Medical Librarians


Education and Training Requirements

High School

If you are interested in becoming a medical librarian, be sure to take a full college preparatory course load. Focus on classes such as health, anatomy, biology, chemistry, and physics. Learning how to use a computer and conduct basic research in a library is essential. Developing these skills will not only aid in your future library work, but will also help you during college and graduate school.

Postsecondary Training

If you are set on becoming a medical librarian, focus on science and health classes but also take broader curriculum such as English, foreign language, and history. These classes will help develop your research and writing skills—keys to becoming a good librarian. Most library schools don't require specific undergraduate courses for acceptance, but a good academic record and reading knowledge of at least one foreign language is usually required. You should also consider taking classes that strengthen your skills in communications, writing, research methods, collection organization, and customer service, as well as maintenance and conservation.

Upon receiving your bachelor's degree, you will need to earn a master's degree to become a librarian. The degree is generally known as a master's of library science (MLS), but in some institutions it may be referred to by a different title, such as a master's of library and information science (MLIS). You should plan to attend a graduate school of library and information science that is accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). Currently, there are more than 60 ALA-accredited master's programs. Some libraries do not consider job applicants who attended a nonaccredited school. Visit http://www.ala.org/educationcareers/accreditedprograms/directory for a list of ALA-accredited programs.

Because they work with such specialized materials, medical librarians must have a very strong background in the area in which they wish to work. Librarians working in the cardiology department of a library, for example, should have a different knowledge base than those working in pharmaceuticals. Most medical librarians have a degree in science in addition to their MLS. In some cases, a graduate or professional degree in the sciences is especially attractive to prospective employers. For work in research libraries, university libraries, or special collections, a doctorate may be required. A doctorate is commonly required for the top administrative posts of these types of libraries, as well as for faculty positions in graduate schools of library science.

A great way to explore the specific nature of medical librarianship is through a fellowship with the National Library of Medicine (http://www.nlm.nih.gov). This institution offers a one-year residency fellowship for recent library science graduates who are interested in a career in health sciences librarianship.

Other Education or Training

The Medical Library Association offers a variety of continuing education (CE) workshops, seminars, and webinars. Past offerings included "Data Curation for Information Professionals," "Leveraging Mobile Technologies for Health Sciences Libraries," "Electronic Collection Development," and "Change Management and Leadership for Medical Librarians." The American Library Association, Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries, and the Special Libraries Association also provide CE classes. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The Medical Library Association offers credentialing through membership in the Academy of Health Information Professionals (AHIP). Candidates submit a portfolio of their professional activities, which qualifies them for membership. Membership must be renewed every five years so continuing education is recommended. According to the AHIP, earnings for credentialed medical librarians are generally higher than that of noncredentialed medical librarians. Find information at https://www.mlanet.org/academy.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Experience as a library volunteer or in a part-time job as a library assistant or technician will be helpful for aspiring medical librarians.

Medical librarians who work around people must have good interpersonal and communication skills. Sometimes the medical librarian has to figure out what the patron is looking for, say an obscure study on the effects of radiation therapy on a rare form of cancer, using clues or bits and pieces of information. Therefore, they should also be problem-solvers and good listeners. Because the hunt for a needed item or piece of information might take awhile, patience and perseverance are also useful qualities.