Why are health libraries and health librarians so important?

This was originally written for Voices for the Library as part of their showcase of a wide range of library services and information professionals showing how different and how vital we all are. They have also included a specialist research librarian, a school librarian, an assistant librarian at the Royal Academy of Dance, and a children’s librarian.

Health libraries and librarians are vital to the support of evidence-based medicine (EBM) and evidence-based practice (EBP). EBM and EBP is

the process of systematically reviewing, appraising and using clinical research findings to aid the delivery of optimum clinical care to patients (from What is Evidence-Based Medicine?)

I work as an Assistant Librarian in an NHS library. My job is to ensure health professionals have access to the best available information so that patients receive evidence-based treatments and care. Health libraries are essential to this provision and without them health professionals would have another burden on their shoulders; how to find the best information fast?

So, what do health librarians and health libraries do that is so important?

I conduct literature searches for staff which involves searching online for guidelines, published research and systematic reviews (which are generally considered the strongest form of evidence-based medicine) on many different topics. Staff then go on to use this information to develop guidelines and policies; treat patients directly; research rare illnesses; or publish their own work. Many of the results of a literature search are not fully and freely available to staff because, although health library services try to make as much online content available by buying access to journals and databases, budgets will only stretch so far. When staff are faced with information that they can’t access the library will make an inter-library loan request to places such as the British Medical Association (BMA) or the British Library. Without the expert help of health libraries many health professionals would be unable to access this wealth of information either through lack of time or skills.

I quality check all new and updated clinical guidelines and policies. This involves making sure authors use up to date, relevant references; write full and complete information; use accurate spelling and grammar; and that each document complies with the Trust’s formatting standards. These documents are then ratified by relevant groups and committees and come back to me for publishing on the Trust intranet. During publishing I re-check the documents, add keywords to the publication page and ensure that each document is added to its relevant specialty’s Intranet page. All of this is essential to patient care because my accurate checking and publishing ensures that all staff have access to well-written, up to date information about treatments, patient care and patient safety.

Often health staff are very enthusiastic about learning how to find relevant evidence-based information themselves. Again the library is essential in providing this training and as part of my job I conduct regular information skills sessions. I show staff the range of online resources available to them, how to search them effectively, how to access the results and how to appraise basic health information. My colleague takes staff through more advanced critical appraisal training which equips them with the skills to assess the credibility and relevance of different kinds of clinical research. Developing a health workforce that is information literate is essential to excellent patient care and one which health libraries are experts in.

I hope this short introduction to some of the work health librarians do emphasises how vital health libraries are to all aspects of health care provision and patient care in both the NHS and the wider health sector.

If you’re interested in reading more about the different things health librarians do I highly recommend the following blogs:

Victoria Treadway is an NHS clinical librarian who has recently presented at a medical conference in New Delhi

Michael Cook writes about being a public health librarian and has recently created “Useful resources for health library folk” and “What health librarians do” pages

Eli Bastin is an outreach librarian who often includes links to useful library-related articles as well as writing about her job for the Bodleian healthcare libraries

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1 Comment

  1. What Health Librarians Do Addition – Why are Health Libraries and Health Librarians so Important? « The Public Health Informationist

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