Competencies for Lifelong Learning and Professional Success:
The Educational Policy Statement of the Medical Library Association
Recommendations For Action
Lifelong learning must be a cornerstone of every individual's professional development plan. Although graduate programs of library and information science education, MLA and its chapters and sections, NLM, employers, commercial vendors and publishers, and other professional associations are all potential providers of educational opportunities, the ultimate responsibility for lifelong learning and professional development rests with the individual.
Today's health information professionals have varied educational backgrounds and experiential knowledge. They will require ready access to continuing education and training opportunities to incorporate new technological developments, knowledgebases, and information management techniques into their practice.
In light of the rate of environmental change, the specific knowledge and skills required of health sciences librarians, and the broad scope of the continuum of learning, it is clear that all who have a stake in the success of the profession need to take action. Therefore, this document sets forth some general recommendations, then outlines specific recommendations for those who play key roles in the professional development of health information professionals.
General Action Recommendations
- Individuals must assume personal responsibility for aggressively seeking lifelong education and professional development opportunities from a variety of sources.
The teaching-learning process is two-sided. Quality educational systems and programs are available from a variety of sources. Providers have responsibility for maintaining quality instruction. Individuals, however, must determine their own learning goals, including additional formal degrees or certifications, then actively pursue those sources that best provide the necessary learning. This mutual pursuit of quality education must continue throughout the length of a professional's career.
- Strategies must be developed to recruit a diverse group of bright, articulate, creative, and energetic individuals as health information professionals, including those who pursue formal training as librarians and those with degrees in related disciplines.
All partners in the educational process must actively promote strategies that ensure recruitment of promising individuals who demonstrate the basic skills and aptitude for achieving excellence in the field. Such candidates will evince analytic abilities, interpersonal skills, self-understanding, willingness to take risks, persuasiveness, keen intellect, appreciation for research, and an unquenchable desire to learn. Because of new technologies, increased specialization in health care, and the emergence of new roles for the health sciences library, the character of library staffing will change. Those with degrees in education, computer technology, medical informatics, and related fields that offer topical expertise may be a necessary adjunct to traditional library and information science. Recruiting those with complementary training into a master's of library science program or integrating them into library operations should be given full consideration in an expansive, interdisciplinary recruitment initiative.
- Ongoing collaboration among interdisciplinary educational providers and other partners must provide new opportunities in the continuum of learning.
MLA has benefited from partnering with other organizations to develop various educational programs. The association can continue to enhance service to its members by taking advantage of outside expertise wherever it may reside. This will allow MLA to offer innovative, high-impact models for curriculum content, design, methodology, and assessment.
- Instructional systems must provide the impetus and forum for continued education of the educators.
The success of professional learning depends on well-informed, forwardlooking providers of education and training. Educators must be supported in continuing their personal professional development, acquiring new pedagogical skills, refreshing their awareness of developments in librarianship and related disciplines, and demonstrating command of the competencies practicing librarians need. Each of the organizations, singly and in concert, provides direction to the educators who alter the contour of professional performance.
Recommendations for Individual Health Information Professionals
- Every health sciences information professional must design and implement a plan for continuing professional development.
Individuals bear the major responsibility for enhancing their own professional knowledge and skills. This document can be used as an outline to assess one's current level of mastery and to plan for further development. The Academy of Health Information Professionals is another way to help individuals chart, structure, and receive recognition for professional growth. Quality of performance can be increased by applying these professional skills to forward the mission and services of one's own institution, which ultimately also forwards one's own personal and professional growth.
- All health information professionals must exercise leadership in and contribute to the development of the field.
If health sciences librarianship is to thrive and be a force for improved health scholarship and research, then all health information professionals must advocate for and contribute to the programs that produce new graduates, the learning opportunities that enhance skills, an environment that advances the fulfillment of new roles and services, and the mentoring of other information professionals.
- All health information professionals must uphold and advocate for the values of the profession and apply them to changing information environments.
Health sciences librarians are key partners in developing information policy. They have unique expertise and experience, as well as an emphasis on access, user-centered information systems, and provision of authoritative and current information. Individual health information professionals should work to influence information policy at the institutional and national level and to ensure that the professional values in MLA's code of ethics are sustained.
Recommendations for the Medical Library Association
- MLA must set the standards for professional competency to assist employers in recruiting and retaining individuals who will be successful in the changing arena of health sciences librarianship.
MLA must work with employers seeking to recruit individuals who are equipped to meet challenges in the changing technological arena of health information management. MLA can continue to provide guidance to employers by developing, updating, and distributing standards for professional competence and by describing ways to recognize competence; for example, through an employee's membership in the Academy of Health Information Professionals and/or participation in continuing education opportunities. Employers must also be made aware of the level of compensation required to recruit and retain such highly skilled staff through access to MLA salary data, particularly data that compare health sciences librarians' salaries with others who work in the information professions.
- MLA must continue its leadership role in creating a vital and responsive professional development program and a dynamic set of coordinated education opportunities.
Members have traditionally looked to MLA for continuing education opportunities. To meet the expanding needs of its members, MLA must broaden its offerings; forge new coalitions and relationships; and examine new delivery systems, teaching and learning strategies, and curricular options. MLA's professional development program must also include a program that assists members in assessing their own professional growth. MLA should ensure that the professional development program meets the current and future needs of the profession via an ongoing program evaluation component.
- MLA must exercise leadership and work collaboratively with all participants in the educational arena.
The MLA Board of Directors, executive director, staff, various working committees and task forces, and members must continually monitor and influence the range of educational programs available to information professionals. At times, MLA will wish to act independently to meet its members' needs. At other times, MLA will either collaborate with others or rely completely on the services or educational offerings of an outside agency. Such providers cover a broad spectrum, including universities or colleges, vendors, commercial trainers, individual entrepreneurs, and other professional associations.
- MLA should promote adoption or development of staff development programs offered by employers.
MLA can assist employers by compiling a DocKit with model staff development policies that exemplify the means to augment the skills of all levels of personnel in the library. MLA can widely promote this resource and encourage efforts to promote diversity in the work force.
- MLA must maintain its formal liaison with schools of library and information science education.
MLA should continue to be an active member of the Association for Library and Information Science Education. Likewise, MLA must maintain ongoing communication and collaboration with the deans or directors of library and information science programs and appropriate faculty members, particularly those programs and educators who offer specialized course work in health sciences librarianship.
- MLA must design and implement a research agenda that advances the professional knowledgebase.
In line with its strategic plan, MLA will need to advance the basic and applied knowledge of information management through research that allows practitioners to measure the state of health sciences library practice, compare longitudinal data, and draw new action plans. While pursuing research of particular interest to health sciences librarians, MLA also needs to foster research in the broader community of practice. MLA should collaborate with the association's rich diversity of affiliated partner organizations to develop a shared research agenda that identifies and encourages advancement in all areas of interest to the association, its units, and its members.
Recommendations for Employers
- Employers should recruit competent and promising individuals, including those with unique educational and professional backgrounds, to meet the information needs of the institution.
Employers should articulate and practice high standards in recruiting individuals for their organizations. Recruitment practices should encourage diversity in the workplace as well as foster innovation and efficiency.
In addition, employers should develop strategies for influencing the profession as a whole to recruit persons with outstanding ability, motivation, and knowledge. These strategies include providing feedback to other educational providers about qualities contributing to success on the job and rewarding persons for exceptional performance. Employers will benefit from involving health information professionals in working teams, committees, and other bodies.
- Employers should place a high priority on staff development.
A strong staff development program ensures that the institution will fulfill its mission and that staff will meet the demands of a changing environment. To be effective, a staff development program should balance institutional needs and professional growth objectives of the individual.
- The employer should assist individuals in assessing their own professional development and in designing programs for learning experiences. The institution should have a well-articulated staff development policy that recognizes a broad array of formal and informal sources within and outside the institution, outlines institutional and individual responsibility, and commits resources to support the program.
In the context of this policy, the employer should provide high-quality, on-the-job training in appropriate areas that complement education from other sources. In so doing, the employer ensures that knowledge transfer and application take place in the job setting.
Recommendations for Library and Information Science Educators
- Graduate programs in library and information science must lay a broad foundation that stresses theory over application, places librarianship in context with other related disciplines, fosters professional values, and prepares students to design their own learning programs throughout the length of their careers.
Every curriculum must provide a perspective on library and information science that is sufficiently broad to prepare students for a variety of possible job settings and roles as part of a multidisciplinary health team, both for now and in the future. Properly designed and executed, all library and information science education programs (not just those that offer a health sciences library specialization) lay the foundation on which a practicing librarian can build competent performance in a health sciences environment.
- To support students who desire to work in a health sciences setting, educators need to offer flexible options for students to gain necessary skill sets.
Many library and information science programs will not be able to offer specialized courses or tracks that cover the areas of essential knowledge and skills articulated in this policy statement. Programs should, however, provide options to attain advanced knowledge through distance education, selection of courses from other departments, pursuit of dual degrees, and coursework from other domain-specific fields. As called for in the ALA standards, advisors should work with students to design a study plan that meets the student's learning objectives, including specialized understanding of the health sciences.
- Educators should provide a range of programs and opportunities that meet needs throughout a professional career, rather than focus solely on the master's degree.
All practitioners have a lifelong need to retool their skills. All information professionals are expected to seek continuing education, and some will wish to acquire advanced certificates or doctoral degrees. Historically, library and information science education programs generally concentrated on new students and did not always recognize or respond to ongoing educational needs. Library educators, like their medical school counterparts who oversee continuing medical education programs, can coordinate a portfolio of courses, seminars, and institutes using a variety of instructors and educational techniques to support this end.
Recommendations for the National Library of Medicine
- NLM should continue to identify future directions and priorities for its activities to support the educational needs of health sciences librarians.
As the only medical library in the country with a national mission, NLM has special responsibilities that transcend individual institutions and constituencies. It provides leadership for those engaged in direct service to health professionals and in research about the process of health information management and delivery. Through its partnership with MLA and by other means, it should continue to address the educational needs of health information professionals.
- NLM should also provide opportunities for health sciences librarians to acquire new knowledge and skills, such as identifying and funding centers of excellence in health information across the country.
Health sciences libraries are dramatically reshaping a changing electronic environment for knowledge acquisition, information management, and information transfer. This calls for new training programs, including those that couple hands-on experience to solve practical problems with exposure to new paradigms for information access and knowledge. Trainees will benefit from being able to transfer and apply new skills in various settings.
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