“We do not have a qualified librarian”

“We do not have a qualified librarian”

Recently I had a chat with a faculty from a reputed medical college. At some point he said “We do not have a qualified librarian for our library”. I almost said “What”?

But as I am training myself to respond and not react, I just said “Oh, okay”. After our call, I thought about this. And I remembered reading an advertisement of another reputed medical college – which advertised for several posts including that of a librarian. And it mentioned that a library science qualification was not mandatory. I remember being shocked then. To me it was like asking for doctors for a medical centre and saying that a medical degree was not essential.

It is also a bitter truth that it is very difficult to get librarians of calibre today. It is extremely easy to blame library schools saying that the training they provide is not up-to-date for today’s needs. It is a fact that several library schools ARE doing all they can to update their training and curriculum regularly. It may or may not be enough, but they are trying.

The problem today is the existence of a vicious cycle.

The jobs for  medical / health librarians being offered, do not offer a grade and salary that is called for. Obviously library science is then not a career choice for bright students. Seats for library science courses are not even getting full. And faculty of such courses often say that they are lucky if there are one or more bright students who have enrolled. How then do we get librarians of calibre?

The ones who are bright do not get positions or salaries that they feel they deserve and many tend to requalify for other degrees and move on. And then it is very easy to say that we do not have / get high quality librarians.

Talking of salaries, it is possible that some large corporates and / some Universities etc may offer higher grades and salaries. I have to state that I am not exactly sure and I am happy to assume that they do. But to a large extent, in India we do not have the right positions.

How do we break this cycle? This needs to be a top-down approach.

Expectations:

The expectations should be that librarians in charge of a library should have the capability:

  • Of liaising with senior-most academicians and managers
  • Of playing a strong role in academics and research
  • Of teaching library users to use all information resources- print or electronic to exploit them to the best
  • Of ensuring that budgets are planned for with the true needs of the institutions goals
  • Of doing all they can to ensure that the amounts spent are well utilized and have contributed to academics, research

When there are such expectations AND the grades and salaries are fixed appropriately, only then can Library Schools plan to admit students of high calibre and train them accordingly. Planning for this training has to be industry driven.

In our context, the NMC needs to specify qualifications, recommend job descriptions that include capabilities above and also recommend expectations of delivery of outcomes.

Availability of librarians

It will take a few years to ensure availability of freshly qualified librarians of calibre. Till then the existing ones need continuous training. In the coming years we need to have the aim of creating librarians who match the calibre I have described in previous blog posts – Health Sciences Librarians – the NLM (USA) and Vaccines, and  Involvement in teaching students about EBM. Suddenly many health professionals want to write systematic reviews. And we urgently need lots more librarians who should be able to do complex searches and help these authors do them too. I had written a post earlier mentioning how all of us – librarians, library users and decision makers need to rethink about libraries and librarians. I stress this once more, by adding more points in this blog post.

And finally, when libraries spend crores or at least lakhs acquiring expensive resources like EMBASE and more, it is imperative that the library has librarians who are experts in using these databases and training / assisting users of these resources. I wrote more about this too earlier –  Access alone is not enough. Train everybody.

I appeal to the NMC and similar bodies to take ALL of this seriously. Plan for such upgrades in the coming 5-10 years. I appeal to senior faculty to push for such requirements. It is not enough to say “I have experienced great services and facilities in libraries abroad”. If Indians can create great software professionals, we can surely create great health sciences librarians. And that can help push Indian research far higher. We have a huge “sample size” to do great research, with some investment in great librarians, we can achieve heights.

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Quality Medical (QMed) Knowledge Foundation is a registered Trust set up in 2007. Our aim is to help medical students, academicians, practitioners and consumers integrate best practices in searching medical literature, and critically appraising the same, resulting in delivery and availability of optimal health care services.

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