Medical Librarianship


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 and one of its 13 regional chapters (such as NCNMLG) [Northern California & Nevada Medical Library Group] and MLGSCA [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 iSchool’s 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:

  1. Understand the health sciences and health care environment and the policies, issues, and trends that impact that environment
  2. Know and understand the application of leadership, finance, communication, and management theory and techniques
  3. Understand the principles and practices related to providing information services to meet users’ needs
  4. Have the ability to manage health information resources in a broad range of formats
  5. Understand and use technology and systems to manage all forms of information
  6. Understand curricular design and instruction and have the ability to teach ways to access, organize, and use information
  7. 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.

Required Courses:

Foundation Courses:

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.

Additional Resources

Professional Associations:

Biomedical & Life Sciences Division – SLA

Health Sciences Interest Group – ACRL

MLA – Medical Library Association

MLGSCA – Medical Library Group of Southern California and Arizona

NCNMLG – Northern California & Nevada Medical Library Group

Pharmaceutical and Health Technology Division – SLA

Solo Librarians Division – SLA

Related Resources:

Associate Fellowship Program for Librarians – National Library of Medicine

Explore Health Careers

National Network of Libraries of Medicine

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)