“Get the word out. Tell the world what we do!”
I received that earnest and heartfelt request from those attending the Medical Library Association’s Midwest Regional Conference in Cleveland earlier this month. And though I thanked the conference attendees for all they do for NLM—helping us connect with our constituents in hospitals, academic institutions, and communities across middle America—I realized there was more I could do to thank and acknowledge all medical librarians, starting with this blog.
I believe that quality information is essential for improved health. It improves clinical decision making and patient care, boosts the quality of biomedical research, supports patients, families, and caregivers, and reduces health care costs.
And who is responsible for organizing and delivering that essential information?
Medical librarians and their partners in the health information profession.
For that, they deserve our thanks, but even more, they should be acknowledged for the myriad ways they improve health care and biomedical research.
- Curate diverse and valuable collections.
Librarians make deliberate and systematic choices to select the books, journals, data, and other resources needed for research and clinical care.
- Catalog, index, and make available acquired materials.
They make the needle you need findable in the collection haystack by adding relevant and appropriate subject headings or keywords to books, journal articles, data sets, images, and other items, which you can then locate by searching freely available databases like PubMed.
- Manage access rights.
Medical librarians support copyright and help maintain the intellectual property of authors, publishers, and database creators as they acquire and license resources on behalf of those who need them.
- Support data discovery.
Medical librarians identify and create pathways to data repositories that bolster genomic and biomedical informatics research.
- Find the hard-to-find.
Librarians know the ins-and-outs of online searching. They’ve trained for it, learning how different databases are organized and how best to extract precise results. Their expertise will save you time and improve outcomes.
- Help authors publish.
Librarians can help researchers at every stage of the publishing journey, from writing, revising, and formatting the paper to selecting appropriate and trustworthy outlets for publication.
- Preserve materials for the future.
They ensure the collections so painstakingly assembled are safe, secure, and available now and in the years to come, digitizing print materials, monitoring storage conditions, and conserving brittle, crumbling works.
Of course, to thank a medical librarian you have to find one. I suggest starting with NLM’s National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM). At over 7,000 sites strong, this network provides a point of presence for medical librarianship in almost every county in the US. Many NNLM members are academic institutions, health science libraries, or hospital or clinic libraries, but an increasing number (over 1,700 now) are public libraries taking on new ways to serve their communities.
They’re not alone.
Medical librarians have long ago left the desk behind and stepped into new roles, whether in health care institutions, academic libraries, or private industry. They are leading patient-and-family information services, becoming a part of the knowledge management resources of large health care systems, serving on patient safety and quality control committees, and joining teams of investigators to manage publications, locate critical data sets, gauge research impact, or write grants. From embedded librarian initiatives and innovative outreach programs, medical librarians are deepening the connection with the people they serve, bringing them shoulder-to-shoulder to share knowledge and solve problems.
They’re doing all this because they, too, believe that quality information is essential for improved health, and they know their skills and training put them in the best position to deliver that information.
That’s not only worthy of thanks but of shout-it-from-the-rooftops support. And not just because I say so, but because the data say so.
So, to provide better care, make better decisions, and save money, ask—and then thank—your medical librarian. They’re experts in helping you succeed.