Medical librarians are an integral part of the health care team. They have a direct impact on the quality of patient care, by helping physicians, allied health professionals and researchers to stay abreast of new developments in their specialty areas. They also work closely with patients and consumers who are seeking authoritative health information.
Medical librarians often serve on the faculty of health care and biomedical degree programs, where they teach health care providers how to access and evaluate information and contribute expertise on a variety of topics. They also may serve on university or pharmaceutical company research teams, where they can have an impact on the development of new treatments, products and services.
Medical librarians provide access to resources in a variety of formats, ranging from traditional print to electronic sources and data. They design and manage websites, Internet blogs, distance education programs and digital libraries. They conduct outreach programs to public health departments, consumers, off-site students and unaffiliated healthcare providers.
Medical librarians work closely with a variety of personnel within the library to accomplish day-to-day tasks. They also collaborate with colleagues in a variety of institutional tasks, such as fundraising, marketing, business and information technology systems.
Informationists, a new role for medical librarians, are experts with training in both information science and clinical/biomedical science. They retrieve and synthesize information and work in clinical or research settings.
Medical librarians are employed anywhere health information is needed. Employment settings include colleges, universities and professional schools; hospitals, academic health centers and clinics; consumer health libraries; research centers; foundations; biotechnology centers; insurance companies; medical equipment manufacturers; pharmaceutical companies; publishers; and federal, state and local government agencies.
Some medical librarians work in non-traditional library settings such as Internet companies, where they select, index and organize information on the Web. Others are directors of large hospital or academic health center libraries. They often serve as chief information officers for health care organizations. In academic settings, medical librarians tend to hold positions of broad responsibility and high visibility—i.e., as associate university librarians, deans or associate deans.
Salary Range and Outlook
As with other healthcare professions, a high percentage (50%) of medical librarians will be retiring over the next 10 years. This creates a positive job market with a wide variety of available positions.
Salaries vary according to the type and location of the institution, level of responsibility and technical skill and length of employment. According to the Medical Library Association, the starting salary is over $40,000/year, and the average is close to $65,000. Library directors earn up to $158,000.
Medical librarians must have a Master of Library and Information Science degree from a school with an ALA-accredited program. Applicants must already have an undergraduate degree (in any field). It is helpful, but not necessary, to have taken undergraduate courses in biology, medical sciences, medical terminology, computer science, education and/or management.
In some settings, medical librarians may have Ph.D.s or other second degrees, such as advanced degrees in medical informatics or business and management.
Medical librarians also may apply for membership in the Academy of Health Information Professionals, a credentialing program for medical librarians.
Medical librarianship falls within the special library curriculum in many schools of library and information science. Courses may include:
- Information resources
- Cataloging and management
- Consumer health
- Health science information resources and services
- Medical informatics
- Resources/services for special populations
Master of library and information science programs include a wide variety of courses, and all students must choose a track (public, school, academic or special libraries), which will determine the type of courses they will take. Those wishing to focus on systems and technology will take a variety of technology courses in addition to the core and specialty track courses.