Each Job, Every day - Medical Librarians

Francis Bacon (and those old “Schoolhouse Rock” cartoons) asserted that, “knowledge is power.”

Janet Erdman and Tom Schlagel

It’s a belief held dear by Fairview’s medical library team. And, if it’s true, makes them some of the most powerful people in the organization.

“Knowledge is essential to informed decisions, whether it’s regarding medical care or corporate choices,” says Kolleen Olsen, medical library manager. “We promote access to that information to facilitate, inform and connect.”

Fairview’s medical library team is small but mighty: Alongside Kolleen, three librarians serve the research needs of the entire organization from three locations (Fairview Southdale and Fairview Ridges hospitals and University of Minnesota Medical Center).

Their mission is to find answers to questions, no matter who asks them: doctors, nurses, other health care works, administrators—even patients and their families.

Last year, these four individuals completed more than 1,500 literature searches, retrieved nearly 13,500 articles for Fairview physicians and employees and answered 7,894 general reference questions.

What they do

Literature searches are perhaps their most well-known function: Librarians scour countless databases, journals and books for research papers and published articles on virtually any topic, from surgical practices to improving employee engagement.

Librarians Brett Demars and Janet Erdman not only fulfill typical medical librarian duties, but also focus on maintaining and updating Fairview’s electronic library resources. This includes creating or updating library intranet pages, insuring the online resources are working properly, helping employees resolve technical issues they may have while accessing library resources, linking library resources together and general problem-solving.

“Our library page is a one-stop shop,” Janet says. “There are dozens of electronic resources, everything from medical databases to drug databases to business databases to nursing dictionaries, books and journals—and they get thousands of hits each month from Fairview employees.”

Librarian Mary Carlson specializes in consumer research – i.e. helping patients and families locate answers to health care-related questions.

Another big part of the role is training. Librarians provide frequent educational sessions to groups or individuals wishing to better facilitate their own learning. In 2013, Fairview’s medical library team trained nearly 2,100 staff and physicians on how to access library resources.

Why they do it

Medical librarians must possess a deep natural curiosity, perseverance and the ability to work well with many different types of people. They should be comfortable never knowing what each day will bring and, above all, they must have a hunger for knowledge.

Medical Library team members say they’re proud of their role in helping Fairview fulfilling its mission of improving the health of the communities they serve.

“Successful literature searches are rewarding because they all lead back, in one way or another, to helping Fairview’s patients,” Brett says.

“Every day, I’m amazed of the caliber of people we have at Fairview,” Janet says. “They know their fields really well, and they’re coming to me to be sure they’re doing the right thing or to find a little more evidence. I’m amazed at how brilliant they are. There are some really dedicated people around here.”


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