How to Get Involved in Medical Librarian Organizations

Tuesday I wrote about being active in MLA.  Those who are active within the organization are the ones who see the most benefit of membership.  I realize telling people to get active may not be enough, so I am going to give examples of ways you can be active within various medical library organizations. 


MLA Committees, Panels, Juries, Task Forces:

Fill out the appointment application. You MUST be an MLA member to apply (so you will have to login into If you get redirected after loging in go to Member Center – Apply for MLA Committee. Applications are being accepted NOW!  The deadline is October 31st!  

It is helpful to look at the two links at the top of the application prior to applying.  The Committee Appointment Information (describes the appointment process) and MLA Committees and Charges (defines the work of each committee, jury, and task force).  Knowing this informaiton will help you select the right committee and know what the committee chairs are looking for in a person when they are selecting their committee members.

Please put some effort in the qualifications or special experience.  Even if your qualifications aren’t medical library related but are related to the charge of the committee, jury, or task force, make sure to put that information in there!  For example if you have sat on an awards panel for your job or another volunteer organization, put it in!


Join a section.  Some sections are bigger than others.  In smaller sections there might be more of an opportunity to participate in some activities because they don’t have a large pool of volunteers to draw from.  In bigger sections there might be more opportunities to participate because they have more projects going.  Once you have joined a section, watch their listserv for discussions and look for opportunities to participate (calls for reviewers, awards, etc.).  Watch communications to see if somebody on a committee needs a proxy to fill in at the annual meeting.  This year the MIS membership chair unfortunately was unable to come to Seattle, thankfully we had somebody volunteer to sit in for her at any meetings the membership chair needed to attend.   

Some sections are more loquacious than others.  So if you are on a section’s and the listserv discussion isn’t burning up your inbox, you might look at ways to foster discussion by asking a question related to the subject of the listserv.  You can also just email the chair or incoming chair stating you would like to become more active in the Section and you were wondering if there was anything you could volunteer for. 


Join a Chapter. Think of Chapters as MLA broken down to  specific sections of the United States.  The Chapters ARE NOT related to NLM’s National Network of Libraries of Medicine.  This can be confusing because often they have similar names with some of the same states in their groups.  

For example: Living in Ohio, I am a Midwest Chapter member whose library is a part of the Greater Midwest NNLM.  If I were living in South Dakota, I would be a Midcontinental Chapter member whose library is part of the Greater Midwest NNLM.   Confusing right? 

Once you understand that MLA Chapters are not NNLM regions then things are little easier.  Join your chapter and start looking for ways to get involved.  Join the listserve to stay in touch, look at the website for opportunities and contact people regarding those opportunities. Many people are very active in their Chapters.  Chapter volunteership often leads to being asked to join a something within MLA. 


SIGs are very different than Sections and Chapters because they are more loosely structured.  SIGs are Special Interest Groups and generally are less formal and have more flexible organizational units.  They are not required to have officers, just a convener to act as the contact person with MLA, organize meetings, and coordinate activities.  One of the lures of SIGs is that they do not charge dues nor fundraise for themselves.  SIGs cannot sponsor a program at MLA unless it partners with a Section.  Programs at MLA sometimes cost money and because SIGs have no money they cannot help with the program costs, leaving the costs up to the Section.  While the no fees membership of SIG can be appealing it may limit a person’s official involvement due to its loose structure and possible lack of positions other than convener or co-convener.  SIGs are a great way to meet people with the same interests but depending on their organization they might lack some opportunities for involvement. 

State and Regional Organizations and Associations

Check out your state and regional organizations and join them.  If the idea of getting involved within a larger organization like MLA seems daunting, the state and regional organizations are often smaller and more intimate.  You probably already know many of the members through your regular job activities.  Not only does their size make it easier to know each other, but it provides more of an opportunity to get involved. 

Long before I was an MLA Board member I was chair elect, chair, and past chair of the Ohio Health Sciences Library Association.  That was one of the most rewarding and best opportunities I had.  I was able to work with librarians I already knew planning meetings, CE, budgets, websites, etc.  It really gave me the confidence to get more involved within the larger MLA.  Additionally, being an active member of this group gave me (and continues to give me) a way of dealing with issues in medical librarianship on a local level.  Many of these issues had/have more of a direct impact on my job and medical librarianship than MLA has had at times.  Why? Well, some things are only happening locally or they are better handled locally. 

You can find a list of some of the state and local organizations on MLA’s website.

Other Related Organizations and Associations

If you go to an MLA meeting (or any other medical library meeting) it is a good idea to keep your ears open while people are discussing other organizations and meetings they have attended.  If a lot of people are mentioning it, then there are probably a lot of people who belong to both it and MLA.  I know from my acoustical observations there are quite a few MLA members who also belong to the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL), Canadian Health Libraries Association (CHLA)/Association des Bibliothèques de la Santé du Canada, and Special Libraries Association Biological Sciences Division (SLA).  Involvement in one of these organizations can lead to involvement within MLA, Chapters, or local groups.  Likewise ideas and lessons learned in one can be adapted or shared too.

Get Involved:

There are many places and ways you can get involved.  You will be surprised your involvement will take on a life of its own and build upon itself.  People will remember you from a committee or a task force or for simply stepping up and attending a meeting as proxy or manning the table/booth.  When people begin to remember you for those things they will want to ask you to join them on other projects and your involvement because self sustaining.  That is when it gets really fun.  You begin to share new ideas across groups and organizations trying and using the best information available to make opportunities for not only yourself but for medical librarianship as a whole.  That is when you really realize that your membership is more than just a piece of paper.  That is when you realize what MLA can do for you.

One thought on “How to Get Involved in Medical Librarian Organizations”

  1. Thanks for this post. As a new librarian in the medical library field this was helpful overview of the different organizations, committees, etc that someone can join and explore various opportunities in.

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