Medical librarianship may be one of the most diverse nontraditional career paths available, because it subsumes such a broad range of disciplines and types of work within those disciplines.
In addition, medical librarianship can translate into a public-library consumer health specialization, a position in any number of government agencies, work in an academic setting (for example, a with a university medical school), international outreach, and nonprofit and association opportunities.
Notes the introduction from the Medical Libraries Association (MLA) website, their members “…provide health information about new medical treatments, clinical trials and standard trials procedures, tests, and equipment to physicians, allied health professionals, patients, consumers, and corporations,” while also helping “physicians provide quality care to patients, help patients find information, answer consumers’ questions, and provide information to the health care industries.”
A further indication of the range of options is apparent by simply checking out the sections within MLA’s organization, which include cancer librarians; chiropractic libraries; consumer and patient health information; corporate information services; dental, educational media and technologies; federal libraries; health association libraries; hospital libraries; international cooperation; medical informatics; medical library education; nursing and allied health resources; pharmacy and drug information; public health/health administration; public services; and veterinary medical libraries, among others.
A Diverse Range of Career Paths
Among the MLA special interest groups (SIGs) are clinical librarians and evidence-based health care; complementary and alternative medicine; department of the army medical command libraries; department of veterans affairs librarians; mental health librarians; molecular biology and genomics; osteopathic libraries, pediatric libraries; primary care; rehabilitation hospital; and vision science. And this doesn’t even include the entire range of veterinary research and development and biotechnology and pharmaceutical, both hot areas of business investment.
Bottom line: if you’re interested in any aspect of biomedical science or health care librarianship, you’ll have an awful lot of options. A number of these can be found in the MLA career brochure (available at their website and a great resource), which identifies as possible positions for a medical information professional, the following:
• web manager for an academic medical center
• community outreach coordinator for a public
• health agency
• collection development officer at a university library
• reference librarian at a hospital
• electronic resources cataloger for an Internet startup company
• director of a nursing school library
• user education specialist at a consumer health library
• information architect for a pharmaceutical company
You may work directly with consumers looking for information in a public library, or with patients seeking to learn more about a diagnosis. Or you may be supporting medical school students, clinicians, medical/biotechnology/pharmaceutical researchers, public health statisticians, or international health care providers.
Your work may involve teaching users how to navigate the intricacies of PubMed, being a key contributor on a research team, managing a major medical library, running a corporate information center for a pharmaceutical company, supporting a taskforce of public-health policy-makers, or being the information specialist for a medical association. You may be a medical informatics specialist, and be instrumental in designing, implementing, and managing the systems that underlie so much of today’s delivery of health care. Or you may specialize in bioinformatics, and be charged with maintaining the IT systems so critical to managing the torrents of information generated by global genetic research projects.
Salaries for the Medical Librarianship Careers
As with most types of work, salaries in the medical information and librarianship field are strongly influenced by what type of organization you work for, how large it is, and where it’s located (the coasts generally seem to have somewhat higher salaries). IT skills are always in demand, and those whose library skills are complemented by a strong technology background will probably find more opportunities open to them. According to MLA, the average starting salary among their members in 2005 was just over $40,000, the “overall average salary for medical librarians” just under $58,000. For those aspiring to management roles, medical library directors were earning up to $158,000 in 2005.
What Education Will You Need?
An MLS is generally required for any professional position within medical librarianship, but if possible coursework in bioinformatics or medical informatics is highly recommended, as well. Check the MLA website for a list of MLIS programs that offer courses on medical or health-sciences librarianship or related topics.
American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA)
With more than 50,000 student and professional members, AHIMA’s mission is to be “the professional community that improves healthcare by advancing best practices and standards for health information management and the trusted source for education, research, and professional credentialing.” Check the website for education programs, professional development options, publications, and links to further resources.
American Medical Information Association (AMIA)
Included in the AMIA membership are some 3,500 physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, and other clinicians; health information technology professionals; computer and information scientists, biomedical engineers, consultants and industry reps, medical librarians, academic researchers and educators, and students interested in clinical informatics or health information technology (membership discount for students). Especially interesting at the website is the “About Informatics” section, which brings together a number of topical resources related to medical informatics.
Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL)
AAHSL’s focus is on “the libraries serving the accredited U.S. and Canadian medical schools belonging to or affiliated with the Association of American Medical Colleges,” and “includes other related libraries and organizations that lead in resolving information and knowledge management problems in the health care environment.” Its mandate includes member education, information sharing, professional leadership, and legislative advocacy.
Canadian Health Libraries Association (CHLA)
Made up of some 400 professionals working in health sciences libraries throughout Canada, the mission of CHLA is to “improve health and health care by promoting excellence in access to information.” Check the website for information about CHLA’s journal, its chapters and special interest groups, upcoming conferences, continuing education opportunities, and job postings, among other resources.
Medical Library Association
Over 100 years old, MLA has more than 4,700 individual and institutional members based in the health sciences information field. Focus areas include education of health information professionals; health information research; and promoting universal access to health sciences information, national and international. The website offers a number of useful resources, including links to job listing sites, other medical library associations throughout the world (both international and nation-based), state and regional medical library organizations, and the afore-mentioned list of MLIS programs. Steeply discounted student memberships.
Special Libraries Association: Biological Sciences Division
One of the largest divisions within SLA, Bio Sciences “encompasses all aspects of the life sciences, both pure and applied, including: biology and biochemistry, zoology and botany, microbiology, genetics, biotechnology, evolution, ecology, veterinary and human medicine, health sciences, and other aspects of the life sciences not specifically noted, or encompassed by another SLA Division.” A section within the division is devoted to the biomedical and health sciences, and “the acquisition, organization, dissemination, and use of information in all formats.”
Books and Periodicals
Huber, Jeffrey T. Huber.Introduction to Reference Sources in the Health Sciences.5th ed. Neal-Schuman, 2008. 386p. ISBN 1555706363.
The three aspects of this well-known work are reference collection (organization and management thereof), bibliographic sources (organized by format, e.g., monographs, periodicals, etc.), and information sources (organized by topic, e.g., drug information, statistical sources, etc.). Entries include not only descriptions but also notes on how and when used, and comparisons with alternative sources.
Cimino, James J. and Edward H. Shortliffe (ed.). Biomedical Informatics: Computer Applications in Health Care and Biomedicine. 3rd ed. Springer, 2006. 1037p. ISBN 0387289860.
Intended as a textbook for courses on the application of information technologies to health care and medicine, Biomedical Informatics provides a thorough overview of informatics in health care services delivery. Assumes a strong knowledge of medical practices.
Detwiler, Susan M. and RevaBasch, ed. Super Searchers on Health & Medicine: The Online Secrets of Top Health & Medical Researchers. Cyberage, 2000. 200p. ISBN 0910965447.
One of the well-known Super-Searchers series books, Health & Medicine follows the familiar format: ten expert online medical researchers share tips and techniques on using the Internet to research diseases, treatments, and related information. A glossary and a directory of recommended resources conclude the book; readers are directed to the publisher’s website for links to the most important Internet resources for health and medical researchers. Although in need of an update, this is still a useful introduction to thinking about how to find health and medical information online.
Holst, Ruth and Sharon A. Phillips. The Medical Library Association Guide to Managing Health Care Libraries.Neal-Schuman, 2000. 371p. ISBN 1555703976.
In its review, Booklist called this “required reading for any librarian offering health care information to professionals, faculty, or consumers.” Coverage includes administrative topics, collection development, cataloging and classification, and audiovisual services, among other topics. Although an updated edition would be helpful, this guide is nevertheless considered the standard resource for those managing or working within libraries in the health care universe.
Medical/Health Sciences Libraries on the Web
Organized by state, this directory of links is an interesting resource to check because it highlights how many different types of medical/health science libraries there are. For example, listed in Colorado are the libraries for the Association of Operating Room Nurses (AORN), National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine, Saint Joseph Hospital, and the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.
“Medical Librarianship: A Niche for Every Interest,” Laura Townsend Kane. LIScareer.com, published March 2004, accessed atwww.liscareer.com/kane_medlibrarian.htm on June 1, 2009.
Townsend Kane, herself a medical librarian, describes the types of activities that make up her job as well as providing a brief but helpful overview of paths within medical librarianship.