What does a Medical Librarian do?

Mary McMahon

A medical librarian is a librarian who focuses on helping people access information about health care and the medical sciences. Medical librarians can be found working in medical schools, hospitals, insurance companies, and other facilities which deal with medical information and training. To become a medical librarian, someone must obtain a master's degree in library science from a college which has been accredited by an organization such as the American Library Association, and his or her training must also include coursework which is designed to establish familiarity with the medical world.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

For patients, a medical librarian can be a very valuable resource, as he or she can help patients find information about their conditions and treatment options. The librarian can also assist patients with finding clinical trials, notable care providers who specialize in the patient's condition, and other resources which may be helpful. Consumers may also rely on medical librarians in research on various health care issues, from the cost of providing basic health care in rural communities to issues with specific procedures and medications.

Health professionals such as doctors, nurses, and medical researchers also utilize medical librarians. The librarian can help people keep up with advances in the field, and assist them with finding information on topics they want to learn more about. To this end, medical librarians are responsible for maintaining extensive libraries which have up to date materials and are easy to use, so that people can access the information they need in a timely fashion.

Librarianship isn't just about handling books. Modern librarians work with a variety of media, including web sites, digital archives, videos, audio files, and so forth. While they do need to be familiar with books and cataloging, they must also be able to access digitized forms of professional journals, digital catalogs for other libraries, and a variety of other tools. A good medical librarian is flexible, and he or she attends regular continuing education conferences and seminars to stay up to date on advances in the library sciences.

Like other librarians, a medical librarian must be able to help a broad array of people, some of whom may not have a firm grasp on what they are looking for. Patience is an extremely valuable trait, as is a high degree of organization, and a willingness to do in-depth research on behalf of other people. The job can be very dynamic and interesting, especially since medical librarians often get access to brand new tools and information, but it can also be very stressful, as every librarian knows that the hardest part of the job is dealing with patrons, whether they be worried patients looking for information on cancer treatment, or imperious drug researchers demanding immediate information on an obscure topic.

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