-rich site that aggregates all MLA international policy, programs, newsletters, and activities in one place with a prominent link to the new site from the MLANET homepage.”
“In collaboration with international partners (e.g., IFLA, CHLA, EAHIL, AHILA, WHO) plan and implement a global information service called “Librarians without Borders” that provides health sciences information assistance for health providers responding to disaster anywhere in the world.”
These recommendations, in particular, led to the establishment of the Task Force on Librarians without Borders (LWB), with this charge:
Since the Librarians without Borders initiative began many MLA members have expressed great enthusiasm for involvement in international service and support. For example, the open forum about LWB at MLA ’07 attracted approximately 100 people. The overall spirit of this final task force report is to identify ways to maintain the enthusiasm for the work of LWB long after the task force has been disbanded.
In many cases the locus of activity within MLA will be carried out by members of the International Cooperation Section, ICS (all task force members are members of ICS). However, opportunities should be expansive enough that all MLA members have the ability to participate in international initiatives.
The first two items in the task force charge refer to “tangible” projects that are now in place. This report will begin by describing the current status of the MLA Award for Excellence in International Service and the Librarians without Borders portion of MLANET.
The last two items involve ongoing program-building that will require commitments from MLA headquarters staff, members of MLA’s International Cooperation Section, and like-minded organizations throughout the world. This report will conclude with suggestions about how to foster sustainable collaborations with groups that have worldwide health improvement and health literacy as goals; and how to build mechanisms for providing relevant information assistance and training in response to epidemics and disasters.
A. T. Mark Hodges International Service Award
Status: In May 2007 the T. Mark Hodges International Service Award Excellence was named for and awarded posthumously to T. Mark Hodges, in recognition of his long-standing commitment to international comity among librarians. His widow Judith offered a heartfelt tribute that was the centerpiece of the awards luncheon at MLA ’07.
In addition to recommending the first recipient, task force members developed criteria for this award to be granted competitively beginning in 2008. Recipients must be nominated; the nomination form is available MLANET.
The award recipient for 2008 is Carol Lefebvre of the National Institute for Health Research in the UK, in recognition of her sustained efforts to improve access to evidence-based information via the Cochrane Collaboration.
Concern: The procedures for selecting judges for this award note that, “ An international jury of not less than three MLA members shall be appointed by the MLA President after consultation with the officers of the International Cooperation Section (ICS).” We do not believe this consultation with ICS officers took place in 2008, most likely because this was the first year the award was granted competitively and processes were still being established. The recommendations below should strengthen the ICS connection to this award going forward.
B. New “Librarians without Borders” Website
Status: As part of the redesign of MLANET, the Librarians without Borders page is now a home page link. This prominent placement is extremely gratifying to members of the task force. It is a direct outcome of the recommendation by the Global Initiatives Task Force, and a tribute to the work of MLA headquarters staff.
Among other resources, the site includes information about the ongoing E-library Training Initiative (which will be covered more fully in the next section of this report); information about MLA’s Cunningham International Fellowship program; and portals to quality information sources in the areas of disaster/trauma/emergency medicine and infectious diseases/tropical medicine. These portals were developed by task force members Carole Gall, Jill Mayer, and Lenny Rhine.
C. Sustainable Collaborations with Like-Minded Groups
A. International Cooperation Section of MLA
The work of the Global Initiatives Task Force raised the profile of international activities within MLA, and stimulated the positive outcomes of a new MLA award and a highly visible presence on MLANET.
There are many additional aspects of international work within MLA that are most suitable for leadership from the membership of the International Cooperation Section. ICS “provides opportunities for participation in international cooperation projects, promotes awareness of international issues, provides a mechanism for addressing and responding to the needs of international members, and fosters communication in the international library area.”
Some ongoing responsibilities that ICS members can lead include:
All of these efforts would emphasize the role of ICS in achieving sustainable collaborations with like-minded colleagues and organizations. The next section of the report will include a recommendation for a new way that ICS members could assist in providing information assistance for people responding to epidemics and other disasters.
B. National Library of Medicine
NLM’s long-range plan for 2006–2016, “Charting a Course for the 21st Century,” includes a recommendation that NLM, “Ensure continuous access to health information and effective use of libraries and librarians when disasters occur.”
NLM has built systems that successfully remained online in the aftermath of disasters in the United States (such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita) and abroad (chemical explosion in Bhopal, India). In the immediate aftermath of tragedies, people are likely to attend to fundamental concerns such as procuring food and shelter. Once a semblance of stability returns, people will wish to gather at safe places and obtain reliable information to help put their lives back together. At this stage, MLA members could be exceedingly helpful.
C. World Health Organization/HINARI and AGORA
As a byproduct of the Librarians without Borders initiative, the Elsevier Foundation has awarded grants to MLA for an “E-Library Training Initiative” for two consecutive years. These train-the-trainer grants provide for training in how to search the HINARI and AGORA databases for librarians in developing countries, with the expectation that the librarian will utilize their new skills on behalf of their local populations. Both HINARI and AGORA (as well as OARE) are initiatives of the World Health Organization in collaboration with publisher partners. WHO certainly shares MLA’s goal of “worldwide health improvement.”
Librarians without Borders task force members Lenny Rhine and Tony McSean were instrumental in securing the initial grant, and Lenny has participated in all training sessions. Task force members Grace Ajuwon and Marcus Banks also participated in the training program in Ibadan, Nigeria in the summer of 2007. Reports and photos from all training sessions are available on the Librarians without Borders web site.
This program has been a great success, and discussing it was a highlight of the open forum at MLA ’07. It is likely that MLA members would be interested in participating in similar training programs.
D. Information Assistance for Persons Responding to Epidemics and Disasters
A. MLA Disaster Relief Fund
After the tsunamis of December 2004, MLA established a disaster relief fund to support medical libraries affected by natural or man-made disasters. This fund received many donations at the outset, and another burst of support following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita the following fall.
Now that the Librarians without Borders initiative is maturing, the Disaster Relief Fund could be revitalized as the hub for MLA’s outreach efforts. The NLM and Elsevier Foundation funds proposed above could be combined into one general fund that supports different LWB purposes.
In addition to monetary donations, many MLA members gave their time to assist libraries affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Realistically, it will always be more feasible for most MLA members to assist libraries in the United States during a time of crisis. However, a strong statement of support from MLA for the value of members in responding to crises wherever they emerge—both as a means of giving back, and of learning skills that would be useful in their home contexts—would be helpful in increasing the number of librarians who could respond to disasters around the world.
For assistance in disaster response, whether in the US or around the world, checklists and guidelines would also be very helpful.
B. International Cooperation Section
In addition to the activities described above, selected ICS members have developed great expertise in international outreach that should be shared widely. One way to systematically harness this expertise more systematically is development of a cadre of mentors. A database to link ICS experts with interested MLA members could reside on the ICS web site; a good model for this is the research mentorship database developed by MLA’s Research Section.
C. National Network of Libraries of Medicine
The National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM) is currently developing a comprehensive national emergency preparedness and response plan. This plan establishes a “buddy-to-buddy” system in which libraries within each of the NN/LM regions are charged to look out for each other in the event of a disaster. Within MLA, this is a natural opportunity to utilize the enthusiasm engendered by the LWB initiative.
D. Canadian Librarians without Borders Group
An organization based in Canada, also called Librarians without Borders, was established at approximately the same time as the MLA task force. The Canadian Librarians without Borders group aims to “put information in the hands of the world." Their first project has been to develop a medical and nursing library in Angola.
Librarianship is an international profession, and libraries should support international work by their staff members to the greatest extent possible (especially in times of crisis). Knowing this, it has been extremely gratifying to observe the Librarians without Borders idea blossom within MLA. The suggestions outlined above are all offered in the spirit of maintaining the energy behind LWB. As the task force concludes its work, it is comforting to know that this energy will remain.
MOVED, that the MLA Board of Directors dismiss the task force with thanks.
Task Force Members:
Medical Library Association
Last Updated: 2011 August 05