MELA was established in November 1972 at the sixth annual meeting of MESA (Middle East Studies Association), by 17 librarians (our “founding fathers and mothers”). Before this date there had indeed been specialist librarians whose principal concern was the development of library collections in support of research and teaching. But these 17 pioneers saw, five years after the establishment of MESA, that professionals devoted to the development of library collections for study and teaching about the Middle East needed to share information among themselves.
Soon after that date the first issue of MELA Notes, the association’s professional journal, was published. In later years, MELA has also established awards to recognize professional achievement over a lifetime and to support the development of young professionals interested in a career in Middle East librarianship.
Members of MESA benefit from the activities of MELA members who:
- Develop research-level library collections in North America, leveraging longstanding (and often personal) relationships with vendors on the ground on every continent of the globe to identify current and off-market publications.
- Perform original and copy cataloging for, and set cataloging standards for, Middle East-language materials making them accessible to researchers both through local online library catalogs and worldwide through WorldCat.
- Preserve cultural heritage, e.g. through participation in CRL’s Middle East Materials Project (MEMP, principally for periodicals and ephemera) and service on international committees (for example, MELA members were prominent in the activities of the MELA Committee on Iraqi Libraries).
- Ensure the continuity of the profession of Middle East librarianship through the Atiyeh Prize (a small travel grant for students), the Wilkins Award (intended for early-career professionals), mentorship programs, continuing education for all members, and the development of an online course taught through Simmons College.
- Recognize the lifetime achievements of MELA members through the Partington Award.
- Contribute to the academic discourse in Middle East Studies through articles and book reviews submitted to MELA Notes, which is available through JSTOR with no “moving wall.” In addition, MELA has embraced open-access scholarly communication by offering our journal online for free through our association’s website.
- Raise the profile of the work of Middle East librarians by sponsoring panels and roundtables at MESA.
MELA now consists of approximately seventy members representing over 50 institutions from all over the world. MELA’s annual meeting takes place in conjunction with MESA, generally two days before, allowing MELA members who are also members of MESA to attend the annual meeting.