New to Health Sciences Librarianship: Strategies, Tips, and Tricks


Kelsa Bartley, MSI, Assistant Professor, Education and Outreach Librarian, Louis Calder Memorial Library, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Jahala Simuel, MIS, MLS, Medical Librarian, Head of Access Services, Louis Stokes Health Sciences Library, Howard University

Jamia Williams, MLS, Health Sciences Librarian, Drake Memorial Library, SUNY Brockport


(Editor’s Note: This is a summary of a commentary published in the April 2021 edition of Journal of the Medical Library Association. The commentary expands on a poster presented at the 2020 vConference of the Medical Library Association.)

Three new librarians highlight their varied pathways into health sciences librarianship and offer insight into how they are navigating the challenges and successes of being new to the profession. A new health sciences librarian is defined as a person who has fewer than five years of experience in health sciences librarianship specifically, having either recently graduated from library school or entered the health sciences from another type of librarianship. Jamia Williams speaks about her journey from a new MLS graduate to a health sciences librarian. Kelsa Bartley details her transition from library professional to health sciences librarian. Jahala Simuel shares her experiences moving from academic librarian to health sciences librarian. The commentary in JMLA provides strategies, tips, and tricks that new health sciences librarians may use to hone their craft and explore opportunities for professional development.

Tips for New Librarians

We have found the following tips to be the most useful for new librarians.

  • Shadow and/or collaborate with an established librarian to learn about the intricacies of searching health sciences databases and other sources. Building connections and taking advantage of the variety of different skills and information that your colleagues have to offer is vital to your professional development. 
  • Join local, regional, and national library associations such as the MLA. Membership in associations is ideal engagement for new librarians. Your membership in these organizations will provide options for professional development opportunities.
  • One of the tenets of librarianship is lifelong learning, which professional development provides. Many training modalities are available online. Explore topics associated with health sciences, medicine, and library trends.
  • Attend local, regional, and national conferences. Attending conferences is where you will be able to network, get training, and present on your scholarship.

Strategies for Career Advancement for New Librarians 

Institutional Professional Development

Starting a job as a new librarian can be daunting no matter your level of prior expertise and being new to the health sciences profession can be particularly scary. However, learning about your library and institution is a great first step in starting to navigate a new position and career.

Asking questions can help you figure out what associations, conferences, departments, groups, programs, projects, and training you may need to be a part of to increase the professional development, skills, and knowledge for your immediate role and ultimately your career.

Be sure to foster collaboration and relationships with work colleagues and other institutional partners. Working with others on activities within your local network should positively enhance your work experience, help build relationships, and create opportunities for career advancement.

Self-Directed Professional Development

Developing your strengths and talents using resources from outside of your institution can be just as important as the skills developed at work. It is unlikely that you will get everything you need for career growth from within your library or institution. Be motivated to seek out resources from various sources on your own. 

Find at least one librarian partner at a similar career stage with similar goals and values to you. Having people who understand “library life” and can share the triumphs and challenges of being an early-career librarian can be the difference between an engaging career filled with encouragement, opportunities, and support or one filled with monotony, boredom, and isolation. 

Professional and personal mentors, inside and outside the workplace, are a necessity to advancing in any career. Find librarian and non-librarian peers and colleagues in various capacities and levels of leadership to help guide you along the way.

Seek out opportunities for leadership, scholarly advancement, professional and personal growth. 

  • Apply for publishing opportunities for topics that interest you.
  • Present and speak at conferences, meetings, or webinars. 
  •  Apply for grants and scholarships for conference attendance and continuing education. 
  • Apply for funding opportunities available for early-career librarians.
  • Get involved in and nominated for leadership positions and roles in library organizations. 
  • Attend leadership and management institutes at various levels of librarianship.

We hope that the strategies, tips, and tricks we have gained during our journeys will assist in your career as a successful health sciences librarian. Read more about our individual library journeys, and the full commentary with more strategies and resources in the April 2021 edition of the Journal of the Medical Library Association.

DCT Featured Article – September 14, 2021

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