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Professional Development

Competencies for Professional Success: Health Sciences Librarianship in Context

Archive - 2007 release

The health sciences environment continues to be inundated by ever-expanding and mutating information sources, products, and services. Unrelenting change buffets libraries and their clients on multiple fronts. Biomedical knowledge expands exponentially each year, while publishers and other vendors reach farther back in time to digitize print publications. Technology has become central to the operation of every library, even as mobile computing and work styles continue to evolve and drive swift obsolescence in computer hardware and software. New opportunities for technology applications abound, enhancing the speed of communication and knowledge transfer.

Libraries and librarians remain in a singular position to provide information and knowledge management solutions that integrate and make optimal use of resources and people. Health sciences librarianship stands apart by striving to ensure that knowledge about advances in the science and technology of health care research and practice are readily accessible to health care professionals, educators, students, researchers, and the public. As modern society demands the assurance of decisions based on scientific data and sound knowledge management principles, the information professional plays an essential role.

A health information professional draws heavily on the general field of librarianship. Indeed, the knowledge and skills required by a medical librarian bear many similarities to those delineated by the Special Libraries Association [4] and other branches of the profession. Yet a librarian in the intellectually and technologically sophisticated context of health care also requires expertise significantly different from those of colleagues in other library services. In addition, MLA has issued a code of professional ethics to inform the work its members perform [5], and that code must be upheld in applying the knowledge and skills described in this document.

The health sciences information professional holds a pivotal role in the handling of biomedical information, combining the ability to use the knowledgebases of the health sciences and the technical expertise of librarianship with clearheadedproblem-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 health services workers and the general public while also managing health information resources.

The health information professional 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 generation of new knowledge. In accomplishing these responsibilities, the health information professional must forge alliances throughout the institution, eliciting strong support for the library's mission and performing outreach while collaborating to define and solve information problems. Librarians serve as full partners to teaching and research colleagues and advise national policies. Because an individual's personal characteristics greatly influence success, they are described in the next section of this document.

Today, the management of information and knowledge in the health care environment is a national priority with increasing attention to evidence-based care and digital access to personal datasets and electronic patient records. Society is focusing new attention and resources that address consumer health, public health, and health disparities across diverse populations. Similarly, the advancing biosciences research enterprise compels management of complex knowledgebases and data sets. In fulfilling roles that support health care and biomedical research, librarians must ensure ongoing review and revision of the educational process that prepares new information professionals and continually enhances the skills and knowledge of current practitioners. MLA's educational policy statement serves as the foundation for many of the association's activities and services:

  • It defines the necessary competencies for success in this specialized field.
  • It forms the basis for selection of continuing education programs to be made available to the profession.
  • It provides the elemental framework for the Academy of Health Information Professionals.
  • It serves as a major foundation of the association's CORE.


4. Special Libraries Association. Competencies for information professionals of the 21st century. Rev. ed. Washington, DC: The Association, Jun 2003.
5. Medical Library Association. Code of ethics for health sciences librarianship. [Web document]. Chicago, IL: The Association. [rev. 25 October 2000; cited 19 Jan 2007].