By Layla Heimlich
When I decided to specialize in medical librarianship in graduate school, I immediately joined the Medical Library Association. It seemed like the sensible thing to do, sharing information with fellow professionals in the same situation, who would be dealing with the same problems, the same databases, the same patrons. I liked being a librarian but, more specifically, I really liked being a medical librarian, so MLA seemed like the place to be.
I’ve remained an MLA member ever since. But when I moved to DC shortly after graduating from library school, I found something was missing. In library school, in addition to the classes, various student groups had organized tours of local libraries and happy hours where students and the recently graduated chatted about everything from library architecture to user experience testing. In my old job, I’d been part of a large department that held regular educational brown bag lunches. Now, I had just one new colleague (admittedly, a great one, fond of metadata jokes, and with a steady supply of cataloging limericks), the promise of one budgeted annual meeting, and the internet for my multitude of questions about my brand new career.
And I really, really missed my old book club.
Then I found SLA. Although I wasn’t completely sure what made these libraries so “special,” I couldn’t imagine anything better than a book club made of up librarians. So I began attending book club meetings, and from there was lured into this entire community of librarians from all over DC and beyond, doing a vast array of fascinating things.
I found that learning from other libraries different from my own presented new twists and perspectives on topics from whether to allow patron metadata tags in our catalog, to ways to reach remote offices in other locations, to how to throw a re-dedication ceremony to honor our founding donor. And I was delighted to see how concepts which started in medical libraries, such as embedded librarianship, were being introduced and used elsewhere in the library world.
My library has a limited budget for conferences – we can send one person to one national conference each year, and that person has to collect as much information about as many different topics as he or she possibly can to report back to the rest of us. This year, as we often do, we chose to send someone to the SLA annual conference. Our representative is going to finish his copyright certificate – a wonderful resource from SLA – and has a dizzying list of (often conflicting) sessions that have caught our interest.
I still love being a hospital medical librarian. I like translating illegible doctor scrawls like “MRSA LVAD abscess?” into actual search strategies. I like sending research articles to the NICU and getting an email back saying “thank you for helping the babies.” I like seeing the information I’ve dug up translated into a protocol that allows patients to go home earlier. And I like talking to other hospital librarians about the problems we have in common, like navigating IT and access issues through the minefield of HIPAA privacy laws, or trying to give thoughtful presentations on assessing the scholarly literature when half the room is eagerly waiting for their pager to go off announcing the tornado disaster drill.
But I also love being a part of the wider community of special librarians in DC and beyond. I love being challenged to think beyond the issues of what I do every day, to broader questions of information and access, and even what it means to be a librarian, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to be a member of both communities.