Newbie Medlibs: Experiences

One of the reasons I like Twitter is that I can follow or read about new people with interesting ideas.  On Monday, Steven Chang tweeted a link to his blog post about his experiences and reflections on his first month of being a hospital librarian.

Steven Chang's tweet about being a new hospital librarian

His blog post had me thinking about newbie medical librarians and the support (or lack of support) they have as they start their new jobs. Steven is a medical librarian in Australia, so his library school experience might be a bit different than those of us who got the MLS (or equivalent) in the United States.  I can only speak of my experiences of when I was in library school.  That was many many years ago, I have been a professional medical librarian for over 15 years. My first job out of library school was in a hospital library. While it was a eye opening experience, I feel that I was more prepared than other newbie librarians entering the medical library workforce. I was lucky because the University of Missouri’s School of Information Science & Learning Technologies had several courses for those interested in medical librarianship. Unfortunately, now they only have a course on Consumer Health :(  My course work wasn’t the only thing that helped me.  The wonderful librarians at the J. Otto Lottes Health Sciences Library at the University of Missouri were the people who helped connect the crucial dots in my medical librarianship training.  I did a practicum there and quite frankly that experience helped me out tremendously.

Reflecting on my time in library school got me thinking about things I wouldn’t have known had I not had course and practicum work focused on medical librarianship.

Things that I wouldn’t have known about:

Docline – Medical librarians use a totally different Interlibrary Loan system than every other librarian I know of.  While we do use OCLC for books, almost all of our ILL requests are journal articles and the National Library of Medicine has its own unique ILL system (Docline) that deals with this and this is what every other medical library uses to get articles.

Controlled vocabulary – Oh I learned about it sort of while taking the required cataloging class and my optional indexing and abstracting class. While some databases use subject terms, very few library databases have the structure and the type of control over search terms that MEDLINE does. I did not fully “get” the idea of controlled vocabulary for searching until I started really working a lot with MEDLINE.

The IRB – The institutional review board is the ethical review board that is used to officially approve, monitor, review research involving humans.  Almost any study or survey done within Hospitals and academic medical centers needs to be run by the IRB. This also means your library surveys might need to be run by the IRB.  Since librarians are not studying drugs, therapies, or treatments on patients, it is usually is a pretty straight forward approval process or they simply give you a letter saying you don’t need IRB approval.  However, it is always best to check before you do your own survey or study. This was never ever mentioned in library school. I don’t know of public librarians needing board approval for a study.

Resources – Ok this is sort of a catch all. My library school’s reference class provided a sort of “fly by” of all types of resources that one would in encounter in a general academic or public library. I found that to be a very helpful class as it gave me a sampling of what I need to know to learn the basics of reference and to understand the concept of the reference interview.  However, there are WAY more medical resources out there.  It wasn’t until I did a medical resources class and my practicum did I begin to scratch the surface of medical resources.  BTW my library school life was way before UpToDate, MDConsult (now ClinicalKey), Scopus, Web of Science, etc.  Journals were just starting to go electronic and there were no ebooks.  The Internet and online publishing and multi-media have exploded the amount of and type of medical resources available online compared to when I was in library school.

Carla Funk mentioned at a meeting (I want to say Section Council) at 2013 MLA.  She said that MLA has an interesting generational shift.  She said MLA has lots of librarians with lots of experience (and close to retirement) and lots of librarians just starting off and relatively new to the profession.  There are fewer librarians in the middle of their career.  Both Carla’s unofficial reporting of the MLA demographics and Steven’s blog post has me more wondering more about fostering and mentoring librarians to be medical librarians.  I know we have all heard of the “great retirement” when all of these so called older librarians will all suddenly retire creating massive employment opportunities for new librarians and librarian advancement.  I know because “they” were spouting this theory even when I was in library school over 15 years ago.  Honestly I think we are starting to see it happen.  It isn’t a mass exodus as “they” predicted, but I have seen a lot of directorship and assistant directorship positions posted recently.  I am noticing a large group of new librarians at MLA that are eager to get involved.

I know MLA has several mentorship opportunities:

  • You can find/be a mentor according certain expertise areas of medical librarianship such as administration, continuing education, research, etc.
  • You can also decide to get your provisional AHIP membership in which case you would need an AHIP mentor.

Several posters were presented at the 2014 annual meeting on mentorship or new medical librarianship learning opportunities.

I have found the #medlibs Twitter group and MEDLIB-L to be very helpful too.

I have several questions that I want to bounce off of readers.

  • What are the things that weren’t taught in library school that are unique to medical libraries that new medical librarians need to know?
  • What are other ways we can help or mentor new librarians?
  • Do you think there should be some sort of mentoring to MLA? Similar in spirit to the New Members/Attendees Breakfast that is done at the annual meeting.  But instead of it being about the annual meeting it is about MLA as whole, how it works, what groups are what, the ins and outs of Sections, etc.  If so what is a good way to do that?

I look forward to hearing back from people. Either comment on this blog or my Facebook page or tweet me @krafty.

4 thoughts on “Newbie Medlibs: Experiences”

  1. As a hospital librarian the thing I didn’t learn in school is marketing the library. I tried to be a mentee, but never did hear anything. I can honestly say Twitter and list serves are great for getting feedback and asking questions. Maybe a library school q & a session for types of libraries? A list of blogs that talk about medical/hospital libraries?

  2. I am just finishing up my MLIS, but throughout the program when I tried to take the health science library courses offered, the attendance was too low and the classes ended up being canceled.

    I don’t know if I would have learned these things in those classes, but use of MeSH and DOCLINE would have been so helpful.

  3. We didn’t have any ‘how to teach adults’ sessions when I was an undergrad, or even when I did a Masters a little over a decade later. That would have been SO helpful because a lot of what med librarians do is teach adults. How to construct a training session, different learning styles. Gosh, I could go on. I’m going to a train the trainer workshop later this year which will cover these things.

  4. Thanks for sharing my blog post, and also for fleshing out some of the unique qualities of medical librarianship that are not always taught explicitly in our Masters degrees.

    As far as I remember, there was no option to take an elective in medical librarianship during my Masters. I did, however, take a subject in Healthcare Informatics (which was a little different).

    I also agree with Catherine. The more I learn about this field of librarianship, the more I realise “teaching adults” is a critical part of the job. And that it’s not something I feel I’ve been taught in depth, most of the skills I employ in this regard are derived from intuition and (limited) experience.

    I take Angela’s point too – library marketing is HUGE when you work in a small library that’s part of a large hospital! Outreach is absolutely central but requires being quite systematic and having an “outreach mentality”.

    I might try find some time to write a blog post on some of the ideas discussed here :)

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