Clinical librarianship

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  • Updated.jpg This entry is out of date, and will not be updated, August 2018


See also Advocacy | Diagnostic error prevention & patient safety | Embedded librarianship | Health libraries | Health library standards, value & return on investment (ROI) | Informationists | Joanne Gard Marshall

What do clinical librarians do? From an actual working clinical librarian: "... my job involves actually going out of the library to the wards to see the doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and other clinical staff doing their job. Where they have a decision to make regarding a patient, they are expected to use “evidence based” information. That’s where I come in. I can help find the evidence for them to base their decisions on. Because I’ve been to the wards and the meetings, I have an understanding of what it is they want to know, and so I can get back to the office and use the medical databases we access to find up to date articles and research..." — Pip Duvall, Clinical Librarian, NHS United Kingdom

Clinical librarianship is a traditional area of library practice in health and medicine whose origins ar with pioneer librarians in the United States during the 1970s — CL continues to be popular today in various forms including its original form. Clinical librarians are members of clinical services teams and tasked with providing evidence-based information services at the point of decision-making. Proponents of clinical librarianship are known by a variety of position titles such as clinical librarians or clinical medical librarians. Clinical librarians practice a form of embedded librarianship.

In 2013, the U.S. Library of Congress published Clinical medical librarians: an annotated bibliography or review of the journal literature discussing the role of library and information professionals known as clinical medical librarians. According to the report, the "...bibliography addresses the dialogue that has ensued since the publication of the Davidoff-Florance editorial with regard to both the merits and applicability of their concept, including specific examples of librarians working in hospitals and in medical research as informationists".

What is a clinical librarian?

A clinical librarian provides specialized library services in teaching hospitals and other health organizations by participating in clinical activities and hospital rounds with health providers. By working closely with assigned teams of clinicians (faculty & students, residents & hospitalists), a clinical librarian can respond to information needs that arise in situ within the clinic. In the sense of being outside the library, clinical librarians are therefore more 'clinic-driven' than 'library-driven'. Further, CLs facilitate access to the medical literature to answer the health professional's most-pressing clinical questions; as such, CLs perform, mediate and coach users through the search process and in locating the best medical evidence from the medical literature. Assistance can extend to locating the fulltext of documents in print and electronic formats. CLs are not universally present in hospitals, but increasingly are viewed as valuable for those who wish to practice evidence-based care. If well-trained, CLS can respond to the many information needs of health professionals and facilitate problem-solving and decision-making. CLs are also integral to clinical teams for general information navigation and assistance, and in conducting reviews of the world's medical literature. The integration of CLs into clinical contexts has been enormously successful in many health organizations throughout the world. The future of medical librarianship seems to be linked to newer domains such as medical informatics, electronic health records (EHRs) and primary literature reviewing. One specific type of clinical librarian is called the informationist, which has been described in the JMLA. Informationists are said to understand the essentials of clinical medicine as well as the principles of library and information science; they enable clinicians to apply better judgment based on improved use of medical literature.

One of the pioneer clinical librarian programs in the United States was developed by Algermissen (1974) at the University of Missouri-Kansas School of Medicine. For a view of clinical librarianship in Canada from the 1970s, see Halbert H. The state of clinical librarianship in Canada: a review of the literature, 1970–2013. JCHLA/JABSC. 2013;34(02):69-74..

Key studies & websites

A clinical librarian aids physicians on ward rounds
See also CHLA/ABSC List of readings about clinical librarianship and NHS Clinical Librarianship bibliography
  • Value of Hospital Libraries study (Rochester Study Joanne Marshall). Updated by NN/LM Middle Atlantic Region, 2011

Digital methodologies

In the digital age, clinical librarians should avail themselves of the latest information and social technologies in order to deliver their library services optimally to physicians, other health groups and patients. A number of new digital and wireless technologies, such as the Apple iPhone4 for physicians, Apple iPad for physicians and wireless, are set to provide opportunities to health librarians to deliver information services to health user groups, wherever and whenever they may need them. This includes delivering health library services at the bedside on ward rounds.

Canadian context

Many health librarians practice some form of clinical librarianship, though they may not call themselves clinical librarians. Health librarians manage and deliver library and information services within their organizations but CLs venture out into clinics and beyond their traditional areas. In the information age, there may be unmet demand for clinical librarians on the wards and during clinical rounds. A recent question posed on CANMEDLIB suggests that there are a few clinical librarians working as such in Canada. The concept may be gaining traction among faculties and research institutes in tertiary care hospitals. Further research into this area is needed. See also Clinical librarianship in Canada


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