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Professional Development

Data Services Specialization

DSS Badge
With the skills acquired in earning a Level I DSS certificate, you’ll be able to manage research data, provide guidance and instruction on data management best practices, and apply ethical data management principles.
With the skills acquired  in earning a Level II DSS certificate (planned for the first quarter of 2024), you’ll build upon your Level I skills and be able to appraise data and data collection practices, evaluate and expand data services, and develop domain-specific data expertise.

Why Get a DSS?

As scientific research becomes increasingly data-driven, libraries are expanding their data services. Health sciences librarians and other health information professionals are ideally situated in the research and information-seeking process to provide data services support.

Your Level I DSS certificate shows employers, colleagues and researchers and others who work with data that:

  • You have skills in providing a range of data services
  • You are committed to offering quality data services 
  • You are committed to staying current with developments in data management and data services.

Your Level II DSS certificate shows employers, colleagues and researchers and others who work with data that:

  • You have skills to engage across your institution and build alliances to develop and advance robust data services
  • You are able to actively engage with researchers and students in advanced data management practices
  • You have advanced skills across domains, including data collection, computational research, and other skills based on a curriculum customized to your personal interests


Here is a selection of articles on the vital role of librarians in Data Management. 

Brochu L, Burns J. Librarians and research data management–a literature review: commentary from a senior professional and a new professional librarian. New Rev Acad Librshp. 2019;25:1, 49–58.

Federer L. Defining data librarianship: a survey of competencies, skills, and training. J Med Libr Assoc. 2018.

Federer L, ed. The Medical Library Association guide to data management for librarians. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.

Khan HR, Du Y.   What is a data librarian?: a content analysis of job advertisements for data librarians in the United States academic libraries. Presented at: IFLA 2018 World Library and Information Conference.

Read K, Koos J, Miller R, Miller C, Phillips G, Scheinfeld L, Surkis A. A model for initiating research data management services at academic libraries. J Med Libr Assoc, 2019.  Correction in: J Med Libr Assoc. 2020.

Who Is the MLA Data Services Specialization Designed For?

  • Health sciences librarians and other information professionals and students who wish to expand their skills in providing data services and increase their value to employers

  • Health sciences librarians and other information professionals and students who hold or are seeking positions as a data management librarian, research data management librarian, data librarian, data specialist, or data visualization librarian.

See the DSS Level I certificate recipients.

Who Created the MLA Data Services Specialization?

A team of experts in the field of data sciences created the Data Services competency and identified courses that serve the Level I DSS certificate.

  • Lisa Federer, AHIP (Chair), Data Science and Open Science Librarian, National Library of Medicine
  • Erin Foster, Service Lead, Research Data Management Program, University of California–Berkeley
  • Ann Glusker, AHIP, Sociology, Demography, & Quantitative Research Librarian, University of California–Berkeley
  • Margaret Henderson, AHIP, Health Sciences Librarian, San Diego State University
  • Kevin Read, Health Sciences Librarian, University of Saskatchewan
  • Shirley Zhao, Assistant Librarian (Clinical), University of Utah

To learn more about the Data Services Competency and its development, see their article in the Journal of the Medical Library Association (JMLA), “The Medical Library Association Data Services Competency: A Framework for Data Science and Open Science Skills Development.” The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will draw on the DSS competencies to develop training for the library and information science community to support “data-driven research and health.”

What Skills Does the DSS Promote?

The DSS is built upon the Data Services Competency:

Health and biomedical information professionals with competency in Data Services engage with and support users across the data life cycle to promote data literacy, data science, and open science practices.

The competency encompasses five skill areas at two levels of expertise. A data services specialist:

1. Applies principles of data literacy

Level I: Finds, interprets, and manages data according to ethical principles  

Level II: Critically appraises data and data collection methods

2. Establishes and advances data services 

Level I: Collects and uses knowledge of institutional and research context to initiate institutionally relevant data services     

Level II: Evaluates and expands upon existing data services by developing partnerships and becoming integrated into the institutional research environment

3. Supports research data best practices across the data lifecycle

Level I: Provides guidance on generalizable, domain-agnostic research data best practices 

Level II: Identifies and implements domain-specific research data best practices

4. Applies knowledge of research methods, ethics and rigor, and open science practices

Level I: Applies a basic understanding of scientific method and ethical and sound research practices to data-related problems, encouraging open science practices when appropriate 

Level II: Applies specialized knowledge of one or more scientific disciplines and research methods to advanced, domain-specific data-related problems

5. Provides training and consultation on data-related topics      

Level I: Develops and delivers instruction to enhance data literacy and skills        

Level II: Provides customized discipline- and context-specific training on advanced data-related topics, including those requiring computational approaches

See the Data Services Specialization Level I Course List for the core and elective courses.
See the Data Services Specialization Level II Course List for the core and elective courses.

What is the Cost of the DSS?

MLA charges a modest fee (members: $99; nonmembers: $129) for reviewing applications and granting certificates. The cost of courses that satisfy the requirements for the certificates is determined by course owners. Courses offered by the Network of the National Library of Medicine are free.

NNLM generously sponsors the DSS application fee for library staff and students. NNLM sponsorships are available for those within any region of the NNLM. Click here to apply for NNLM to cover your application fee.

What Are the Requirements for Earning Your DSS?

     DSS Level I

To earn your DSS Level I certificate, you must meet core and elective requirements.

You can meet the core requirement in one of two ways:


You meet the electives requirement by taking three elective credits in each of the five skill areas.

A single course can meet requirements for more than one area.  For example: Introduction to Data Management is 1.5 credits and covers skill areas, 1, 2, 3, & 5. Working Open: An Overview of Open Source Resource Tools is 1.5 credits and covers skill areas 2, 4, & 5. Taking both fulfills the three elective credits requirement for skill areas 2 & 5.

See the Data Services Specialization Level I Course List for the core and elective courses.

     DSS Level II --Under Construction

To earn your DSS Level II certificate, you must meet core and elective requirements.

  • Complete 10.5 credits (7 courses) of required core courses

  • Complete 7.5 credits (5 courses) of electives 

See the Data Services Specialization Level II Course List for the core and elective courses.


Time to completion requirements

  • You must earn a Level I certificate before you can earn your Level II certificate.
  • You have three years to meet the requirements for a Level I certificate, i.e., courses submitted for the specialization must have been taken no more than three years prior to your date of application. 
  • Your DSS is valid for three years.
  • To keep your DSS valid, you must take three credits in each of the five competency areas during the three years your DSS is valid. A single course can meet requirements for more than one area. We recommend that individuals with a Level I DSS take Level II courses and so use their three years to acquire their Level II DSS.

Credit for Activities Not Approved for DSS

If you have taken a course, a Discussion Group activity, or an Independent Reading Program activity that is not approved for DSS and would like to have it considered for meeting a DSS requirement, please fill out an Individual Participant Request (IPR) form and submit it with your application. You may request credit for offerings that do not issue certificates of completion.

Applying for Your DSS

Before submitting your application

  1. Take the required credit amount and number of approved courses for the DSS level for which you are applying.

  2. Gather evidence that you have completed the required courses.
    • If you received a CE certificate for a DSS course through MEDLIB-ED, you need only list the DSS course(s) in your application. We will access your transcript to see the DSS courses you have taken. You can earn your Level I DSS entirely with offerings in MEDLIB-ED.
    • If you have received a certification of completion or other evidence of course completion from an approved DSS course that is not listed in MEDLIB-ED, submit a certificate of course completion with your application.
    • If you have completed a course that is not approved for DSS, complete an Individual Participant Request (IPR) form to request approval.

  3. Request an application form

If you have questions: Please contact MLA's Professional Development Department before completing your DSS application or taking a course.

Requesting an application form

  • To receive an application, pay the application fee by visiting the MLA StoreThe application fee is $99 for MLA members and $129 for non-members. (If you applied for NNLM sponsorship of the application fee, do not purchase the fee here. You will receive application instructions by email.)

Completing your application

  • After your payment is processed, we will email you a link to the online application.
  • Complete the online application and indicate if you would like a letter celebrating your accomplishment sent to your supervisor.
  • Upload your certificate(s) and IPR form(s) for each course or activity not on your MEDLIB-ED transcript. To make your application easier, we will access your transcript and check it against the requirements for your level.

MLA will process the application and, on approval, send you a notification letter and certificate recognizing your level of achievement.

We encourage you to Promote Your Accomplishment with a press release your public relations office can publish in your organization’s newsletter and local papers, print and digital. Customize the release to highlight your unique DSS-related achievements.


Instructors: Get Your Course Approved for DSS

Only courses that serve the Data Services competency can be approved for DSS. To have your course considered for DSS, select "Data Services" in the Specialization Consideration part of the Submit a Course for MLA CE Approval application form.  Contact the MLA Professional Development department for more information.