Home > Librarianship > Medical Librarian Appreciation Month

Medical Librarian Appreciation Month

According to the National Library of Medicine, October is medical librarian appreciation month.  Yay!  Now, I’m not just pointing this out because I’m a medical librarian myself (*blush*), but I have noticed a dire lack of knowledge even among librarians about just what a medical librarian does all day.

A medical library, contrary to popular belief, is not just a public library inside a hospital.  It’s more akin to an academic library, but even that isn’t a fair comparison.  The medical library exists to serve doctors, researchers, lab technicians, and nurses in keeping on the cutting edge of scientific knowledge.  It also helps them practice evidence-based medicine.  When your doctor tells you that she wants you to take a certain drug because that drug has proven to be beneficial to people like you, in all likelihood your doctor found an article about a study supporting that information in her hospital’s medical library.

A medical librarian doesn’t generally deal with typical reference questions.  Although we get the “where’s the bathroom” and “how do I photocopy” just like any other librarian, our reference questions are much more often something like:

  • “I found this citation at the end of this article in the current Archives of General Psychiatry.  Can you help me find the original?”
  • “I’d like to set up a recurring search on PubMed for anorexia in men, how do I do that?”
  • “The hospital is getting a VIP patient soon, and I need all articles in the last 10 years on handling VIP patients.”
  • “I have a patient who I believe is presenting with symptoms of schizophrenia, but that is not my expertise.  Can you help me brush up on it?”
  • “We have a patient presenting with delusions, tremors, and missing hair.  Can you run a search in Ovid on those symptoms and see what comes up?”

As you can see, medical librarians, likes subject area academic librarians, need to have a general knowledge of the type of medicine their hospital deals in.  Medical librarians need to speak scientists’ lingo so their patrons won’t get slowed down explaining what they mean to the librarian.  Medical librarians deal with highly educated patrons who generally think with scientific-oriented minds.  They are intelligent, but busy.  The medical librarian is a part of the hospital team.  She is one of the many cogs that exists to provide quality patient care.  She must stay up to date and trained in utilizing scientific databases, in what research is going on in her hospital, and in current medical knowledge and terminology if she is going to help her patrons efficiently.

You won’t find a medical librarian presenting a story hour, themed reading week, or a summer reading program.  You will find a medical librarian skimming the new medical journals cover to cover.   She may have been assigned specific doctors and researchers.  She knows exactly which area of medicine they specialize in and keeps her eye out for new information to forward to them.  They know her by name and stop her in the hospital halls to ask her to find things for them.  A medical librarian may be called upon to conduct a search on a certain condition in a certain type of patient asap for a patient in critical care.  Unlike a public librarian, a medical librarian’s job isn’t to encourage reading or continuing education for the pure fun of it.  Unlike an academic librarian, a medical librarian’s job isn’t to educate people on how to conduct good research.  A medical librarian’s patrons may or may not enjoy reading for fun, but that’s none of her business.  Most of a medical librarian’s patrons already know how to conduct good research.  A medical librarian’s job is simply to provide exactly the type of information her patrons need when they need it.  Sometimes even before they ask for it.  In this sense, it probably makes a lot more sense to call a medical librarian an information specialist.  Indeed, many hospitals are moving toward calling their librarians “informationists.”

I’m taking the time to write all of this simply because I feel medical librarianship is one of the many misunderstood professions.  I suppose this is fine for the general public, but if you are a librarian or a library student, you should understand what it is your medical librarian colleagues do.  Simply not having to explain over and over again that we are not like public librarians would, frankly, be all the appreciation we need from other librarians.  As for any doctors, researchers, nurses, lab technicians, etc… who might be reading this–I know you’re busy.  You may not have ever even gone into your hospital’s library yourself, but your librarian works hard.  Please take the time to tell her or him thank you.  Even if you just happen to spot her in the cafeteria.  Please tell her thank you for being part of the team.  Medical librarians truly enjoy helping you, but we really appreciate being recognized as part of the team.

  1. Al
    November 24, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Hi!. Thanks a bunch for the info. I’ve been digging around for info, but there is so much out there. Google lead me here – good for you i suppose! Keep up the good work. I will be coming back in a couple of days to see if there is updated posts.

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