The Accidental Health Sciences Librarian

Margot Lindsay (University College London, London, UK)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 28 June 2011




Lindsay, M. (2011), "The Accidental Health Sciences Librarian", Library Review, Vol. 60 No. 6, pp. 532-533.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The title of this book may seem confusing to the UK readers, as the term “accidental” as described by Pamela H. MacKellar, a library consultant who has mentored many “accidental” librarians in all types of libraries, may be unfamiliar. She says:

Librarians without MLS degrees are essentially accidental librarians – increasingly being hired as frontline librarians of all kinds and sizes, performing duties that were formerly carried out exclusively by professional librarians.

There are eight other accidental library titles available from Information Today: the accidental librarian, the accidental library manager, the accidental systems librarian, the accidental library marketer, the accidental technology trainer, the accidental taxonomist, the accidental webmaster and the accidental fundraiser. Non‐professional staff in the UK may be described as “Library Assistants”. The American tendency to refer to lots of subjects as “scientific” will soon be common in the UK as university funding is increasingly geared to the sciences, so healthcare and National Health Service librarians could benefit from claiming a scientific focus to keep their funding. Having dealt with the title, there are no more Americanisms in the book to get in the way of enjoying it.

The many useful tips for job hunting from personal experiences are provided by librarians who came from nursing, the corporate information centre, teaching history and an engineering branch library in a university. Many respondents explained how they accidentally got their jobs. The husband of a friend thought that someone working in a public library would be the perfect replacement for the hospital librarian who was leaving and recruited her. Another person did an internship which led to being fully employed as health sciences librarian in a university.

The authors correctly state that their book will “hopefully give you a place to start if you find that you've become an accidental health sciences librarian”. This is a starting point for people working in different library environments. They recommend studying healthcare librarianship and taking an internship in a library in order to “get a look inside”. The very readable personal career stories enliven the text as well as reports from a survey of 336 practising librarians.

Ennis and Mitchell provide a broad overview of healthcare library work written in a casual, easy‐to‐read style. The broad focus of the text includes chapters on Health Sciences Librarianship as well as specialist topics including technology, databases and resources and lots of resources and networking suggestions. While most of the suggestions are American, there are also links to widely used British databases.

The subject of staff answering enquiries from the public is dealt with sensitively and with some useful practical information. There are very important warnings about being cautious not to dispense any sort of medical advice and readers are advised to encourage enquirers to consult their doctor.

There is lots of common sense advice throughout the book, for example, in the technology chapter, staff should evaluate their own situation in terms of what they are trying to accomplish. They do not have to work with all Web 2.0 applications today. Another example of up‐to‐date information is the section on personal digital assistant resources. The book's four appendices feature the survey questionnaire, selected survey responses and a recommended reading list for each chapter. There is also a comprehensive glossary, an index and a list of all web sites mentioned in the book.

This volume should be essential in all careers advisory services as well as in college and university libraries where students could discover that there is more to library work than they had imagined. The authors have provided an inspiring text with lots of real life evidence from librarians identifying the good and not so good aspects of their jobs.

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