Librarian--International Health

Gretl Cox

Tell us about your work---what do you do? I am a librarian and work in a "special library", a library that specializes in a certain subject. Mine is a relatively small library and it has an international health focus. I am the only librarian so I do everything from purchasing and cataloging books , to performing literature searches for the staff , to procuring documents and journal articles , to keeping the staff up to date on new developments in their field. In larger libraries these tasks would be divided into separate departments What skills are needed? A librarian has to be knowledgeable about the subject area and has to know databases that contain relevant information. I work a lot with databases of the National Library of Medicine. It helps to be detail oriented but one also has to be creative and know where to find information. Sometimes that takes a lot of tenacity. Being flexible is very important, too. What was your major? I have an advanced degree in literature and a Masters in Library and Information Science . Librarians have widely divergent backgrounds, teachers, scientists, history majors, even chemists. How did you get started in your career? I have always enjoyed books and information gathering. When my children started school, I decided to start library school. I had already worked in a library some years earlier and had also volunteered in my local public library and a school library. What experience do you need in this job? Most library jobs require a degree but for the lower level jobs no degree is necessary. It helps to do volunteer work in different places to see if this type of work and environment appeals to you. There are many different type of libraries: public, private business, school, and government libraries just to name a few. One can also work in a specific department: Reference, Cataloging, Interlibrary loan. and Children's. My first job was as Cataloger in a University Library. Now I do a lot of reference work as well as cataloging and some interlibrary loans. Describe your "typical" workday: I start work at 8:30; usually I check my email to see if there are meetings that I should attend or requests from our staff. Then I check several sources on the Internet for publications and news items that are relevant to our staff. When I find some, I send them out to staff who work in that area. I order publications for our overseas offices and journal articles for the director. Journal subscriptions have to be renewed. I take an hour for lunch,. Today there is a "brown bag lunch", a presentation by one of our field staff about their work in clinics in Africa. We often have such presentations. I find them interesting and helpful. I spend the rest of the afternoon cataloging new library books. I read a lot about the countries where we work and the health problems that occur there. I check my email again and see that someone has asked me to perform a literature search on maternal health care in Zambia. Tomorrow I will start with this request and search for information in various databases. No two days are the same in this place. What is the hardest aspect of your job? Deciding how to prioritize my tasks. Everyone's requests are important (at least to that person) and they want results very quickly. Also, when you work as a "solo librarian" you have no colleagues and that can be difficult. What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? Knowing that my work will be helpful to someone. The staff here is appreciative of my work and my attitude towards them and they let me know it. That is a very rewarding feeling. What are your suggestions for someone considering this field? A librarian must be service oriented ; people talk about it as a "helping profession." You have to understand that sometimes people are too busy to be appreciative even if you give them good work. It helps to be detail oriented, have a good memory , enjoy working with computers and of course enjoy working with people.