Three Suggestions for the MLA: Inexpensive Web Projects

At the AMA’s Medical Communications Conference, I insisted to a communications professional from a state professional association that professional associations needed to take advantage of social Web technologies and utilize them to the benefit of their members.

When pressed to explain WHY professional associations should do this, I said that those professional associations who don’t adopt these technologies will find that their members (and potential members) will use these technologies (without assistance from their professional associations) to organize without organizationsI haven’t read this book yet, but I love the title and urge you to please send me a copy.. Where will the professional associations be left when that happens?

With that in mind, here are some projects I’d love to see the MLA pursue.

1. Stop publishing books on dead trees

As I understand it, books published by the MLA are generally written by uncompensated MLA members, edited by uncompensated MLA members, and selected for publication by a committee of uncompensated MLA members. The selling of these books does not raise much (if any) money for the MLA.

Since this book publishing makes no money and the MLA members are okay with donating their time, why not post the book content online in the members-only section of MLAnet and make access to them a benefit of membership? The cost of providing this content would be reduced for the MLA and the content itself would become available to (and searchable by) all members of the MLA, regardless of their institutions’ book budgets. If any members just HAVE to have an MLA book on paper, MLA can make them available for order via Lulu, shifting the cost of print copies exclusively to the reader.

2. Make an “open source” resource to compete with Doody’s Core Titles

Alan Fricker was the first person who put this idea in my head.

Know who writes reviews for Doody’s without compensation? Largely MLA members.

Know who makes the decision to include access to DCT in their budgets? MLA members.

Why couldn’t the MLA offer a platform that accomplishes the same thing as DCT and invite all of the Doody reviewers to instead review for the MLA? The argument for both librarians and other clinical professionals would be that, if the resource is made available to all MLA members as a benefit of membership, everyone’s libraries can be better-informed and reallocate the money that used to be spent on DCT towards other needs.

Perhaps a (free) Pligg installation in the members-only section of MLAnet would do the trick?

3. Create a hedges and filters wiki

A handful of people I know have spent a good bit of time trying to convince me that librarians sometimes actually prefer to hoard their expertise and would be unwilling to share the hedges and filters they’ve spent time developing and perfecting. I prefer to hope that hoarding is on its way out and that the better model of unrestrained sharing will completely supplant it. With copy-and-paste ease, it’d be a pretty easy kind of wiki for librarians to contribute to- and the usefulness to working librarians (and to those who train new librarians) would be enormous.

Your turn!

These are just three ideas. Are they bad ideas? What else would be a good Web project for the MLA to take on? Let me know in the comments?

27 thoughts on “Three Suggestions for the MLA: Inexpensive Web Projects

  1. Why would you do this MLA web books publishing member’s only? You’ve got a higher spread without these barrieres plus I am convinced that we would share and not hoard.

  2. Hi Barbrara-

    I’m suggesting that these online books be made available to members as a benefit of membership at no additional cost. I see no problem with allowing non-members to buy Lulu print editions.



  3. These are all excellent ideas, but I am especially intrigued by your idea of a “hedges and filters wiki.” It would be cool to be able to share these kinds of things easily, and to be able to test drive them and comment on them – see what works and what doesn’t, and how retrieval may vary.

    Thankfully, I have never met a librarian who wasn’t more than willing to share their expertise, rather than hoarding it.

  4. I think the idea of a “hedges and filters wiki” is wonderful. When I began my blog, I actually planned to talk about hedges, but a wiki would be much more manageable.

    I have a notebook of hedges from years ago, many gathered from NLM Technical Reports, and I have folders with hedges. I’m more than happy to share; and Tanya Feddern has had a very helpful website of hedges for years. The biggest problem has always been to find the time.

  5. It isn’t a hedges and filters wiki, but the JMLA Case Studies blog does present cases for searching, with commentary from searchers on how they found information. (More comments on the blog posts would benefit everyone–part of the reason I’m posting about it here.)

    I use it to keep my skills sharp, and also to train new reference desk staff and librarians.

  6. I think all 3 of these ideas make a lot of sense. Medical librarians have been doing a lot of uncompensated work for years — at least the work would be more easily available to colleagues and would encourage more exchange of ideas and expertise.
    I also believe that librarians are more into sharing than hoarding. Regarding the great idea for a “hedges and filters wiki” the FPIN librarians have some great hedges on their site.

  7. David,

    The Hedges and Filter wiki sounds awesome, I wonder how many of us have thought of that very idea the past three years. I know it has crossed my mind more than once. I see a small project brewing for me…. we will see.


  8. Thanks, Nancy! Re: FPIN, are you referring to these filters, or am I missing something else?

    Pat, do you have a URL for Tanya Feddern’s list?

  9. 3. Yes, lets go for the wiki
    1./2. I’d agree with Barbara, that “members only” will significantly reduce the readership and usefulness – having good+free products online will increase popularity of MLA and thus will drive new members in

  10. Hi Martin-

    Re: #1, my thinking was that making access to these books a benefit of membership would help drive new membership. If they’re free to anyone, the value they’d add to MLA membership would be lost.

    Again, I think making print copies of these available in print to non-members through Lulu (for cost) would be fair and equitable without diminishing the value of these resources to those who pay for MLA membership.

    #2, I think, would have to remain accessible only to MLA members.

  11. Hi David;
    Public Services Section was thinking of working on collecting some “best practices.” I think we may take on the hedges & filters wiki–it’d be a natural fit, since we also sponsor the expert searching listserv.

  12. That’s awesome, Erika! Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help. 🙂

  13. how about digitally capturing and disseminating presentations (online) from the MLA annual meeting to all MLA members?

    after reading about the high regards MLA’s first webcast got during their 08 meeting, why not capture all presentations from a meeting and then make them available to everyone online?

    by doing so, people who either couldn’t physically attend the event due to schedule conflicts, cost, etc, as well as those that were in attendance but couldn’t be physically at every presentation (think concurrent sessions) would still gain exposure to the knowledge imparted at the meeting.

    i think this would prove especially beneficial given the high cost (and projected low attendance as a result) of MLA’s 09 annual meeting in hawaii.

  14. I think that’s a great idea, Josh- and I know for a fact that it is being explored.

    However, it doesn’t fit into my category of “inexpensive” Web projects. On the contrary, there’s significant expense to that kind of service.

  15. Hi Josh,

    The Membership Cmte will be defining what a “virtual membership” to MLA will entail in the next few months. A part of that effort will be a push to broadcast the Hawaii meeting to members who can’t afford to go or prefer Poughkeepsie to Honolulu.

  16. David,
    Glad to hear it’s being explored, as the applause for the recent MLA 08 webcast was resounding.

    As to cost, the service certainly wouldn’t be free but I think it conceptually aligns with the first project you propose(and I agree with). I think by comparison to other educational initiatives, such a project might well be equal or lower in cost.

    Lastly, I apologize for entering an idea that didn’t fall within the ‘inexpensive’ category; I simply read “What else would be a good Web project for the MLA to take on?” and ran with it!

  17. As the MLA Board liaison to the MLA Books Panel and the editor of an MLA book, I’d like to provide some information about your suggestion #1 for web publishing. MLA jointly publishes books with Neal-Schuman and receives a royalty on the sales of each book. The Books Panel (an MLA committee) seeks authors and helps them through the proposal process. Once an author signs a contract with Neal-Schuman, the Books Panel is no longer involved in the process, except to get periodic progress updates. Authors are generally modestly compensated, either by flat fee, royalty or both, if they are allowed to accept compensation; the amount is negotiated with Neal-Schuman. N-S does all the copy-editing and arranges for peer-reviewers as needed. Just as with most publishing, peer-reviewers are not compensated. Finally, MLA members are not the only ones who purchase the books that MLA publishes.

    However, even though your assumptions about the MLA publishing program were a bit off, the idea of web publishing is one that the Books Panel has discussed frequently and will continue to do so. We just haven’t yet found the right combination of topic, author and methodology that would satisfy everyone involved.

    I’ll point the BP members to this discussion. I’m sure it will be a topic in our monthly conference calls!

  18. Thanks for the corrections, Laurie- much appreciated. It is good to know that authors are “modestly compensated.” I’ve been lead to believe that “modest” is the operative word in that phrase.

    “…MLA members are not the only ones who purchase the books that MLA publishes.”

    As I wrote above, making such titles available in paper editions via Lulu would allow non-members to buy the books at a reasonable price without MLA sacrifing anything.

    “…We just haven’t yet found the right combination of topic, author and methodology that would satisfy everyone involved.”

    • ANY topic would work fine.
    • I can’t believe that there are no authors who wouldn’t be in favor of distributing their work this way.
    • If by “methodology” you mean “how-do-we-get-the-book-online?”, there are lots of open-source CMSs that’d work very nicely and easily. I’d use WordPress without hesitation.

    I am also certain that some MLA members would be pleased to volunteer to edit. I’ve met several who have great skill in and enthusiasm for this sort of work.

    All these things being said, I’d be interested to hear more specifics about why the BP hasn’t abandoned paper yet. None of the reasons you mention really strike me as legitimate obstacles.

    Neal-Schuman shouldn’t be the ones benefiting from the MLA’s work. MLA and its members should.

  19. Another aspect to keeping the printed book in digital format? You can choose exactly what you’d like to have printed. No more overview chapters you may not need! This could possibly allow members (or others somehow) to create their own manual made up of chapters from various books. Of course this would take a more robust repository, but the possibility is already out there. See Connexions This model is hopefully going to change the publishing world and probably kill the University Press if they don’t get their act together.

  20. Interesting ideas, David. The publishing model you propose would actually cost MLA more, not less. The book publishing program currently makes enough to cover expenses. The costs of printing and distribution are paid by our copublisher. If books were free to members, MLA would need to manage the publishing process itself and take on all the other costs of publishing, such as negotiating contracts, working with authors throughout the writing process, editing, layout, and marketing. This would turn book publishing from a program that pays for itself to one that costs the association money.

    As those familiar with association finances will know, member benefits typically cost associations much more than the cost of membership. A member benefit that costs the association additional money must be considered very carefully with an eye towards either finding a source of revenue to cover the expenses or accepting a deficit in the budget because of the importance of the member benefit.

    As Laurie mentioned, the Books Panel is continually exploring electronic publishing models, and I hope we will be able to offer some book-length electronic publications in the near future. (There are of course already many shorter publications available in electronic format on MLANET.)

    Thanks for your input–­I hope you’ll consider becoming an MLA member so you can pursue some of these ideas directly.

  21. “Interesting ideas, David. The publishing model you propose would actually cost MLA more, not less.”


    “The book publishing program currently makes enough to cover expenses.”

    So it breaks even by charging members for the books published by the association. Better to break even by making them free to members.

    “The costs of printing and distribution are paid by our copublisher. “

    …who also makes profit from them while the MLA breaks even and members have to pay for the books. If the books are online, there are no costs of printing and tiny costs for distribution.

    “If books were free to members, MLA would need to manage the publishing process itself and take on all the other costs of publishing, such as negotiating contracts…

    No need to negotiate contracts. One contract- authors can agree or not.

    “…working with authors throughout the writing process, editing, layout…”

    I’m betting members will volunteer for editing duties if it results in content being made available for free to members. Layout is a piece of cake online.

    “…and marketing.”

    You don’t have to market a free book to members- you merely have to tell them it exists.

    “This would turn book publishing from a program that pays for itself to one that costs the association money.”

    For the reasons I’ve noted above, I don’t agree. I think this is an excuse for not trying something new.

    For the sake of argument, however, let us assume that this is true. Let us assume that offering the book content online would actually cost the MLA a small amount of money. How much more value would each member receive for his/her membership dues if access to all books published by MLA was included? How many more people would join just for access to this growing library of content? I believe that’d be more than enough to make up for a cost which, as I’ve argued above, I don’t believe would exist.

    “Thanks for your input–­I hope you’ll consider becoming an MLA member so you can pursue some of these ideas directly.”

    I’m as delighted to offer ideas to the MLA as I am to offer them to the AMA or the dozen other professional associations I’ve spoken with.

    But this last paragraph would seem to suggest that my not having joined MLA yet (something I cannot afford given the absence of institutional support and the fact that MLA will not pay travel expenses for speakers/teachers who are members and the fact that I wish to participate in the community of the profession) is what prevents MLA from moving into the 21st century publishing.

    This is ridiculous.

    MLA members will create and edit the content. When they do, I’ll be pleased to put the content online in a content management system FOR MLA in my spare time at no charge in order to demonstrate how little it takes to do.

    But the first paragraph of the post is what is most important here: If professional associations don’t modernize and start making use of these tools to the benefit of their members, members (and potential members) will do it without them.

  22. God bless!! A huge part of the reason that Nancy Allee and I were not able to continue with a new edition of the MLA Guide was because of the commitment to a print publication, and a resistance to various online alternatives. We deeply regretted this.

    Regarding a EBM hedges & filters wiki, we already started one!

    It would grow a lot faster if more people help. I’m working on it, but it is slow going — I personally have at least a hundred to add in dentistry.

    Personally, I’m just as happy to have something like this *outside* of the MLA umbrella, for some of the reasons mentioned in discussion above as well as others.

  23. Disclaimer: I am a former Chair of the MLA Books Panel.

    Also important: I’ve done freelance editing work on a couple of book-length works.

    Most important of all: it’s one thing to volunteer to edit journal articles, or a regular column, or a monograph. Developmental editing and copyediting a book-length work are significant undertakings. If you find more than two MLA members who would be willing to volunteer their time to do this, I’d be surprised. Although, I must admit I’d be *pleasantly* surprised! I am against using volunteers for this type of work for the same reason many of us are against using volunteers for professional-level library work: it devalues the professionalism of editorial work, and it’s also mighty hard to hold a volunteer to production schedules, etc.

  24. David,

    Are there national associations that actually pay for their speakers/teachers travel expenses? And if so, who are they? And is it just keynote speakers, or is it all presenters? I know locally we pay for keynote speakers and CE teachers, but other than that, I’m not familiar.