What we talk about when we talk about medical librarianship: an analysis of Medical Library Association annual meeting abstracts, 2001–2019





MLA, Medical Library Association, Conferences, Annual Meetings, Professional Organizations, Topic Modeling, Topic Model


Objective: This study seeks to gain initial insight into what is talked about and whose voices are heard at Medical Library Association (MLA) annual meetings.

Methods: Meeting abstracts were downloaded from the MLA website and converted to comma-separated values (CSV) format. Descriptive analysis in Python identified the number of presentations, disambiguated authors, author collaboration, institutional affiliation type, and geographic affiliation. Topics were generated using Mallet’s Latent Dirichlet Allocation algorithm for topic modeling.

Results: There were 5,781 presentations at MLA annual meetings from 2001–2019. Author disambiguation resulted in approximately 5,680 unique authors. One thousand ninety-three records included a hospital-related keyword in the author field, and 4,517 records included an academic-related keyword. There were 438 presentations with at least 1 international author. The topic model identified 16 topics in the MLA abstract corpus: events, electronic resources, publications, evidence-based practice, collections, academic instruction, librarian roles and relationships, technical systems, special collections, general instruction, literature searching, surveys, research support, community outreach, patient education, and library services.

Conclusions: Academic librarians presented more frequently than hospital librarians, though more research should be done to determine if this discrepancy was disproportionate to hospital librarians’ representation in MLA. Geographic affiliation was concentrated in the United States and appeared to be related to population density. Health sciences librarians in the early twenty-first century are spending more time at MLA annual meetings talking about communities, relationships, and visible services, and less time talking about library collections and operations. Further research will be needed to boost the participation of underrepresented members.


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Original Investigation