Changing Roles for Health Sciences Librarians

Changing Roles for Health Sciences Librarians: A Synopsis of Current Trends

As modern technology stimulates increasingly savvy and complex electronic innovations, the role of health science librarians has continued to adapt and change year after year. Whereas in days of old health sciences librarians served as information keepers, today they serve more as partners, educators, creators and information mangers in a new sense. As Ralph A. Wolff once stated, “forging librarian/faculty partnerships will require new roles for librarians … events within and outside higher education are changing our fundamental conceptions of the library” (Dunn, 1). Nothing could be more true. As technology continues to change the way anyone and everyone does business and conducts daily affairs, so too has technology changed the fundamental working of the library and the roles of librarians.

Health science librarians are adopting various changes in response to technologically stimulated trends that include the need for web design and Internet knowledge. Dunn (1997) suggests that change must occur beginning with the center of higher education’s “information enterprises” which for many is its libraries (p. 4). Trends include changing roles for library staff.

Up until recently most information was stored on paper as paper documents, whether in the form of books, periodicals, magazines or other documents. The librarian’s roles included managing such documents, preserving and distributing them (Dunn, 1997; Craver, 2002). Health science librarians roles are changing however as the way we select, organize and store or retrieve information changes. Rapid advancements in technology have enabled more direct and efficient service and assistance. Trends of the future include emphasizing selection, accessing and subsidizing of information resources, but also teaching students and faculty to identify, locate and evaluate information resources using new tools (Dunn, 1997; Craver, 2002).

Changing Roles For Health Sciences Librarians

Librarians may now expect to serve as network administrators, enabling a support structure of information and access to this structure by patrons (Dunn, 1997; Craver 2002). Librarian’s roles may now include teaching and learning activities such as teaching web use (Dunn, 1997). Librarians are evolving “from an information organizer and provider to an active participant in the reach process” (Dunn, 7). Their role is to teach users “how to structure research questions, access information and select resources” in multiple formats (Dunn, 8). Librarian’s roles may also serve as leaders, “facilitating the introduction of new technologies for learning and research” (Dunn, 8).

More and more health sciences librarians face new opportunities and can now define how information and instruction “are communicated to students and faculty” (Dunn, 10). Librarians also may serve as counselors teaching people how to maneuver in an electronic environment, and serve as advisors instead of teachers rather than ‘custodians of collections” (Dunn, 10).

Rather than collect, organize and store information librarians of the future will face new challenges that may include partnering with specialists to deliver information instruction, designing instructional or educational programs that enable information access, teaching users how to access information, creating “information access tools,” preserving information in multiple formats and serving as facilitators who introduce information technology (Dunn, 11).

Librarians roles specific to health sciences research may include enabling health systems organizations to better utilize and understand health services, design tools for managing and researching information and working in collaboration with other faculty and staff to understand or discover new information sources and methodologies (NLM, 1999). Health Services librarian’s roles no include improved ability to respond to question but also support and conduct research, and may even include participation on “health services research teams” (NLM, 1999).

The new roles emerging within the health sciences field may require additional education and advanced degrees in areas including distance learning, self-study and related disciplines (NLM, 1999). Health sciences libraries of the future must work to understand the contexts in which “biomedical and related information emerges and unique ways of interpreting those environments” (NLM, 1999). This requires understanding of changing health care e environments and policy sources (NLM, 1999).

While librarians have traditionally “engaged in organization and arrangement of information collections” today use of digital collections and accompanying services require librarians “to function as knowledge navigators” or even “cyberspace organizers” (Young, 103). This suggests that digital librarians learn methods for teaching users “customized consultation and interpretation sources” (Young, 103). Librarians may also share new roles with educators in the future that may include authenticating and validating knowledge resources, particularly those relevant to the health sciences field (Young, 1996).

Trends for health science librarians also include requiring librarians to establish standard guidelines for constructing and maintaining a cyber library over time, as this ensures a strong foundation as one might expect from a conventional library system (Craver, 2002). Cyber libraries much like traditional libraries must ensure users have constant reference materials. Librarians roles may include developing a mission statement, specific goals related to their library, and establishing an overall design and maintenance plan (Craver, 2002).

Provision of Healthcare Information Resources and Services

The roles of the health sciences librarian of the future may include: (1) supporting research, informational and curricular needs of students and faculty, (2) inform and inspire students and staff, (3) provide programs, services and information that will improve the value of the Internet and library materials, (4) serve as supplemental research faculty and staff and (5) provide links to resources on the Internet (Craver, 1).

Consumers demands as well as healthcare providers demands for health information resources and services have continued to rise as technology has afforded greater access to health information materials online (Craver, 2002). Librarians can enable better access to health care information and assist health care providers in their research, as well as teach new ways to uncover and manage information working within the technology superhighway (NLM, 1999).

As demands for more health information resources and services continue to grow librarians will need to seek advanced degrees to enable better access and comprehension of health related materials online (Weller, 1998). The electronic environment has provided health science librarians with “significant role changes” that require expanded expertise and knowledge of programming, access and even scientific communication; new roles may include designing training and instructional programs that will help users including health care providers better utilize electronic resources (Weller, 1998).


Libraries according to Lyman (1996) are evolving to become digital highways of information, expanding the roles of librarians in the health sciences and other fields. Information technology has provided new methods for collecting, using and storing information. New research capabilities are now possible with digital library innovations, allowing librarians to take on more challenging roles and even participate in research and creation of digital communication tools in many cases (Lyman, 1996; Pollock & Brown, 1998). Because of these innovations many librarians are changing roles, becoming teachers, educators, creators and even researchers in many cases. Trends are evolving that help shape and define the health sciences librarian of today compared with that of yesterday.

Whereas many years ago print technology was considered “revolutionary” today this technology is superceded by digital technology, which is making possible new “social institutions” and avenues for communication and research in the health sciences (Lyman, 1). While there is some evidence that libraries themselves as we traditionally know them may not survive (Nunberg, 1998) there is ample evidence suggesting the role of librarians particularly in the health sciences will expand, grow and change in a positive light in the upcoming decades. New roles and responsibilities are increasingly being defined and implemented, and include the librarian as a researcher, teacher, educator, creator and manager.


Craver, K.W. (2002). Creating cyber libraries: An instructional guide for school library media specialists. Westport: Libraries Unlimited.

Dichev, C. & Dicheva, D. (2004). “A framework for concept-based digital course libraries.” Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 15(4): 347.

Dunn, B. (1997). “The academic library in the information change: Changing roles.”

California State University. 12, October 2005:

Lyman, P. (1996). “What is a digital library? Technology, intellectual property and the public interest.” Daedalus, 125(4): 1.

NLM. (1999 — Jan). “NICHSR introduction to HSR class manual: The librarian’s role in HSR.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. 10, October 2005:

Nunberg, G. (1998). “Will libraries survive.” The American Prospect, 41(1): 16.

Pollock, M. & Brown, K. (1998). “Learning and transitions in the careers of librarians.”

IFLA Journal, 24(1): 1. 12, October 2005:

Polly, J. And Cisler, S. (1994 — Jan). “Connecting to the Global Internet,” Library

Journal 119 (1): 38.

Weller, A. (1998). “Changing roles of health sciences librarians in the electronic environment: Providing instructional programmes, improving access and advancing scientific communication.” IFLA Journal, 24(1): 1. 12, October 2005:

Young, P.R. (1996). “Librarianship: A changing profession.” Daedalus, 125(4): 103.

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