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Professional Development

Competencies for Professional Success: Health Sciences Information Knowledge and Skills

Archive - 2007 release

Health sciences librarianship is multifaceted. The profession acknowledges the need for knowledge and skills that intersect equally important areas: the knowledgebases of the health sciences and the application of general information principles to the biomedical setting, specific health information systems, and management and personal skills. Health information professionals will possess varying levels of knowledge and skills in seven broad areas.

Different positions in a library demand a different mix of skills. No one individual can master all knowledge and every desirable skill, but every organization will require collective expertise in all areas. Individuals will emphasize different areas at different points in their career, with specific needs varying over time from assignment to assignment and by institutional setting.

The knowledge and skills are not listed in priority order and may be applicable to more than one area of practice.

Health Sciences Environment and Information Policies

Health sciences librarians and information professionals must understand the contexts in which the need for bioscience and health sciences–related information emerges and the unique ways of perceiving and interpreting those environments. Therefore, they should be alert to changing information and health care environments including:

  • clinical care, research, and education
  • ethical, economic, privacy, copyright, and other legal issues
  • cultural concerns
  • current management and business practice
  • major program and policy sources for the organization (hospital, academic medical center, or corporate)
  • information technology
  • biomedical, biotechnology, health insurance, and pharmaceutical industries
  • health sciences professions, including system and structure, terminology, education and training patterns, and associations and organizations.


In addition, health information professionals should be aware of issues and trends that impact the purpose, programs, policies, and activities of the government entities and other institutions that shape health care in the particular country in which they reside. For most MLA members, this would include:

  • US Department of Health and Human Services and its related agencies (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, Health Resources and Services Administration, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and more)
  • MLA
  • NLM
  • Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations
  • health professional associations, such as the Association of American

Medical Colleges, American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, American Dental Association, American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, and associations serving particular specialties or ethnic groups

  • other information professionals associations, such as the American Medical Informatics Association
  • major international institutions, such as the World Health Organization and Pan American Health Organization

Leadership and Management

Health information professionals effectively weave library and information science principles into the fabric of complex institutional environments. They also establish and sustain viable operations and relevant services for information resource centers. This requires specialized knowledge, skill, and understanding of leadership, finance, communication, and management, including:

  • the institution's mission and the specific mission of the information resource center
  • institutional planning processes
  • decision-making strategies, prioritization, and allocation of resources
  • human resources management, labor relations, and recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce
  • staff development and mentoring
  • project and program management and evaluation
  • organizational structure, behavior, and collaboration
  • finance and budgeting, cost analysis, and price setting
  • fund-raising, proposal writing, and reporting
  • demonstration of the importance of information professionals' knowledgeand skills to achieving institutional goals
  • forging and maintenance of alliances and collaborations with outlying universities, public libraries, public health services, community-based organizations, hospitals, and clinics, when and if applicable, and augmentation of services when appropriate
  • public relations, marketing, and advertising services
  • facilities planning and space allocation
  • oral and written communication
  • interpersonal relations

Health Sciences Information Services

Health sciences librarians require knowledge of the content of information resources and skills in using them. They must understand the principles and practices related to providing information to meet specific user needs and to ensure convenient access to information in all forms, including:

  • understanding of the information needs of health administrators, practitioners, researchers, educators, students, consumers, patients, commercial firms, and the general public
  • ongoing assessment of their clients’ information needs
  • information resources in the health sciences and related fields and their relevance to specific information needs
  • methods of information delivery and access
  • development and/or implementation of services appropriate to meeting the unique needs of diverse populations
  • management of electronic services

Health Sciences Resource Management

Health sciences librarians manage resources in a broad range of formats. As technologies continue to evolve, this necessitates management of the latest digital products as well as primary and clinical research data sets. Expertise must include:

  • knowledge and evaluation of content and format of resources in relation to user needs
  • selection, acquisition, and control of resources
  • negotiation of purchase and licensing of resources
  • understanding of bibliometric techniques
  • vocabulary development and standards
  • creation and management of metadata and information access tools
  • cataloging and classification theory and indexing, abstracting, classification, and taxonomy systems
  • national and international standards and conventions
  • conservation, preservation, and archiving of print and digital resources, including institutional repositories
  • interfacing information resources, electronic health care and personal health records, and other clinical and research data sets
  • scholarly communication issues and strategies
  • publishing industry and resource vendors
  • trends in information formatting, production, packaging, and dissemination
  • copyright, licensing, privacy, and intellectual property issues
  • institutional information policies

Information Systems and Technology

Ongoing developments in technology reshape the goals and systems of health sciences librarianship and change the way information professionals function. Although required proficiency levels vary across specializations in the field, health sciences librarians must be able to understand and use technology and systems to manage all forms of information and must maintain awareness of information technology trends. They must master basic technology skills as well as their practical application. Important areas of knowledge include:

  • basic principles of automated systems, including computer hardware and software, record and file construction, database and Website management systems, networking, and information technology security
  • acquisition, use, and evaluation of information technologies
  • systems analysis techniques, including design and evaluation
  • communications and information infrastructure, including the Internet and Web
  • data standards
  • technological solutions for permanent access to electronic information
  • informatics applications in emerging areas of biomedicine, computational biology, and health information
  • electronic health care systems and records
  • human behavior as it relates to technology
  • integration of systems and technologies into the long-term information management needs and plans of the institution

Curriculum Design and Instruction

An essential responsibility of the health sciences librarian is to teach ways to access, organize, and use information to solve problems. Health information professionals collaborate with other educators in health sciences curriculum design and delivery as well as offer stand-alone experiences. Effective instruction entails not only knowledge of the structure and content of the specific courses being taught and the technologies used to teach them, but also an understanding of and expertise in:

  • adult learning theory and cognitive psychology
  • curriculum and instructional development
  • teaching informatics competencies and evidence-based decision making
  • educational needs assessment and analysis
  • learning style appraisal
  • instructional methodologies, technologies, and systems design
  • management of education services
  • evaluation of learning outcomes
  • information literacy, especially health information literacy
  • work with curriculum committees and accrediting bodies

Research, Analysis, and Interpretation

All health information professionals use published research either to provide information services to end users or to improve their practice as librarians. In either case, they need to retrieve, analyze, and appraise research literature. Some will also contribute to the knowledgebase of the profession by conducting original research and writing review articles. Whether using the published research of others or reporting their own findings, health information professionals require a core set of knowledge and abilities. The basic research knowledge and skills are:

  • ability to identify and define a research problem or question
  • knowledge of quantitative and qualitative methodologies and which is best for a given study
  • knowledge of common statistical techniques and their interpretation
  • ability to understand statistical interpretations of research and assess whether the statistics support the conclusions
  • ability to summarize research findings clearly and succinctly for informal reporting and formal publication
  • ability to evaluate research findings for validity and usefulness

In addition, all health information professionals need to use principles of evidence-based practice to support decision making. Some health sciences librarians will also need to participate in differing roles as members of interdisciplinary research teams. See MLA's research policy statement for a fuller discussion of the research roles and skills health information professionals employ.