Connect, Reflect, Elevate: NLM at the MLA Annual Meeting

photo of the Sears Tower in Chicago plus the logo for the Medical Library Association 2019 Annual MeetingOver 1,000 medical librarians, informationists, educators, researchers, students, and activists attended the Medical Library Association (MLA) Annual meeting in Chicago this May. The annual meeting, the Association’s 119th, provides time to connect with colleagues, reflect on the past, and look forward to “elevate” the profession.

The National Library of Medicine, with its famous roof and thick concrete walls, sometimes feels far from the action. Behind the gates of the National Institutes of Health, work is done at computer screens and in cubicles. How refreshing and exciting it is to attend MLA Annual!

The NLM team re-envisioned our exhibit booth with a focus on connecting with the MLA community. Inspired by a coffee shop or workshop model, the NLM booth offered space for conversations. Experts were scheduled at the booth, not to deliver formal presentations, but to engage in dialogue with interested attendees. The two-way communication allowed NLM and the medical librarian community to share concerns and discuss ideas about products and services. We hope the new design for the NLM booth helped MLA members, new and old, interact with NLM staff, learn about products and services, and provide feedback.

A man walks through the NLM exhibit booth

Rex Robison walks through the newly redesigned NLM exhibit booth.

For the 2019 conference, MLA introduced immersion sessions, a new 80-minute format designed to be smaller and more interactive, providing unique ways for attendees to connect to colleagues and to content. The National Network of Libraries of Medicine used one such session to host the “Elevating Health Equity Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon.” This, the Network’s third #CiteNLM edit-a-thon, was the first to be hosted in person. Medical librarians, including seasoned Wikipedia users and those new to the platform, enthusiastically edited articles and improved the evidence quality of the massive online encyclopedia. During the edit-a-thon, 54 editors made over 100 edits to 42 articles related to health equity and related topics. Through the biannual #CiteNLM edit-a-thons, the Network aims to engage Network members and to connect more consumers to quality health information by leveraging the reach of Wikipedia.

During the NLM Update, Janice Kelly, acting deputy associate director of Specialized Information Services (SIS), reflected on the history of SIS. From the 1960’s focus on environmental health and toxicology to the 1980’s HIV/AIDS Clinical Trials registry and AIDSInfo to, more recently, disaster health information resources, SIS has provided information on a variety of topics. In addition to honoring 50 years of groundbreaking work, Kelly’s historical perspective provided insight into the ways in which the Library has responded to the evolving health information needs within diverse communities.

The NLM Update also looked forward—and upward—even as it looked back at the Library’s recent activities and accomplishments.

NLM Deputy Director Jerry Sheehan described how an internal review of products and services guided NLM’s reorganization. As part of the strategic plan implementation, NLM assessed its offerings and its internal structure, looking for commonalities and redundancies. As a result, the Library has been—and will continue—consolidating resources with complementary content and realigning offices according to functions and staff expertise. NLM further aims to elevate the user experience through a common technical platform and the elimination of unnecessary organizational boundaries.

Janice Kelly speaks from behind a podium, a slide showing a timeline of the Specialized Information Services Division visible behind her

Janice Kelly recaps the history of the Specialized Information Services Division.

Joyce Backus, associate director of Library Operations, went on to describe the evolution of PubMed Labs. New features include a redesigned advanced search page for desktop and mobile devices, an associated data facet on the search results page, share and cite buttons, and additional features to enable navigation across abstract pages. As the Library’s online presence transforms, so, too, will the physical Library space. With more and more of its content reaching people online, NLM plans to reduce the footprint of public spaces and increase its flexible and collaborative workspaces over the next few years.

Following Backus, Amanda Wilson, familiar to many as the Head of the National Network Coordinating Office (NNCO), discussed the newly minted Office of Engagement and Training. A singular home for outreach, the Office of Engagement and Training will include the NNCO and staff from other NLM units with significant outreach responsibilities.

As MLA President Julie Esparza noted in her inaugural address, librarianship is changing, and so is NLM. Through its connections with the MLA community and reflections on the past, NLM looks forward to elevating its products and services to support the evolution of librarianship and the empowerment of communities. We thank all MLA attendees for connecting and reflecting with us, and we look forward to seeing the work you do to elevate the profession at MLA ’20.

By Stacy Brody, NLM Associate Fellow

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