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Professional Development

Competencies for Professional Success: Executive Summary

Archive - 2007 release

We must educate for the problems of a generation hence, not for the problems of today ... librarians must be imbued with the psychological ability to handle change and to live with ambiguity. Without this they will be performing tomorrow's tasks with yesterday's concepts.
—Estelle Brodman, 1979 [2]

Today, the management of information and knowledge in the health care environment is a national priority with increasing attention paid to evidencebased health care, patient safety and privacy, health literacy, and creation of electronic patient records. Technology has become central to the operation of every library.

The advancing biosciences research enterprise makes it necessary for professionals fulfilling health information roles to manage increasingly complex knowledgebases and data sets. These professionals may have a variety of titles including health information professional, health information specialist, informationist, medical librarian, informatician, or health sciences librarian. This policy statement refers to these professionals as health sciences librarians or health information professionals.

A Challenging Work Setting

MLA believes that lifelong learning must be a cornerstone of every individual's professional development plan to achieve success in the health sciences environment and that individuals must assume greater personal responsibility for defining their ongoing learning goals, increasing their competencies, and improving their professional performance. Consequently, the association has been offering professional continuing education courses for almost fifty years and has been involved in professional development programs and services for much longer [3].

Since this policy's precursor, "Platform for Change: the Educational Policy Statement of The Medical Library Association," the world of health information and health sciences librarianship has changed dramatically. The work of health sciences librarians takes place in an increasingly broader spectrum of settings and across a broad range of biosciences and health-related disciplines. Health sciences librarians function in ways shaped by a number of significant factors including: changing elements and structure of medical knowledge; rapid introduction of new technologies and techniques for information processing and dissemination; altered patterns of institutional organization, management, and governance; and the drive to maintain excellence. Health sciences librarianship stands apart in ensuring that knowledge about advances in the science and technology of health care research and practice is readily accessible to health care professionals, educators, students, researchers, and the public.

Following are the seven professional competency areas needed by health sciences librarians today along with recommendations for actions that individuals and professional organizations, health sciences librarians, MLA, employers, graduate programs in library and information science, and the National Library of Medicine (NLM) can take to promote professional development and lifelong learning. In some competency areas, such as technology and systems management, new knowledge and skills have been added, while in others, specific knowledge and skills have been broadened to include, for example, diversity issues. Recommendations from the previous policy statement that were either acted upon or that are no longer relevant have been eliminated in this edition. Individuals cannot achieve mastery of all knowledge and every desirable skill in each competency area, but will emphasize different areas at different points in their careers and in different institutional settings.

Summary Recommendations for Action

Individuals and professional organizations

  1. develop strategies to recruit a diverse and talented cadre of information professionals
  2. provide new opportunities in the continuum of learning
  3. continue educating the educators

Health sciences librarians

  1. aggressively seek lifelong education and professional development opportunities from a variety of sources and design and implement a plan for continuing professional development
  2. exercise leadership in and contribute to the professional development of the field
  3. uphold and advocate for the values of the profession and apply them to changing information environments

The Medical Library Association

  1. sets the standards for professional competency to assist employers in recruiting and retaining individuals who will be successful in the changing arena of health sciences librarianship
  2. continues its leadership role in creating a vital and responsive professional development program and a dynamic set of coordinated education opportunities
  3. collaborates with all participants in the educational arena
  4. promotes adoption or development of staff development programs for information professionals by employers
  5. maintains its formal liaison with the graduate schools of library and information science education
  6. designs and implements a research agenda that advances the professional knowledgebase

Employers of health sciences librarians

  1. recruit competent and promising individuals and involve them in meeting the information needs of the institution
  2. place a high priority on staff development

Library and information science educators

  1. 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
  2. support students who desire to work in a health sciences setting by offering flexible options for students to gain necessary skill sets
  3. provide a range of programs and opportunities that meet needs throughout a professional career, rather than focus solely on the master's degree
  4. provide the impetus and forum for continued education of the educators

The National Library of Medicine

  1. continues to identify future directions and priorities for its activities to support the educational needs of health sciences librarians
  2. provides additional training opportunities for health sciences librarians to acquire new knowledge and skills, such as through identifying and funding centers of excellence for advanced training in health information at strategic points across the country


2. Brodman E. Keynote address: pragmatism and intellection in medical library education. In: Proceedings of Allerton Invitational Conference on Education forHealth Sciences Librarianship. Monticello, IL; 2-4 Apr 1979. Chicago, IL: Medical Library Association, 1979:viii.
3. Roper FW. The Medical Library Association's professional development program: a look back at the way ahead. J Med Libr Assoc 2006 Jan;94(1):8-18.