What do Medical Librarians Do?

Last school year my son was asked to talk about his parents and tell the class what we do at work.  He responded, “My mom is a librarian at a hospital and she finds stuff in books and on computers to help doctors.”  I was so proud.  Of course then he described what my husband at work.  “I don’t know what my dad does but his work has a lot of computers with video games and they have two slides and a bouncy castle you can play in.”  My husband is a web developer and yes his company has two slides within the building that employees, including the CEO, have used to get the ground floor.  But the rest of the stuff, the computer games, Wii, Guitar Hero, bouncy castle, etc. are only at my husband’s work during the children’s holiday parties.  Since my son really has only been to my husband’s work when there is a party, he assumes his Dad has Wiis and bouncy castles at work all the time.  

My son’s perceptions of what each of us does in our jobs is colored by what he sees us doing and our work environment.  Obviously my husband doesn’t have bouncer at his work place every day, and at 6′ 5″ he probably is slightly over the height restriction for that type of entertainment.  But since my son really only sees my husband’s workplace during the parties, that is all he has to go on for a point of view of what his dad does at work. 

Each person’s perception is colored by what they have seen and what they have learned from experiences.  When I am at various social gatherings I am often asked what I do.  I respond that I am a medical librarian and then I watch as the glazed look flits across their faces and they get that deer in the headlights stare.   Most adults have not been in a medical library, many more adults (more than I care to think of) were last in a library when they were in college or high school, some go to the public library with the their children.  Their library experiences are usually not in medical libraries.  So the glaze in their eye comes as they try and match their library experiences with their hospital or medical experiences, for most people that isn’t always easy to imagine. 

Those preconceived ideas are part of what we medical librarians are always dealing with.  Even within our own work environment, we have people who don’t realize that a hospital can/should have a medical library and what a librarian does.  These people not only have their on experiences of what a library is but they are most often very busy and completely immersed in their own work world that they may be unintentionally walking by the library with mental blinders on. 

That is why it is important to get the word out to people about what we do and most importantly what we can do for THEM.  Earlier today Dr. Ves Dimov  alerted Twitter followers  of this article, “Ask-A-Librarian Column: What Exactly Do You Do? A Clinician’s Guide to the Medical Librarian,” in Clinical Correlations, the NYU Internal Medicine Blog.  In the article, Jamie Graham does a great job of explaining what medical librarians do and what they can do for the Internal Medicine Residents.  She notes that we aren’t always in the library, that we are out and about doing other duties within the hospital. 

Graham mentions that the NYU librarians can be seen at or doing:

  • Clinical rounds
  • Faculty council
  • IRB sessions
  • Help with group or individual workshops
  • Finding patient education material
  • Finding evidence-based clinical care information
  • Teaching citation management programs (Refworks)
  • Create Table of Contents alerts
  • Find bibliometrics
  • Teach how to prepare manuscripts according to NIH mandates
  • Find medical multimedia
  • Participate on institutional projects (NYU’s ALEX system)

I wanted to share this article with others in the medical library world.  Not only is it a great article but it is published in the blog for Internal Medicine residents and is aimed right at a core group users who may or may not know what a librarian does or what one can do for them.  Perhaps you have a few more things to add to the list, feel free to add them by commenting here.  Others can read Graham’s article and the comments and can create a newsletter article of their own for distribution. 

I know we are all looking at ways to get our message out and to draw users’ attention to us and our services.  Not all of us have slides and bouncy castles to grab people’s attention to our jobs, so we need to try every other method available.

3 thoughts on “What do Medical Librarians Do?”

  1. We help caregivers make informed decisions so that they can improve the quality of their care and the quality of their patients’ lives.

  2. Ah the memories. I remember when my daughter thought that doctors sat around in a circle while I would read a story to them. What else could she think when all she knew about libraries was story hour! I do wonder what she thought I was reading to them. But now she has no memory of this at all, since it was about 20 years ago….

  3. Jamie Graham’s article is excellent–especially the role of the librarian in providing follow-up evidence-based articles after clinical rounds–and providing multi-media video/images to support physicians & nurses who are making presentations! Thanks Michelle for posting this.

    Marlene–I laughed all the way into work today thinking about story hour for physicians at the medical library! We need to explore that one further.

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