Health libraries

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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 25 October 2016


See also Consumer health information | Health librarianship | Hospital library standards & their value | List of Canadian health libraries | What health librarians do

  • Health libraries and information services are called medical libraries, health libraries, hospital libraries or academic health libraries
  • Generally, health libraries and information services are situated within hospitals and health organizations to meet the information needs of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, allied health professionals, students, patients, consumers and researchers
  • Health librarians are responsible for the collection, organization and dissemination of authoritative health information to improve, update and assess health care. Most medical libraries are found in health settings such as hospitals, medical schools, private industries and medical associations
  • Most health libraries provide services such as access to PubMed, tools such as Ovid and the Cochrane Library, print and digital medical journals and reference books
  • Hospital, medical and health libraries provide information services to a range of health professionals, and health librarians require an clear understanding of how these health professionals practice. In addition, an understanding of medical vocabulary is recommended

Trends in open access and search engines – Google and Google Scholar – have a major impact on the way that medical libraries (indeed, all libraries) operate, and also must be regularly monitored.

Major health libraries

The National Library of Medicine (U.S.) is the largest biomedical library in the world, and provides access to a diverse range of health information. NLM maintains several medical and genomic databases, including MEDLINE and OMIM (a genetic traits database). Every American and Canadian college of medicine, nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine or public health is required to have a health or medical library to support the curricular needs of these programs and schools.

Accreditation standards require that all health programs have qualified library staff to answer reference questions with training in using electronic resources. Most academic medical libraries are located close to the medical schools they support or in the same building. In support of open access, the NLM established a freely-accessible, digital library of journal articles called PubMed Central - now supplemented by the United Kingdom's PubMedCentral. NLM works with the National Network of Libraries of Medicine-NNLM to provide regional medical library support, while its consumer health information service MEDLINEplus offers free access to information, images and interactive tutorials. Countries like Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom also have well-developed medical libraries, though nothing like the NLM. Canada's de facto national library for medicine is CISTI.


The MLA - Medical Library Association (U.S.) is an organization that advocates for health library professionals and libraries in the United States. It maintains a list of American Library Association (ALA-accredited) library school programs for those wanting to pursue a degree in library and information studies in the US and Canada. The Special Libraries Association - Medical Section of the Biomedical and Life Sciences Division serves as a forum for members engaged or interested in the exchange of information in the biomedical and health sciences, and the acquisition, organization, dissemination and use of such information in all formats. In Australia, the Health Libraries Group of ALIA is quite active, and maintains a list of health libraries in Australia via the National Library of Australia website. In the United Kingdom, medical (or health) librarians are represented by the Health Libraries Group of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. Similar national groups exist in many European countries and are represented by the European Association for Health Information and Libraries (EAHIL). IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) has a Health and Biosciences Libraries Section. The last International Congress on Medical Librarianship (ICML) was in Brisbane in 2009, the next ICML will be in Baltimore, 2013.

Current awareness


Canadian context

There are several major health libraries in Canada, notably the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI) but others affiliated with schools of medicine at universities, teaching hospitals and academic health programs. Most major public libraries also have science departments with medical collections. Most health librarians and library technicians in Canada belong to the Canadian Health Libraries Association/Association des bibliotheques de la sante du Canada founded in 1976. CHLA/ABSC (Canada) is an active health library association with hundreds of members. In concert with the National Research Council (NRC), it publishes an open-access journal called JCHLA/JABSC.


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