Top Ten Competencies in Medical Reference
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The Top Ten Competencies in Medical Reference is a list in flux, though several competencies are firmly rooted in library traditions dating back to the 1950s (even earlier). With the rise of search engines and Twitter, reference skills appear to be exercised less frequently in 2013 than in any other point in our history. Many of the simplest questions that we sought answers to in our ready reference collections can now be answered satisfactorily by Google and web-based sources. However, how many times have health librarians heard lately that users feel overwhelmed by the information they find? Or, that they can't find what they need? Especially authoritative, evidence-based information? During periods of information overload, health librarians must therefore revisit the basic competencies of providing medical reference services either on their own or in collaboration with their peers.
Medical reference roles & context(s)
Medical librarians provide a range of reference and information services in and outside the library, on the phone, virtually (using chat, instant messaging, social media) and over e-mail. In addition, instructional services "one-on-one", in small or large workshops are part and parcel of delivering competent reference services in medical libraries in the 21st century. By using digital tools, users can communicate with their librarian more readily than ever, without ever having to set foot in a library. However, health librarians must consider both their print-based competencies and their newer digital roles in assisting health user groups.
End-users in medicine may experience a range of technical and authentication issues when accessing licensed content, and may not fully understand the differences between "free vs. fee" content. Other technical barriers and their solutions such as proxy servers, firewall workarounds and VPNs are important in the delivery of digital library services as these tools prepare the way for users who need to move across online barriers. Sometimes the simple act of explaining a tool to a faculty member or medical researcher is all that may stand in the way of obtaining information and making good clinical decisions. In some cases, access to the best medical evidence in hospitals is intermittent when using various workarounds. Hospital firewalls can put up formidable barriers, and IT departments may feel it is necessary to block websites and resources if they are deemed to be a compromise to hospital networks. This is where having an onsite library with a qualified and skilled health librarian is essential.
The role of expert search skills
The MLA - Medical Library Association (U.S.) published The role of expert searching in health sciences libraries in 2003 which defines the main roles health librarians assume "in expert retrieval and evaluation of information in the support of knowledge and evidence-based clinical, scientific, and administrative decision making". Health librarians provide reference services using various information sources and tools but also demonstrate and teach end-users - such as physicians, nurses, pharmacists, students etc. – how to search for information effectively. Before taking on any teaching or expert search roles, however, health and medical librarians must first develop basic competencies in information retrieval.
Ten Competencies in Medical Reference 2012