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Health Information Profession

The health information profession provides access to and delivers important information that improves patient care and supports education, research, and publication.

Health Sciences Library Statistics

  • The estimated number of U.S. health sciences libraries is 2,645 (1);
  • Outside the U.S., there are another 2,428 health sciences libraries (2);
  • The Network of the National Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) consists of over 8,800 member institutions, including 2,100+ libraries in hospitals or clinics and 1,000+ health sciences libraries. This work is facilitated by seven Regional Medical Libraries and six specialized offices and centers operating under a cooperative agreement from the National Library of Medicine (NLM). The goals of the NNLM are to work to increase access to and the understanding of how to use health information and NLM resources to advance health literacy and health equity.

Types of Health Sciences Libraries

Libraries of the health and biosciences are found in a variety of settings and support the information needs of many disciplines including:

  • Academic health science centers including schools of medicine, nursing, pharmacy, dentistry, chiropractic, veterinary medicine, public health
  • Special libraries such as cancer treatment centers
  • Hospital libraries
  • Libraries serving large physician group practices
  • Corporate libraries including pharmaceutical and device manufacturing companies, insurance companies
  • Community college libraries serving the associated health professions

National Library of Medicine

The National Library of Medicine (NLM), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), plays a pivotal role in translating biomedical research into practice.

  • NLM is the world's largest biomedical library and developer of more than 200 electronic databases
  • Scientists, health professionals, and the public search the Library's online information resources more than one billion times each year
  • Its mission is to ensure that anyone with need has access to health information across the United States
  • The National Network of Libraries of Medicine and health information libraries are NLM's key partners in making information available to anyone with need

Roles of Health Sciences Librarians

Librarians are the cornerstone of the profession. These highly skilled professionals fill a wide breadth of roles such as:

  • Teaching health professionals how to access and evaluate information;
  • Helping patients and consumers find authoritative health information;
  • Attending morning rounds with the health care team;
  • Bringing the latest diagnostic and treatment information to the patient’s bedside;
  • Connecting electronic resources and decision tools into a patient’s electronic medical record;
  • Conducting community outreach programs on topics such as health information literacy
  • Designing and managing health information websites, Internet blogs, and digital libraries
  • Serving on patient safety and quality control committees in their hospitals;
  • Contributing to the development of new treatments, products and services as members of university and pharmaceutical research teams

The Association for Health Sciences Librarians

The Medical Library Association (MLA) is the membership organization that supports the needs of more than 3,500 health sciences librarians in areas such as

MLA believes that quality information is essential for improved health. MLA aspires to be the association of the most visible, valued, and trusted health information experts. To that end, MLA fosters excellence in the professional practice and leadership of health sciences library and information professionals in order to enhance the quality of health care, education and research throughout the world.

Allied Library, Information, and Standards Organizations

MLA maintains strong ties with allied associations, agencies, networks and organizations that share our concerns.

Professional Competencies for Health Sciences Librarians

The Medical Library Association sets the standards for professional competency needed by health sciences librarians at different points in their careers and in different institutional settings. Believing that lifelong learning is imperative for increasing librarians’ competencies and for career success, MLA promotes professional development and lifelong learning

  1. Understand the health sciences and health care environment and the policies, issues, and trends that impact that environment
  2. Know and understand the application of leadership, finance, communication, and management theory and techniques
  3. Understand the principles and practices related to providing information services to meet users' needs
  4. Have the ability to manage health information resources in a broad range of formats
  5. Understand and use technology and systems to manage all forms of information
  6. Understand curricular design and instruction and have the ability to teach ways to access, organize, and use information
  7. Understand scientific research methods and have the ability to critically examine and filter research literature from many related disciplines

21st Century Challenges

The health information profession remains committed and viable in spite of a slowly rebounding national economy, library mergers and closings, and a rapidly changing health care landscape. Challenges exist and the profession is positioned to strategically address these.

Job Potential

  • Health care is one of six sectors expected to experience job growth.
  • There were 148,400 librarian jobs at the end of 2012, down by 7,700 jobs (about 5%) from 2010. (3)
  • The 2012 median librarian’s salary was $55,370, which is slightly higher than the year before.
  • Slower than average growth (7%) in library sciences positions is predicted until 2020.
  • Emphasis on technology is high for the best jobs, which medical librarians in particular will be able to capitalize on.
  • The increased availability of electronic information is expected to increase the demand for librarians in research and special libraries.

Recruitment into the Profession

Professional recruitment and retention is another challenge. Retirement of baby boomers, library closings and mergers, and the myth that everything is easily found by anyone over the Internet has created the need to demonstrate value for the profession.

To ensure relevance and viability, the Medical Library Association is working to align association programs, services, and governance with new professional member needs and expectations. This will support new professionals in the early development of their careers or professionals transitioning to the medical library field.

Demonstrating Need and Value

The health information profession is in a pivotal position to support the increasing emphasis on accountability and data-driven patient outcomes. The 2011 IOM workshop report, “Allied Health Workforce and Services” recognized the importance of team-based health care and that “medical librarians are essential team members.” The association has undertaken strategies that will facilitate member engagement in demonstrating need and value. These include:


  1. Bogart, Dave, editor. Library and Book Trade Almanac: Facts, Figures, and Reports. 58th Medford (NJ):Information Today; 2013 (Formerly The Bowker Annual) provides this data on p. 359.
  2. Directory of Special Libraries and Information Centers, 41st ed, Gale Cengage Learning; 2013
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Librarians,
    on the Internet at  (visited August 19, 2015).