Interview with Shannon Jones, MLA President

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

May 16, 2023

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Shannon Jones, President of the Medical Library Association. My interview with her is below.

Lauren Hays: Would you please introduce yourself to our readers?

Shannon Jones: First, thank you so much for the invitation to interview. I am Shannon Jones. I am the director of libraries at the Medical University for South Carolina, in Charleston. I have been a director here since July 2015, and it has been a whirlwind ride.

I am also the director of Region 2 of the network of the National Library of Medicine. We applied for a competitive award to be a regional medical library for a six state and two territory region in 2021.

Additionally, I am also the 2023 president of the Medical Library Association.

Lauren: Please tell us about the Medical Library Association (MLA). Specifically, what are its goals, and whom does it serve?

Shannon: The Medical Library Association is home to about 3,000 information professionals who work in a variety of settings. It could be within an academic medical center. It could be within a hospital. It could be in a community college that has health sciences programs. It could be in a pharmaceutical company that employs information professionals. You’ll find health sciences librarians or MLA members in just about any environment.

The key is that they serve a health sciences clientele. So they are people working in the biomedical fields, health care professionals, public health professionals, faculty at universities who teach health sciences students, or faculty who do research in the health sciences. There is a wide array of people and roles represented in MLA’s membership.

MLA is about to celebrate our 125th birthday next year; we are starting our celebration this May 2023, and it will culminate in May 2024. We are really excited about having been around for that long. Our mission to serve health information professionals has remained the same in terms of our goals.

MLA has 4 strategic goals:

  • One is to build a better future for our association.
  • Another is education. We want to strengthen our educational curriculum, so that health sciences librarians, regardless of where they work, always can find relevant training.
  • There is also a goal of fostering communities, which are the groups that make up MLA. There is a variety of communities of practice. For example, there are communities of practice in the areas of collections, public services, systematic reviews, teaching health sciences curriculum, and clinical settings. There are also identity-based groups: The African American Medical Libraries Alliance, A LatinX Caucus, and an Accessibility Caucus for those passionate about accessibility. There are about 50 different communities within MLA.
  • Another goal is reinventing the MLA meeting experience so that the conference is enjoyable for whomever attends.

The thing that undergirds all of that is diversity, equity, and inclusion—because we want to be an association where people feel welcome, where they feel safe, where they feel valued, and where they belong.

Lauren: Why did you decide to get involved with the Medical Library Association?

Shannon: I think back to one of my jobs as a paraprofessional. I worked at Eastern Virginia Medical School, and I was an acquisition assistant at the time. I was not thinking about going back to library school. I had just worked in libraries when I was in college, and that was a place where I could get a job—but I started paying attention to the librarians that work there. They had a clinical medical librarianship program. One of the librarians used to do rounds with the physicians and residents. During the rounds, whatever clinical questions came up, whatever questions came up about treatments, whatever questions the doctors were grappling with as they were interacting with patients in the hospital, she would come back and research those topics. Then she would send to the group resources or literature related to whatever condition they were investigating in the patients, and they were always so grateful for her doing that.

I never knew that you could impact patient care, without having to be a physician or nurse. There was a different pathway you could take. I was really impressed with that.

I was also really impressed with the instant gratitude, because people were just really grateful for the work that she did. It sparked my interest. And then it sparked the interest in me to delve deeper and deeper in terms of how information can empower people when it comes to their health, when it comes to them learning about their health.

Lauren: How has the Medical Library Association influenced your career?

Shannon:  I go back again to 2002, which was when I graduated with my MLS. I went to my first MLA conference. I joined in 2002, just a new professional, eager to join an association and to contribute to the profession.

One of the things that I really value is summed up in a quote from Martin Luther King Jr., “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.”

I approach my volunteerism in MLA that way. One item I wrote as President of MLA is a piece encouraging people to volunteer. I highlighted a couple of things about being an MLA member. 

  • Being a member of MLA allowed me to engage in work that impacted the association
  • Membership also gave me an opportunity to refine my voice and my positionality in health sciences, so I could carve out the niche that I was going to have in the profession.
  • Membership and volunteering helped me enhance my collaboration, teamwork, leadership, and advocacy skills.
  • It has allowed me to cultivate meaningful relationships with librarians across the country, who hold a variety of identities.
  • It also helped me to support legacy building such as the efforts of Black librarians. I am the second Black president of MLA in its almost 125-year history. One of the things I am working on with colleagues from the African American Medical Librarians Alliance is making sure that Black librarians are represented in the history of MLA, so that librarians coming behind us know there were Black librarians here, and they contributed positively to the association’s working.
  • Lastly, it has allowed me to level up my ability to interact with my colleagues with integrity, with respect, with authenticity, with empathy, compassion, and joy. Because I really love my work, but also love my volunteerism and activism within MLA. It has enriched my experience as a librarian—and I would encourage any librarian to find their professional home, whether it is a state association or a national association.

Lauren: What initiatives is the Medical Library Association currently supporting?

Shannon: Advocacy is one thing. We are constantly thinking about advocacy because we must always promote the value of information professionals.

Second, we are doing work in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion, so that all of our members, regardless of who they are, feel like they belong in the association.

Another important thing that we are doing is revamping our technology.

And then the final one I will share is my Presidential Initiative. It is wellness and well-being for information professionals. We have an initiative where we have encouraged our members to prioritize well-being and wellness in their own lives. Since September, we have had an educational series called Be Well Wednesdays where we invite MLA members and friends of MLS to share with us how they are integrating wellness into their lives. Our first program was called “I Wet My Plants” and it was for people who like plants and gardening for wellness. We have also had a session on mindfulness and a session on self-compassion. There have also been sessions on book discussions and we are ending the virtual component in April with panelists talking about how they integrated wellness into their libraries.

Lauren: What future changes do you see impacting medical librarians?

Shannon: I think many of our libraries are evolving. It is really about how campuses are evolving and how libraries support their broader community.

Lauren: How is the Medical Library Association planning for the future?

Shannon: The main thing is that we are exploring ways for us to be a better association for our members. We also are looking at different partnerships. Right now, we are partnering with the Special Libraries Association for our 2023 meeting. We also are looking at new revenue sources for MLA and ways to make MLA more affordable for members in order to make sure that we are the association of choice. We want to reinvent ourselves and rethink our association so that members find value.

Lauren: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Shannon: If any of your readers are library science students who have not considered medical librarianship, know that it is a great field, a great sub-specialty of librarianship, and we are always looking for people who are open minded, who are looking to learn new things.

You do not have to have a science background. I think that sometimes people think all medical librarians come in the door day one with these amazing science backgrounds, and we do not. We end up in good organizations that help us to be the best that we need to be. And so, I say to any of your readers who are interested in the health sciences, give us a shot!

Consider becoming a member of the Medical Library Association. In February, we just wrapped up what we called Experience MLA; it was a month where you could join MLA for free and experience all the programming that we offer across our conferences.

I encourage people to take advantage of those opportunities. Also, do not forget about the continuing education courses. MLA has an expansive catalog and you don’t have to be an MLA member to take advantage of some of the professional resources.

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent presenter and interviewer on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Please read Lauren’s other posts relevant to special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets.

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