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Koenig to research professionalism among health sciences librarians

April 23, 2019

Research and Education Librarian Rachel Koenig has been awarded a grant from the Medical Library Association to study professionalism among health sciences librarians. Koenig’s  MLA Research, Development, and Demonstration Project Grant project is titled “Attitudinal Attributes of Professsionalism in Health Sciences Librarians.”

The study is designed to fill an important gap in knowledge about medical librarians. Says Koening:

“I was inspired mostly by what I see as a lack of agreement among librarians concerning their professional values and standards. For instance, librarians cannot settle on a standard educational background and credentialing system, which may be contributing to the often-ambiguous role and value of health sciences librarians in the hospital and in the academy.

“Little current empirical research deals directly with the concept of health sciences librarian professionalism. The research that does exist lacks sophisticated research problem-and-question development, the use of theories or frameworks with which to structure the studies, and reliable and valid methods used to answer questions and issues raised by the professionalism debate.

“Attitudes and perceptions from health sciences librarians themselves may help to find these answers. This study will attempt to examine the debate in more depth by surveying health sciences librarians and examining their attitudes toward professionalism. In addition, various personal and environmental variables will be investigated for their ability to predict higher perceptions of professionalism among health sciences librarians.”

As part of the Research and Education department at Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences, Koenig works with faculty and students in the VCU School of Pharmacy to support their research and learning needs. She provides one-on-one consultations, in-class instruction sessions, and collaborates with students and faculty to perform high-quality research. The professionalism of health sciences librarians is one of her research interests.

Koenig first started thinking about related research questions in 2013 as part of her master of library science’s capstone project at Indiana University, Bloomington. “We were asked to develop a project proposal but didn’t have enough time to follow through with the project before graduation. The original project proposed to examine all librarians employed at Association of Research Libraries-member libraries. However, I am now focusing on health sciences librarians. In the future, I hope to expand this study to include all academic librarians, and it would also be nice to work with public librarians to complete a study in that population.”

The study, which will be conducted nationally among health sciences librarians, is expected to go in the field in June, 2019. A biostatistician in the Virginia Commonwealth University Biostatistical Consulting Laboratory will complete data analysis for the study. Work will be completed by a biostatistics PhD student and overseen by Dr. Adam Sima. Koenig will be writing and reporting out in spring 2020. 

The findings, Koenig hopes, will be of “fundamental importance to both current health sciences librarians and students of library science. If levels of professionalism are low, librarians can reevaluate how they approach their roles. Librarians can either choose to remain passive keepers of materials or work to transform themselves into proactive professionals and co-constructors of knowledge. To reach current definitions of professionalism, librarians may need to implement stricter guidelines for professional behaviors, standardize the credentials needed to enter the field, and enact more rigorous certifications to further professionalize the occupation of librarianship to benefit future libraries."    

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