Thank a Medical Librarian

close up of four medical professionals giving the thumbs up
“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.

Medical librarians…
  • 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.

11 thoughts on “Thank a Medical Librarian

  1. As a young professional entering the field, I would like to add that medical librarians mentor and collaborate with individuals like me. They encourage me to get involved in the exciting work that is already happening and challenge me to push the envelope so we can continue to serve communities in a rapidly changing information landscape.

    Medical librarians also continue to work towards “deepening the connection with the people they serve”, balancing an array of new technical skills with the soft skills necessary to meet patients, families, and friends, where they are and deliver information on sensitive topics in a way that is understandable and actionable.

    Thank you to the medical librarians. I look forward to connecting with and learning from more of you.

    1. And thank you, Stacy, for your comment. Medical librarians are definitely the giving sort, passionate about sharing their knowledge and experience with the next generation of information professionals. I encourage you, the other Associate Fellows, and other up-and-comers in the profession to make the most of that. The future needs you, your energy, and your ideas.

  2. Many thanks to Dr. Brennan for highlighting a very behind-the-scenes segment of librarianship. Medical (and hospital) librarians touch every department in and aspect of healthcare. I have neurosurgeons requesting assistance as well as maintenance workers going back to community college. Some of us also assist patients and families directly, getting them the resources they need to understand diagnoses and also where to find assistance in their community. Our expertise is found in clinical research and in all levels of medical research, from IRB membership to advising on the layout of Quality Assurance posters. One of our fundamental principles can be characterized as “helping the healthcare provider help others”; I don’t know of one medical or hospital librarian who does not pride themselves on timely, accurate information, organized and delivered to the clinician or researcher according to their preference. We may not have much visibility (which is a pity), but we are here, quietly making a difference every day. It is wonderful for the Director of NLM to recognize our efforts and contributions. Celebrate and thank a medical librarian today!

    1. So glad to hear about what you do! And remember that every aspect of what you do ultimately helps patients and their families. It’s why we’re all here, as you say–“making a difference every day.” Thank you!

  3. Thank you. We need to be reminded to toot our own horns sometimes. I do have 5 MLA posters, with an added “October is Medical Librarian Month!” sticker on each, in each physician and Resident lounges, the Medical Library, and by the C-Suite elevators. But they need to be reminded of all we do, often, or budgets and staff will begin to shrink.

    1. Yes, toot your horn! You’re part of a band of rock stars that help boost health outcomes and improve patients’ lives and public health.

  4. Thanks from this medical librarian as well. At my teaching hospital, the doctors, nurses, other staff, and especially the residents know who we are and what we do–because we work hard at telling them. We go to morning report, ICU rounds, committee meetings, and if any department wants a quick library orientation, we gladly make auditorium calls.

    When I get to introduce the library to a group, I emphasize two things: First, librarians are here to make their lives easier. One program director told me I was the first person to tell his group of residents that. Second, we’re better librarians than they are, for the same reason that they’re better doctors (nurses, physical therapists–I could go on) than we are.

    The best doctors tell their residents to listen to the nurses; they often know things about their patients that the doctors don’t. We need to remind them to listen to librarians, too.

    1. In my previous comment I was amiss in not thanking Dr Brennan and the staff of the National Library of Medicine for all they do for medical librarians. I tell our staff that the librarians are here to make their lives easier. Imagine what we would do without NLM making *our* lives easier. Medline? I couldn’t do my job without it. Docline? It’s the most efficient way of getting interlibrary loan articles I know of. MedlinePlus? In a world awash with misinformation, it’s a critical source of fact-based health information. Toxnet, digital archives, History of Medicine–more than I can mention here, and most of it available anywhere in the world without charge.

      So thanks to all of you for serving up a heaping plate of information with a side order of helpfulness and humor.

    2. Absolutely! Medical librarians have expertise and skills that complement those of the health care team. Your perspective and contributions are invaluable. Thank you for what you do! And know that NLM values the partnership we have with medical librarians.

Leave a Reply