Mary Joan (M.J.) Tooey, AHIP
Director, Health Sciences and Human Services Library, University of MarylandBaltimore, 2004
Transforming Ourselves, Our Profession, Our Association
Also available as an mp3 audio file (in the MLA '05 Business Session):
- Introduction begins at minute 8:30
- Inaugural: 9:21 - 34:30
Good Morning! I am so glad all of you are here. I was afraid with the inaugural address being on the last day of the conference that the only souls in the audience were going to be members of the Board of Directors, MLA staff, and my co-workers who were forced to be here because I was their boss. I even checked the MLA bylaws to see what the quorum requirement was for an inaugural address. I thought I was going to get to say “Sergeant-at-arms, do we have a quorum for my inaugural address?” Then I would have taken a vote – “Members in favor of hearing my inaugural address, raise your paddles.” I’m telling you, the coupling of an overactive imagination and power can be a deadly combination! I also need to tell you that I am on a 12-Step PowerPoint Withdrawal Program. My intent today is to be a PowerPoint minimalist and focus on being a storyteller rather than a presenter.
Anyway, I am delighted to be here. I feel as if I have been waiting for this moment since I was at least four. Let me explain. Now, I know that many of you don’t know me as a particularly mystical person. But I really and truly am (must be something in my Irish heritage). When I was but a wee lass, I distinctly remember thinking amazing things were going to happen when I turned 50. Now I didn’t see MLA specifically in that vision, except for the dim recollection of seeing the letters M-L-A spelled out in the stars… But amazing things did indeed happen. I turned 50, which if you had known me in my impetuous youth, could be seen as a miracle. I celebrated my 20th wedding anniversary, no doubt another miracle! And I was elected president of the Medical Library Association. Undoubtedly the stars aligned.
Every president brings their own flavor to their presidency. It is really good to be president-elect for a year so that you can do some self-examination regarding your beliefs and moral grounding, observe the environment and times in which you live, contemplate the future, and set your path. Then you take all these ponderings and apply them to MLA where you have an opportunity to work with the best, the brightest, the most dedicated and the most passionate people in our profession. Whether working with Headquarters, the Board, section, chapter, committees or with professional friends, colleagues and mentors, the ideas begin to turn in your mind and percolate to the surface. I took advantage of the wisdom of the giants in our profession. For example I queried the previous five presidents about their presidency. Whether passionate for the profession, practical magicians, extreme librarians, power seizers, or proponents of Futuro Magnifico, they filled my mind with ideas! The best advice they gave me was to enjoy this wonderful experience!
Common speech making wisdom says that good speeches tell the audience what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then review what you told them.
Today, I would like to share my presidential priorities for 2005-2006. My presidential theme is “Transforming ourselves, our profession, our association.”
Transformation is a great word. It is a word about change. It is a word that implies growth and movement from a place where you are, to a place that promises to be better. It is a comforting, positive change word because it is a safe word. It implies a change that doesn’t totally leave the past behind but builds on something that was, and makes it better, taking it to a higher place. Let’s take the obvious example, a butterfly. Even though it has been transformed into something absolutely beautiful, it still retains, at least genetically speaking, a caterpillar deep inside. How many of you remember those Transformer toys? Could any of you ever make them work right? In my mind they were the toy equivalent of the clock on the VCR. Anyway, you would start with this basic robot toy and twist and turn it until it “transformed” into an amazing creature. And how many times have you heard about a smile transforming someone’s face? The basic face is still the same but the transformative qualities of the smile take that face to another place.
But I digress. We’re here to talk about MLA. My tripartite focus for this year is on the transformation of ourselves, our profession, and our association.
The first step is supporting our own personal and professional growth. We all have a responsibility for this growth and MLA can help. As an association, one of MLA’s strengths has been always been its educational program. This year I would like to work with the CE Committee to develop agility in responding to trends and hot issues so our members can be as knowledgeable and prepared as possible for the transformations ahead. How do we inform our members about institutional repositories, the role of informationists, electronic health records? How do we educate our members to undertake roles in these areas? What about life skills? How can MLA equip members to face the many stages of their careers from resume writing to retirement planning? As the Center of Research and Education, or the CORE as it is called, matures does it need to transform into something else, perhaps an organizational repository for MLA where we can find the collective wisdom and best practices of MLA and its members?
During my presidential year I hope to find opportunities during the annual meeting, at chapter meetings, anywhere a medical librarian will talk to me to determine the hot issues or concerns of members and find out what MLA can do to support their work and new roles. At this meeting I’ve met with both Section and Chapter Council, a number of committees, new members, students, street vendors. I’ve buttonholed members in the elevator! You can run but you can’t hide! I have established a presidential email address at MLA headquarters (firstname.lastname@example.org) so that members can reach me and so I can keep MLA email separate from the den of confusion that is my work email. Additionally, I am working with staff at MLA headquarters to tweak the President’s page so that there are updates as to what I am doing (think of it as the “Where’s Waldo” of MLA), how my priorities are progressing, and even the possibility of a presidential blog to encourage greater interactivity. It may not work but you have to try!
The Board of Directors is trembling with eager anticipation (or is it fear?) to find out what I mean about turning them into an MLA Field Force to promote MLA and its activities, at the drop of a hat. I believe that any member of the Board should be ready to speak intelligently about MLA and its mission at any time. You never know when opportunities will arise.
Transforming our profession
We have a compelling and exciting profession with incredible opportunities but…we must tell our story passionately, even forcing people to listen if we have. We must explore and embrace new roles. To this end I propose a three year project involving the Hospital Libraries Section, the Benchmarking project, and other interested and relevant stakeholders, to study new roles and opportunities for hospital librarians. This will help to inform our profession’s growth in the critical area of hospital librarianship.
Recruit, nurture, support and honor….These four words express the continuum of care we must provide for our newest, current, and experienced members. I hope to incorporate visits to library schools into my travels on behalf of the organization. I had the opportunity during my president-elect year to visit with students at three – the University of Maryland, North Texas University, and Texas Woman’s University. Current research indicates that trying to attract students to medical librarianship during library school is not early enough. We need to engage students during their undergraduate years. We all know about pre-med and pre-law courses of study. Is there such a thing as a pre-medical librarian track? Can we identify undergraduate areas where we are likely to be successful in recruiting? I would also suggest that this is not enough – we need to go to the trenches – the high schools and middle schools - and be prepared to tell our stories. We must demand to be included in any listing of “health occupations.” For our newest members we must engage them quickly in MLA, weaving them into our association so that we can take advantage of their energy and ideas and they can take advantage of our expertise. Let’s rethink the New Members breakfast. Let’s find ways to link new members to student recruitment. Let’s complete the work started on MLA 101.
We need to retain our current members by finding issues and developing programming that is important. We can build on the work done by the Leadership and Management Section’s PDCAMM survey which had over 800 respondents. This survey was geared toward those mid-career librarians who are ready to make the next move in their careers. Based on the response, clearly there is a need.
The knowledge of our more experienced members cannot be lost. We must develop programming to keep them engaged in MLA so that we don’t lose their expertise, loyalty and passion. Perhaps an adopt a new member project?
We need to develop promotional resources to promote our profession to library schools and we need to exhibit at meetings such as the Health Occupations Student Association (HOSA). We need to equip all members to be spokespersons for MLA wherever they may be from an elementary school career day to library schools. We need to reach out into the communities where we meet whether at the national or chapter levels and invite students in to see the important work we do and to meet us. To know us is to love us!
Transforming our association
MLA’s survival and relevance depend on agility and responsiveness.
During my presidential year, I would like to set a re-envisioning of MLANET in motion. MLANET, in addition to being an incredible resource and communications tool for members, is also our public face where consumers, other associations, and perhaps future members find us. What does MLANET say about us? I would like to appoint a task force, to work closely with, and containing members from, the MLANET editorial board to oversee the project including:
- Setting a project plan and timeline;
- Conducting a survey of members;
- Convening focus groups;
- Considering new, innovative and emerging technologies such as blogs, RSS feeds, wikis, online training, and workspaces for MLA units to aid in the work they do;
- Identifying new resources for members such as improved job placement services; and
- Examining possible segmentation of MLANET for consumers, visitor, and member resources.
MLA is a national and international leader in matters of interest and importance to our members such as open access, scholarly publishing, the national health information infrastructure and the electronic health record. As the association of health information professionals we need to continue to exert our influence on critical issues. For example, as evidenced by the President’s award, we did incredible work in the area of scholarly communication and open access providing clear, concise and well considered input on the issue. We were acknowledged as leaders by other information associations and the NIH. MLA and AAHSL were the only two professional library associations invited to testify before Dr. Zerhouni last summer. It is my hope that sometime during my presidential year we will convene a meeting or program that brings librarians, publishers, and subscription agents to the table to discuss issues of mutual interest. I have had the opportunity to serve on several panels over the past year where librarians and publishers were in the room together having those types of discussions. It has strengthened understanding of issues on both sides. We are already in preliminary discussions with the Society of Scholarly Publishers to see if we can develop programming along these lines for our members.
This year MLA will be participating in the International Federation of Library Associations meeting in Oslo, Norway and the 9 th International Congress of Medical Librarians in Salvador, Brazil.
On the consumer side, MLA will continue to work with the Health Improvement Institute and Consumers Union. I would also like to investigate a potential project to place MLA’s award winning Medspeak brochure in pharmacies and in-store health clinics in retail outlets such as Target or Walmart. We would need to investigate outside funding for that project.
This is a very ambitious agenda for the next year. In addition to all my new ideas, we must continue with the important projects such as the CORE, the task forces to review and rethink our research and education agendas, the Professional Recruitment and Retention Committee, to name a few.
At the beginning of this speech I talked about all that I have learned from previous presidents and others. One of the truths that I learned is that every president brings unique strengths to their presidency. Some presidents are researchers, others are visionaries and great thinkers, and still others are policy makers. I tried to think what skills I bring to the presidency. One of my colleagues at the University of Maryland says that I am an unbridled enthusiast. I am also an optimist but after hours of painful introspection, I believe I am a catalyst. Transformations need to be set in motion by something. However, it is important to remember that some transformations occur very quickly and others take time. In addition to my being a mystic another thing you may not know about me is that I am a gardener. Not a great gardener but certainly an unbridingly enthusiastic mystical gardener. My gardens have taught me a lot about transformations and patience. I share a huge perennial garden with my neighbor. It’s a wonderful joint project but Barb is more of a “quick fix perennialist” whereas I like to plant things and observe them. She is constantly moving things around and tearing things out. I plant things and then observe them. I am a patient gardener. Both of us are successful not necessarily because of our gardening techniques but because our goal is the same…the transformation of our piece of earth. We have no control over the rain, the sun, or the temperatures. Our plants will grow, thrive, or die many times in spite of us. Not all plants are successful. Sometime the time just has to be right for any particular plant. The important thing is that our goal is transformation and that we have put things in motion for that transformation. This year, I expect you will see immediate evidence of some of our transformations, you will see others being put into motion for the future. You will see some succeed. You will see some fail.
As we move into a year of transforming ourselves, our profession and our association, I invite you to come to Phoenix next year for MLA’s annual meeting “Transformations A-Z” which you will hear about in a few minutes. Gandhi once said “Be the change you want to see in the world”. I would like to paraphrase that by asking you to join with me by being the transformation you want to see in yourself, your profession and your association.