Skip to Main Content

Medical Librarians

The Job

Much of a medical librarian's job is similar to the work of a traditional librarian; he or she organizes, shelves, and helps people retrieve books, periodicals, and other sources. Medical librarians may also help people check out materials, stamp due dates, collect fines for past-due items, look for misshelved items or reshelve items, and work with electronic media on CD-ROMs, DVDs, databases, or on the Internet.

Because of the technical and even sensitive nature of the material, some medical libraries are not open to the public. Medical libraries in hospitals or clinics are typically used only by doctors and other medical staff who are retrieving information such as archived patient medical files. Medical school libraries are open solely for medical students and staff retrieving research conducted and/or written at the institution and other locations. Other medical libraries are open to the public, but have limited-access materials that are monitored by reference librarians. These workers must make sure only authorized individuals check out the materials and that items are properly signed out and recorded.

Some medical librarians do not deal with the public at all, instead working on the more technical tasks of ordering, cataloging, and classifying materials. These librarians select and order all books, periodicals, audiovisual materials, and other items for the library, evaluating newly published materials as well as seeking out older ones. In addition to traditional books, and magazines, modern medical libraries also contain electronic records, DVDs, films, videos, slides, maps, and photographs. The selection and purchase of these is also the responsibility of the head medical librarian. These higher positions, therefore, have considerable influence over the quality and extent of a library collection.

Similar to other libraries, medical librarians must catalog all new additions by title, author, and subject in either card or computerized catalog files. Labels, card pockets, and barcodes must be placed on the items, and they must then be properly shelved. Books and other materials must be kept in good condition and, when necessary, repaired or replaced. In addition to ordering materials, medical librarians must also purchase, maintain, and evaluate the circulation system. Considerable technical knowledge of computer systems may be necessary in deciding upon the extent and scope of the proper circulation for the library.

Medical acquisitions librarians choose and buy books and other health-related media for the library. They must read product catalogs and reviews of new materials as part of the acquisitions decision process. They do not work with the public, but deal with publishers and wholesalers of new books, booksellers of out-of-print books, and distributors of audiovisual materials. When the ordered materials arrive, medical cataloging librarians, with the aid of medical classifiers, classify the items by medical field, assign classification numbers, and prepare cards or computer records to help users locate the materials. Since many libraries have computerized the acquisitions and cataloging functions, it is now possible for the user to retrieve materials faster. Most automated libraries have phased out bulky card catalogs and provide users with small computer terminals instead.

Medical bibliographers usually work in research libraries, compiling lists of books, periodicals, articles, and audiovisual materials on selected topics in the health field. They also recommend the purchase of new materials.