What Do They Want? a Content Analysis of Medical Library Association Reference Job Announcements, 2000-2005*[dagger][double Dagger] *

Article excerpt


Content analysis of recruitment advertisements has often been used to examine trends in market demand for professionals and changes in a profession. Several studies examining recruitment advertisements posted in the MLA News demonstrated several trends and changes in medical librarianship from 1961 to 1996. The most well-studied factor was subject background or expertise, which was a continuing need in medical librarianship as evidenced by its inclusion in position advertisements [1-4]. Not surprisingly, the field placed increasing importance on technology-related characteristics: job advertisements posted from 1961 through 1970 in the MLA News showed a growing interest in library automation and computer-based reference service [5], while training and experience in online bibliographic searching were leading characteristics in advertisements from 1986 [2]. The greatest increase in demand for Internet-related skills appeared between 1993 and 1994 [6]. In general, job advertisements from 1961 through 1996 revealed online literature searching was an increasingly vital skill in conducting reference services in medical libraries [7]. Communication skills were also becoming increasingly important to prospective employers in the job advertisements posted in the MLA News from 1991 [3].

These studies, however, did not include a detailed analysis of the responsibilities and qualifications prospective employers were seeking for reference librarian positions in health sciences libraries, and no studies have included job postings published after 1997, a period during which the Internet grew in importance and PubMed/MEDLINE became freely available on the web [8].

Identifying responsibilities and qualifications expected by employers in the changing environment may help both prospective and practicing reference librarians in health sciences libraries understand the new roles and the areas they need to focus on for professional development and lifelong learning. Based on the assumptions that job announcements reflect prospective employers' expectations and mirror the changes in the profession [5], the authors analyzed job announcements for reference librarians posted in the MLA News from 2000 to 2005 to identify responsibilities and qualifications expected of reference librarians by prospective employers and to determine evolving roles of reference librarians in health sciences libraries.


The study used content analysis to identify the qualifications and duties prospective employers noted in reference librarian positions posted in the MLA News from 2000 to 2005. The study included reference position advertisements from the United States, Canada, and other countries. If wording or job descriptions varied slightly in repeated advertisements for the same position, they were treated as new entries and were retained. Word-for-word duplicate advertisements were eliminated from the analysis. When a brief advertisement referenced a longer position description available online, the full online versions of the job postings were analyzed if they were available at the time of the current study.

The criteria to select reference-related job advertisements for inclusion were based on the three basic functions of reference services specified by Bopp and Smith: the provision of information, instruction in the use of libraries and information sources, and guidance in the choice of library materials [9]. Job announcements including any of these basic functions of reference services were included in the analysis. Multifunctional job advertisements were thus analyzed when they included components related to providing reference services (e.g., job advertisements with responsibilities for electronic services and library marketing, as well as reference services, were included).


Ten sample reference job postings were selected for test coding. Both authors examined each posting and developed a coding guide for data entry. …