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November 28, 2011 / Christian M.

A Day in a Hospital Library 2

I had my first spend-a-day experience in a hospital library back in April. Since then, I was invited to visit another hospital library as well. Once again I will share my observations and some of the things that I learned.

Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center

Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center

On October 28th, I visited Harrison Medical Library at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center (JHBMC) in Baltimore, MD. Harrison Medical Library serves the JHBMC faculty and staff. Services are not limited to medical staff only, everyone who works for the institution has access to the library. The librarians are very intentional in their efforts to provide something of interest for everyone. In addition to reference materials and electronic resources for clinicians, there is also a circulating collection of leisure fiction and nonfiction, health and wellness resources, cookbooks, audio books, DVDs, etc. The librarians also provide assistance to staff during open enrollment, and help them navigate the websites of the health insurance providers. There are computers in the library with internet, and remote access to online resources is available.

There is a small Community Health Library at JHBMC that serves patients and their families. In this library there are consumer health books and materials, and computers with internet access. The materials do not circulate, and must be used in the library. There is also a small collection of donated fiction books. The fiction books are not cataloged, and if a book is taken to a patient’s room, the patient is allowed to keep it. This is to cut down on transmission of infectious diseases, since the librarians do not have a way to sterilize the books. The librarians also create brochures on finding health information, and lead workshops for local community groups. Requests for brochures, workshops, or research assistance can be made online.

What I learned:

This library staff is very in-tune with the needs of their institution, and strive to maintain their relevance. The library director is all about keeping stats and accounting for how the staff spend their day. She wants to know how much time per day or week is spent on the various services they provide. She also wants to track how effective their services are. For instance, when one librarian was doing rounds in the Burn Unit, she was receiving little-to-no questions. So the director switched her over the to Cardiology Unit, and now she is receiving a lot more questions.


Medical librarians are busy, busy, busy! This library staff is small with only five full-time staff (and usually one intern). In addition to “regular” library duties, this library staff is also involved in:

  • going on clinical rounds
  • serving on committees within the institution  (and sometimes within the community)
  • community outreach events (workshops, health fairs, partnering with highschools)
  • training visiting students, fellows, and interns during the summer
  • curating the hospital’s archives collection
  • innovating – thinking of new ways to improve service to their institution and surrounding community


To not be intimidated by entry-level medical librarian job ads. Many are currently requiring 2-3 years of experience in a health sciences library or setting. When I complete my degree, I will have several years of library experience, but it will not be in a medical library. However, of Harrison’s staff, only one has a science/medical background, and only one majored in health sciences librarianship. The rest applied the skills from other types of library employment and learned along the way. You need to be able to connect your current skills to the job your applying to, and show that you identify with and support their mission.


I really enjoyed visiting with the staff at Harrison Medical Library. They are a very fun and laid-back group who are passionate about providing healthcare resources. I appreciate Linda (Director) and Christine (Senior Informationist) especially for taking time to sit and answer a lot of my questions and give me advice.

This library does provide an internship (it can be paid or for course credit). The next position will be for the summer semester, and they will start taking applications in early spring 2012. You can find more information on the library’s website.



Leave a Comment
  1. Evelyn N. Alfred / Nov 28 2011 11:19 am

    Sounds like you learned a lot during your visit. Did they invite you to spend the day there because they know you are interested in being a medical librarian?

    • LibGirl09 / Nov 28 2011 1:40 pm

      I had emailed them earlier this year to ask about internship opportunities. There were no openings at that time, but I was invited to come visit and observe how they operate. It took me a few months to take them up on the invitation, but I’m glad I finally did.

  2. Aimee Goodson (@librarydreams) / Nov 28 2011 1:43 pm

    Thank you very much for sharing your experiences in hospital libraries. My family has pushed me toward the health sciences my entire life, but areas like nursing and physical therapy have never appealed to my inner researcher. Texas Woman’s University recently added a dual MLS / MS Health Studies Degree, so that may be an area where we can meet in the middle.

    • LibGirl09 / Nov 28 2011 3:54 pm

      Hi Aimee,

      I’m glad I could provide some useful info. I just looked at the TWU degree, that is awesome! My program only offers two health sciences courses, and I hope to complete a practicum too.

      I recommend informational interviews of current medical librarians, and even find a couple of local medical libraries and ask if you can come visit. It has been my experience that librarians looooove to share about their profession. The medical librarians I have spoke with are always excited to meet someone just starting out in grad school with an interest in health sciences. Every library is different, so it’s good to be able to get a feel for the various options that are available within health sciences librarianship.

      Good luck!

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