Platform for Change
Medical Librarianship in Context
The health sciences environment of the late twentieth century is inundated by information sources, products, and services. Libraries and the clients they serve are buffeted by rapid change on multiple fronts. Medical knowledge continues to grow exponentially. High technology and a growing reliance on the computer and other forms of telecommunications affect every aspect of life and work. Electronic access to information is commonplace, and the widespread availability of personal computers at once increases the demand for instant access, lessens reliance on librarian intermediaries, and affords the opportunity for innovative information service roles.
Libraries and librarians are in a unique position to become part of an information management solution, an integrated scheme for expanding and making optimal use of an institution's total information resources. To be sure, all branches of librarianship-and indeed many other professions-share a conviction that information professionals promote access to society's individual and collective wisdom. Health sciences librarianship stands apart, however, in striving to ensure that advances in science and the technology of health care are readily accessible to health care practitioners, educators, students, researchers and consumers.
While drawing heavily on general librarianship, a librarian in the intellectually and technologically sophisticated context of health care also requires expertise and values significantly different from those of colleagues in some other library services. Although the library remains the principal organizational conduit for biomedical and related information, the librarian's role in the institution is no longer restricted to the library.
The health sciences librarian is pivotal in the handling of biomedical information, combining the ability to use the knowledge bases of medicine and the technical expertise of librarianship with clearheaded problem solving, analytical competence, and well-honed interpersonal and organizational skills. Librarians assume responsibility, transcending that of the library itself, for assessing the information needs of a diverse array of medical and health services professionals; managing health information resources; coordinating their location, selection, acquisition, analysis, and use; facilitating the integration of print, nonprint, and computing resources into the institution's information system; and helping clientele master the basic skills of information handling.
The health sciences librarian not only provides specific support to the institution by using new technologies to organize, synthesize, and filter information for scholarly, clinical, and institutional decision making, but also plays a critical role in the investigation and study of information storage, organization, use, and application in education, patient care, and the generation of new knowledge. In accomplishing these responsibilities, the medical librarian must forge alliances throughout the institution, eliciting strong support for the library's mission and outreach and collaborating with fellow professionals to meet identified information needs.
Today, the management of information and knowledge in a health care environment is a national priority. In fulfilling professional roles that support health care, librarians must reconsider and reshape the educational process that prepares new information professionals and continually enhances the skills and knowledge of current practitioners.
Medical Library Association
Last Updated: 2007 July 05