Medical librarians—also known as health sciences librarians—are the go-to source for quality health information.
Like their colleagues in public and school libraries, medical librarians are experts in retrieving information from a host of credible sources to meet patrons’ specific needs. In the healthcare arena, patrons can range from emergency department physicians looking for guidelines on treating a rare condition, to nurse researchers wanting to conduct an extensive literature review, to patients and families seeking information on specific diseases or injuries and appropriate types of care—in their native language, preferably.
Here are five things to know about medical librarians and their role in today’s healthcare climate.
Like all librarians, medical librarians must hold a master’s degree in library or information sciences. Some hold a second master’s degree or even a PhD in a specialty subject.
Medical librarians work in hospital libraries. They also work in higher education, research centers, biotech companies, insurance agencies, pharmaceutical manufacturing, publishing, government agencies, and anywhere else where valid health information is routinely sought and valued.
Medical librarians perform research using traditional print texts, journals and books. But today’s medical librarians are also experts in electronic information sources as well.
“The use of mobile phones/devices by caregivers has been a fun change,” said Laurie Schwing, manager of library services at PinnacleHealth System in Harrisburg, PA. “Caregivers work with medical librarians to build a collection of medical resources that can be downloaded to have a mini-library in their pockets.”
Many also manage websites and work with electronic health records.
The information medical librarians deliver influences patient care. As librarian at Carondelet Health in Kansas City, MO, Jan Foster spends the majority of her time locating clinical information for physicians, nurses and other healthcare providers.
“Occasionally, someone tells me that they changed a patient’s treatment because of information I found, which makes me feel great,” she said. “I helped someone get better!”
Medical libraries, like many other hospital units, are being squeezed by hospital budget constraints. But librarians are stepping up to advocate for their worth and aligning their goals to support those of the hospital. (“You want to reduce falls or other costly hospital-acquired conditions? Have I got some evidence-based information for you!” )
With the multitude of changes in both information technology and healthcare delivery, the past decade or so has brought significant change to the work of medical librarians. But, rest assured, neither Google nor WebMD nor budget cuts nor value-based reimbursement will keep these professionals from the swift completion of their appointed work.
“In all the avenues that we encounter in our work, there is one constant that gives us an edge,” said professional leader Lucretia W. McClure, AHIP, FMLA, at the annual meeting of the Medical Library Association.
“Librarians are human beings, not machines. We have the best minds, the most fertile imaginations, are the most curious of any people in the world.”