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Whooo Says:

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Dear Whooo,

I’m a hospital librarian, working with one paraprofessional in a mid-sized hospital. In a former job, I worked in an academic health science library, and I miss the professional relationships I found there. I’ve been a librarian for a few years now, but there are still times when I would value the advice or insight from a colleague. I try to go to professional meetings and I am a member of a local health sciences library group, but that doesn’t fill the need I have. Do you have any ideas?

Treading Water

Dear Treading,

If I understand you correctly, you are concerned that your professional skills are not growing in your current environment. You are able to handle the majority tasks of your job well, and enjoy the work that you do, but are unsure about how to increase your skills and perform at a higher level when necessary. Atul Gawande wrote about a similar situation in his career in a recent article in the New Yorker.1

In Gawande’s article “Personal Best: Top athletes and singers have coaches. Should you?” he discusses his career as a surgeon. He quotes one of his professors to say, “surgery is no more physically difficult than writing in cursive,” and then goes on to elaborate that surgical mastery requires familiarity with procedures, conditions, and potential problems with both. Excellence in surgery requires the ability to recognize the possibility of problems and the skill to either prevent or respond to those problems.

I think that medical librarianship is much the same. Library skills involve good communication, judgment, and evaluation as well as the standard knowledge of databases and other resources. Treading, you mentioned that you try to continue your progress with continuing education and professional memberships. Have you considered contacting a colleague that you respect and ask for some coaching or mentorship? You may find that a coaching relationship will bring you the insight you need to develop your skills further. Examples of coaching relationships you may want to seek include:

  • Pairing with an expert searcher to improve your searching skills,
  • Working with an education librarian or someone from your hospital’s education department to increase your teaching skills,
  • Learning from your supervisor or another manager you trust and respect to increase your political savvy.

These are only three suggestions. As you evaluate your career and identify areas that interest you, or areas that you would like to improve, you will understand the type of person you need to contact. This person might be a member of your organization, or might be someone in a completely different location or field. If you do choose an area within health sciences librarianship, you can find a mentor through MLA at You might also call your MCR State Coordinator for help in finding a person in your state. You can find your coordinator’s contact information at

I hope this has been helpful, Treading. I appreciate that you are interested in increasing your skills. Do let me know how this idea works for you, and the progress you make.




1Gawande, Atul. “Personal Best”. The New Yorker. 87:30 2011-10-03 pp. 44.

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