Platform for Change
Lifelong learning must be a cornerstone of every individual's professional development plan. Graduate programs of library and information science education, MLA and its chapters and sections, NLM, employers, commercial vendors and publishers, and other professional associations are all potential providers of educational opportunities, yet the ultimate responsibility for lifelong learning and professional development rests with the individual.
Today's health information professionals have varied educational backgrounds and experiential knowledge. Librarians currently employed in health sciences libraries are likely to remain active until well into the next century. They will require ready access to continuing education and training opportunities in order to incorporate into their practice new technological developments, knowledge bases, and information management techniques.
In light of the rate of environmental change, the specific knowledge and skills required of health sciences librarians, and the broad scope of the continuum of learning, it is clear that all who have a stake in the success of the profession need to take action. Therefore, this document sets forth some general recommendations, then outlines specific recommendations for those who play key roles in the professional development of health information professionals.
1. Individuals must assume personal responsibility for aggressively seeking lifelong education and professional development opportunities from a variety of sources.
The teaching-learning process is two-sided. Quality educational systems and programs are available from a variety of sources. Providers have responsibility for maintaining quality instruction. The individual, however, must actively pursue those sources that best provide the necessary learning. This mutual pursuit of quality education must continue throughout the length of a professional's career.
2. A coalition of interdisciplinary educational providers and consumers should be established to explore new opportunities in the continuum of learning.
Given the pace of change and the continuing arrival of new players in the information arena, it is imperative that this document not be viewed as definitive. The coalition would eliminate a stagnant approach to collaboration and would seek new ways to strengthen the continuum of learning. Fomenting broad discussion of controversial issues could challenge satisfaction with the status quo and stimulate creative responses to changing needs. The coalition would be charged with developing innovative, high-impact models for curriculum content, design, methodology, and assessment.
3. All instructional systems must provide the impetus and forum for continued education of the educators.
The success of professional learning depends on well-informed, forward-looking providers of education and training. Educators must be supported in continuing their personal professional development, acquiring new pedagogical skills, refreshing their awareness of developments in librarianship and related disciplines, and demonstrating command of the competencies needed by practicing librarians. Each of the organizations, singly and in concert, provides direction to the educators who alter the contour of professional performance.
4. Strategies must be developed to recruit bright, articulate, creative, and energetic individuals as health information professionals, including those who pursue formal training as librarians and those who pursue degrees in related disciplines.
All partners in the educational process must actively forward strategies that ensure recruitment of promising individuals who demonstrate the basic skills and aptitude for achieving excellence in the field. Such candidates will evince analytic abilities, interpersonal skills, self-understanding, willingness to take risks, persuasiveness, keen intellect, and an unquenchable desire to learn.
Because of new technologies, increased specialization in health care, and the emergence of new roles for the health sciences library, the character of library staffing will change. Those with degrees in education, computer technology, medical informatics, and the like offer topical expertise that may be a necessary adjunct to traditional library and information science. Recruiting those with complementary training into an M.L.S. program or integrating them into library operations should be given full consideration in an expansive, interdisciplinary recruitment initiative.
5. Centers of excellence in health information should be identified, designated, and funded at strategic points across the country to provide opportunity for the acquisition of new knowledge and skills.
Health sciences libraries are dramatically shaping a new electronic environment for knowledge acquisition, information management, and information transfer. Some are at the forefront of change and are well-suited to be training locations for health information professionals. Programs should be fostered that couple hands-on experience with practical problems and exposure to new paradigms for information access and knowledge transfer with opportunities to use the skills in a trainee's home institution.
6. Every health sciences librarian must design and implement a plan for continuing professional development.
Individuals bear the major responsibility for the enhancement of their own professional knowledge and skills. This document can be used as an outline to assess one's current level of mastery and to plan for further development. The Academy of Health Information Professionals is another way to help individuals chart, structure, and receive recognition for professional growth. Quality of performance can be increased by applying these professional skills to forward the mission and services of one's own institution, which ultimately also forwards one's own personal and professional growth.
7. All health information professionals must actively promote and contribute to the development of health sciences librarianship.
If health sciences librarianship is not merely to survive but to be a force for improved health scholarship and research, all librarians must advocate for and contribute to the programs that produce new graduates, the learning opportunities that enhance skills, the environment that permits or blocks the fulfillment of new roles and services, and mentoring of other information professionals.
8. To assist employers in recruiting and retaining individuals who will be successful in the changing arena of health sciences librarianship, MLA must set the standards for professional competency and compensation.
MLA must work with employers who are seeking to recruit individuals who are equipped to meet challenges in the changing technological arena of health information management. MLA can provide guidance to employers by developing standards for professional competence. Employers must also be made aware of the level of compensation required to recruit and retain such highly skilled staff.
9. MLA must take a leadership role in creating a vital and responsive professional development program and a dynamic set of coordinated education opportunities.
Members have traditionally looked to MLA for continuing education opportunities. To meet the expanding needs of its members, MLA must broaden its offerings; forge new coalitions and relationships; and examine new delivery systems, teaching/learning strategies, and curricular options. MLA's professional development program must also include a program that assists members in the assessing their own professional growth. To ensure that the professional development program is meeting the current and future needs of the profession, an ongoing program evaluation component should be designed.
10. MLA must exercise leadership and work collaboratively with all participants in the educational arena.
The MLA Board of Directors, the executive director, MLA staff, various working committees and task forces, and MLA members must continually monitor and influence the range of educational programs. At times, MLA will wish to act independently to meet its members' needs. At other times, MLA will either collaborate with others or rely completely on the services or educational offerings of an outside agency. Such providers cover a broad spectrum, including universities or colleges, vendors, commercial trainers, individual entrepreneurs, and other professional associations.
11. MLA should foster staff development programs offered by employers.
MLA can assist employers by creating a model staff development policy that outlines the appropriate scope and content of an institution-specific policy. The model should be adaptable for use in augmenting the skills of all levels of personnel in the library.
12. MLA must establish a formal liaison with the schools of library and information science education.
MLA should be an active member of the Association for Library and Information Science Education. Likewise, MLA must maintain ongoing communication and collaboration with the deans or directors of library and information science programs, particularly those programs that offer specialized course work in health sciences librarianship.
13. MLA must design and implement a research agenda that advances the professional knowledge base.
In line with its strategic plan, MLA will need to lead the way in advancing the basic and applied knowledge of information management. Research will be necessary to measure the state of health sciences library practice, compare data to previous studies, and draw new action plans. A research agenda should outline all areas of importance to MLA and delineate those areas that will be appropriate for exploration by MLA and its subsets, NLM, individual researchers, or related information disciplines.
14. Employers should place a high priority on staff development.
A strong staff development program ensures that the institution will fulfill its mission and that staff will meet the demands of a changing environment. To be effective, a staff development program should balance institutional needs and the professional growth objectives of the individual. The employer should assist individuals in assessing their own professional development and in designing a program of learning experiences. The institution should have a well-articulated staff development policy that recognizes a broad array of formal and informal sources within and outside the institution, outlines institutional and individual responsibility, and commits resources to support the program.
15. Employers should provide institution-based training within the context of the broader educational experience.
The employer should accept the responsibility for providing high-quality on-the-job training in appropriate areas that complements education from other sources. The opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills and to teach other staff should be built into job descriptions. Trainers themselves must receive training and support. The employer must ensure that knowledge transfer and application takes place in the job setting. Governance and management strategies that support and contribute to learning within the organization should be devised.
16. Employers should recruit individuals of competence and promise, including those with unique educational and professional backgrounds, to meet the information needs of the institution.
Employers should articulate and practice high standards in recruiting individuals for their organizations. Recruitment practices should encourage diversity in the workplace. In addition, employers should develop strategies for influencing the profession as a whole to recruit persons with outstanding ability, motivation, and knowledge. These include providing feedback to other educational providers on qualities contributing to success on the job and rewarding persons for exceptional performance.
17. Every graduate program in library and information science must lay a broad foundation that stresses theory over application, places librarianship in context with other related disciplines, fosters professional values, and prepares students to design their own learning program throughout the length of their careers.
Every curriculum must provide a perspective on library and information science that is sufficiently broad to prepare students for a variety of possible job settings, both for now and in the future. Properly designed and executed, all library and information science education programs (not just those that offer a health sciences library specialization) lay the foundation on which a practicing librarian can build competent performance in a health science environment.
18. Educators should provide a range of programs and opportunities that meet needs throughout one's professional career, rather than focus solely on the master's degree.
All practitioners experience a lifelong impetus for retooling of skills. All information professionals are expected to seek continuing education, and some will wish to acquire advanced certificates or doctoral degrees. Library and information science education programs have generally concentrated on new students and have not always recognized or responded to ongoing educational needs. Library educators, like their medical school counterparts who oversee continuing medical education programs, can coordinate a portfolio of courses, seminars, and institutes using a variety of instructors and educational techniques to support this end.
19. Educators need to define the boundaries of their programs and develop effective relationships with other related information disciplines.
Increasingly, libraries will employ both librarians and other information professionals with different educational training and formal degrees. The ALA-accredited degree will be one of a number of possible acceptable degrees for health information professionals. Potential students and employers must have a way to compare and discriminate among programs.
20. NLM should identify future directions and priorities for its activities in support of the educational needs of health sciences librarians.
As the only medical library in the country with a national mission, NLM has special responsibilities that transcend individual institutions and constituencies. It provides leadership for those engaged in direct service to health professionals and in research about the process of health information management and delivery. Its preeminence in health information services and its long-standing and mutually beneficial relationship with MLA argue for its direct involvement in meeting the educational needs of health information professionals.
21. NLM should convene a planning panel on education for health sciences librarianship.
NLM has long been involved in planning for and developing new information services and systems of access to biomedical information. Its vision for the future describes a new information infrastructure in an electronic environment (6) and foresees biomedical libraries throughout the country with "a substantial cadre of well-trained library professionals who are able to provide the information resources needed by health sciences professionals." (7)
If this vision is to become real, the need for professional leadership in medical librarianship is obvious. As in the past, NLM now has an opportunity to make immeasurable contributions to excellence in health information science by assuming a proactive and collaborative stance in planning and implementing programs of education and training for entry-level and career professionals.
November 20, 1991
6. Report of Panel 1: building and organizing the library collection. Long range plan. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health. Dec. 1986:7.
7. Ibid., p. 27.
Medical Library Association
Last Updated: 2007 July 13