Profile of a Health Librarian

St. Michael's logoCaroline Rowan, Medical Librarian, St. Michael’s Hospital, Dun Laoghaire

What path did you take to get to your current role?

I worked in financial services for 13 years where I worked in a variety of legal, compliance and project management roles. Then I decided to change career and I went back to college in UCD where I got my Masters in Library and Information Studies. When I graduated, I got a short-term contract in Limerick as a librarian in the University Hospital Limerick. That was followed by another contract position working in the Glucksman Library in the University of Limerick. My experience in those roles really stood to me when I applied for my current position.

Describe a typical day

Typical tasks in my role are:

  1. Supporting Clinical Audit – I usually do at least one Clinical Audit support session each day. The hospital has a strong ethos of continuous improvement and encourages all staff to conduct clinical audits. My role involves everything from assistance with the paperwork required to start an audit through to providing guidance on the design of audit survey questions to support generation of useful reportable information to helping staff edit the final results. I also provide training and guidance on using Sphinx software to design clinical audit questionnaires.
  2. Conducting literature searches. This can be as simple as sourcing suitable articles for a journal club, through to identifying 30-40 articles to support development of a new policy.
  3. Engaging with suppliers regarding subscriptions.
  4. Cataloguing the journals or books which have come in using Heritage library management software.
  5. Editing the hospital newsletter. I coordinate the editorial committee meetings, minute the actions, assign deadlines and follow up with each of the contributors to ensure that they have their submissions in on time. I am also one of the magazine’s copywriters, so I have to write at least one article for each issue. I use Microsoft Publisher for designing the newsletter which will go out in print and online format.
  6. Supporting HSELand (an e-learning website) training sessions. Usually this involves talking a client through how to register for HSELand, what course they need to enrol on and how to follow through the steps. However, some clients require more guidance than others. The spectrum of computer proficiency in a hospital environment ranges from highly tech-savvy to staff with very little experience with PCs. Many hospital staff don’t work with a PC during the day or use them only for very defined tasks. So, it is important for them to have someone there to take them through the process.
  7. Providing one-to-one training sessions for clients on using the library’s resources.
  8. Monitoring and managing the Library’s Athens accounts. Athens is an authentication package which allows staff access library resources remotely.
  9. Managing document supply and inter library loan requests.
  10. Managing the physical stock. This can be anything from collating and sorting journals for binding, through to re-stocking shelves.

After work I spend time editing content for the Health Sciences Library Group (HSLG) magazine HINT or working on HSLG Committee items (we are currently planning for our annual conference which is taking place 14 & 15 May) or reading up on educational information. Being involved with LAI committees is a great way to keep in touch with other librarians, which is particularly important when you are in a solo role.

St. Michael's hospital libraryWhat traditional library skills are important to have within your role?

Reference skills are important, because an occupational hazard of working in health libraries is that your client assumes that your knowledge of medicine is the same as theirs.

Cataloguing is another traditional skill that is essential, whether that is cataloguing serial receipts or adding new books to the collection.

What non-traditional library skills are important to have within your role?

Desktop publishing is definitely something I would recommend as essential. Photoshop skills are also an advantage.

Are there any specific software packages or technologies you use on a regular basis within your role?

Heritage Library Management System for the daily circulation items. Sphinx software for clinical audit survey design. Microsoft Publisher for newsletters.

What is the most rewarding part of your role?

The most rewarding part of my role is seeing the positive and immediate impact I have on people. Recently I was working with a client with dyslexia, helping with coursework applications and identifying the software and resources necessary to support their study. The client said that, until those sessions with me, no-one had ever worked with them in a way that suited their particular learning needs. I knew then that I had absolutely made the right decision to change career.

St. Michael's hospital library2What is the most challenging part of your role?

Communicating the value of the Librarian in a medical environment. There is an increasing belief that the answer to everything is to simply use online resources.  Assuming that all our clients have the knowledge, understanding and ability to engage with electronic resources is a disservice to them and also to Librarians. Resource provision is only a small portion of a Librarian’s role. We are educators who support individuals in their training and development needs. We are researchers providing relevant, appropriate material to healthcare staff so that they can spend their time looking after patients, not floundering around the internet looking for information. We are managers who handle budgets, resources and clients, in the same way that any other business manager does.

What are the career prospects within your area of librarianship?

There are plans to create a centralised library structure within the HSE but it is not yet clear whether this will be a positive or negative change.  Will it be used as a push to centralise electronic library resources, with a subsequent removal of hospital librarians? Or is it intended to enhance the provision of library services at each individual hospital by a professional librarian or librarians?  And what will the impact of centralising HSE library resources be on healthcare librarians outside the HSE?

That being said, I think the current push towards outsourcing research to private companies/consultants rather than having in-house expertise could open up new opportunities for medical librarians who are interested in working for consultancy firms, rather than being directly employed within the healthcare sector.

Do you have any advice for people interested in pursuing a role in your genre of librarianship?

As a medical librarian in a small/solo library, you are essentially a sole trader. The business rises or falls with you. You need to be self-motivated, flexible and able to work to a deadline.

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