Health Sciences Librarianship
Medical librarians, also known as health information professionals, medical information specialists, or multiple variations thereof, find, analyze, provide access to and present critical information that improves patient care and supports health and medical education, research, and publication.
They work in many different settings, including academic medical libraries, hospitals, corporate libraries (such as those in pharmaceutical and device manufacturing companies), and insurance companies. Their patrons range from the general public to medical students, to doctors, and nurses and others in health related fields. Some health sciences librarians have a medical or related degree, and some positions, especially reference positions, may list it as a desired, but not required, qualification, but it is certainly not necessary to have such degrees to work in the health information field.
Libraries in the health and/or medical sciences and biosciences are found in a variety of settings and support the information needs of many disciplines, including:
- Academic health science centers, which may include schools of medicine, nursing, pharmacy, dentistry, chiropractic, veterinary medicine, and public health, among others
- Specialized medical centers such as cancer treatment centers
- Hospitals, including public and private institutions, rural and large urban facilities and teaching hospitals
- Private large physician group practices and large community health clinics
- Corporations including pharmaceutical and device manufacturing companies, insurance companies, and bioengineering firms
- Community college programs for students pursuing associated health degrees libraries
Health sciences librarianship is similar to other library career paths in a number of ways, but there are some significant differences. For example, depending on their job responsibilities, medical librarians search for and organize information as do librarians in other settings. Health information professionals may also teach health professionals how to access and evaluate information. They may assist the public in finding authoritative health information. They may conduct community outreach programs on topics such as health information literacy or they may be found designing and managing health information websites, blogs, and social media channels, and/or creating and maintaining digital libraries.
To learn about the field and begin to determine whether a career in medical librarianship is right for you, start the process by talking to people in the field.
Join professional associations like MLA (link is external) and one of its 13 regional chapters (such as NCNMLG (link is external) [Northern California & Nevada Medical Library Group] and MLGSCA (link is external) [Medical Library Group of Southern California and Arizona], and/or SLA (Special Libraries Association) and its more than 50 special interest groups (such as the SLA Biomedical Life Sciences Division, the Pharmaceutical and Health Technology Division, or the Solo Librarians Division). Membership rates for students are often substantially discounted (or even free), and these associations provide great opportunities for you to network, conduct informational interviews, intern and/or volunteer.
Interested in more insights into health sciences librarianship? Be sure to check out the iSchools 2013 career webcast, What Do Science, Health and Medicine Have to do with an MLIS?
Core Theory and Knowledge
Like many professional LIS associations, MLA has identified a set of core competencies that it feels are central to successfully fulfilling the responsibilities of health librarianship. Although this document is currently undergoing revision, at this point the MLA standards for professional competency specify that health and medical librarians should be able to:
- Understand the health sciences and health care environment and the policies, issues, and trends that impact that environment
- Know and understand the application of leadership, finance, communication, and management theory and techniques
- Understand the principles and practices related to providing information services to meet users' needs
- Have the ability to manage health information resources in a broad range of formats
- Understand and use technology and systems to manage all forms of information
- Understand curricular design and instruction and have the ability to teach ways to access, organize, and use information
- Understand scientific research methods and have the ability to critically examine and filter research literature from many related disciplines
Although the SJSU iSchool program does not have an official medical library track or specialized degree focusing on medical librarianship, there are specific classes that are especially helpful to prepare you to become a medical librarian.
Note: These are courses you should consider. If you do not take all of these courses, it does not mean that you will not be able to pursue a career in health sciences or medical librarianship.
- INFO 200 Information Communities
- INFO 202 Information Retrieval
- INFO 203 Online Social Networking: Technology and Tools
- INFO 204 Information Professions
- INFO 285 Research Methods in Library and Information Science
- INFO 289 e-Portfolio (Culminating Experience)
The elective courses listed below have been helpful to other health librarians who have completed the iSchool program in the past. They are included because they help prepare students for job duties in a medical library environment. The Medical Library Association (MLA) has prepared a list of competencies for success as a health sciences librarian. You might want to look at those competencies to help you select appropriate coursework. As noted, the competencies can be found at: Professional Competencies for Health Sciences Librarians (link is external).
- INFO 210. Reference and Information Services - Medical librarians answer a variety of questions, and this class gives a good overview of general reference strategies and sources. The information on the reference process is useful for all librarians who will be interacting with people.
- INFO 220. Resources and Information Services in Professions and Disciplines - This is a seminar course with rotating topics focusing on different librarianship specialties. Look for the Medical/Health Sciences Librarianship course.
- INFO 230 - 231. Issues in Academic Libraries/Special Libraries and Information Centers – If you're interested in working as a medical librarian in a specific setting, monitor these courses for topics of interest.
- INFO 240. Information Technology Tools and Applications (Web Design and Web Programming) Medical librarians need to understand web site design as they will be working with web sites in their library and managing web technologists who will help them deliver and provide good access to their information.
- INFO 244. Online Searching – Medical librarians work with an enormous amount of databases, so having solid searching skills is essential to most reference positions.
- INFO 246. Information Technology Tools and Applications (Advanced) - This is a seminar course with rotating topics. Technology and especially Web 2.0 and Social Media skills are very useful. Also Information Visualization and Big Data Analytics and Management.
- INFO 250. Design and Implementation of Instructional Strategies for Information Professionals - Medical librarians, especially in academic settings, train patrons on how to use different library resources, and some teach classes in academic settings. This is also important in medical schools and teaching hospitals.
- INFO 282. Seminar in Library Management - Medical librarians are often solo librarian who need to take care of all the needs of the library. Library management skills are very important for these types of jobs. Look for the 282 sections on project management, change management.
- INFO 294. Internship - You can do up to 8 units of internship. Look for classes –either via WISE or at other programs that have classes that can transfer in to your MLIS –in Health Informatics
What Do Science, Health and Medicine Have to do with an MLIS? (interview with Xan Goodman, Health and Life Sciences Liaison Librarian at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Suzanne Beattie, Health Sciences Library Manager at Kaiser Permanente)