Tag Archives: Health Librarian

What do Health Librarians do?

Ok, so technically I’m a Health Senior Library Assistant, but my main point will still be valid!

A few weeks ago at the CILIP West Midlands AGM Barbara Band gave a Keynote speech about promoting the Profession and made the point that if Librarians don’t know what other Librarians do (especially across sectors) then it makes it harder for us to band together as a single profession to promote ourselves and advocate for our libraries. So I thought I’d do my bit and describe what my working life is like.


I had most of last week off so I’ve spent quite a bit of time this morning working through my emails. Quite a few were to do with NHS Athens accounts, which I administer for my Trust. I get an automated email when a new account is created and I keep a record of these to send an email at the end of the week to introduce myself, but it’s also a great opportunity to promote some of the resources that you can access, like the new British National Formulary apps, and the fact that the Library provides training for accessing these resources and doing literature searches of the various databases. One of the emails was an enquiry about this training, so I’m trying to find a date to suit us both for a one-to-one session.

The Library provides group training too, although these are less popular but we recently started to target these at a particular professional group instead of leaving it open to all staff. It gives us a chance to focus the training on that groups needs, for example the last targeted training we ran was for Healthcare Assistants, who rarely need to know how to find journal articles, but often need to find information to pass on to patients, or just to give themselves an overview of a particular condition.

My colleague who deals with our Inter Library Loans (ILL’s) is off this morning so I’m picking up a few emails about these. I think the ILL’s service is pretty integral to a Health Library: we can’t subscribe to every journal so we rely on document supply services such as the British Medical Association (BMA) Library and The British Library to get hold of articles for clinical staff to help inform their research, and even directly improve patient’s treatment.

This afternoon I’ve had a phone call from someone in HR about providing resources for a display for No Smoking Week in March. Our Trust is having a big push on Health and Well-Being at the moment so they’re supporting things like exercise classes and stop smoking clinics. We don’t want to put books on the unmanned stall, but I’m going to photocopy some book covers with a note to say they are available in the library. The display at our Shrewsbury site will be held in the Learning Centre, near the Library’s front desk, so they’ll have the books on their display for people to browse and have on loan.

We have also taken part in a general Health and Well-Being Roadshow, in November, but we used that to focus more on our Leisure Reading collection (mostly novels, cookery and gardening books, but others in that vein too) and a collection we put together about looking after your own health, including long term conditions such as Asthma and Back problems. More of these type of Roadshows are planned for later in the year, so I’ll post some more information then.


I spent some time this morning sending letters to new members of staff at our Hospital Trust. It’s a great way to promote the Library and we back it up by having a 15 minute slot during the Trust’s ‘Corporate Induction’ Day. It’s just enough time to whizz through the basics, and if the group is small enough we do the session in the library (we get a better sign up rate doing this, but we need to balance fitting them into the library!)

The Library user I was emailing yesterday about training asked if he could come in this afternoon, so I also spent some time this morning printing handouts. They mostly repeat what I will be covering, but as I take the user through the handouts it helps keep me on track, as well as being useful in a week, or six months, when the user gets around to trying to apply what they’ve learnt as it’s a handy refresher!

(My trainee turned up right on time, but at the wrong site, so we’ll be rescheduling; but I guess there’s a lesson to learn about assuming they know where the training is based on my email signature listing this site!)

Because training makes up such an important part of what a Health Library provides we are vigilant about requesting feedback. Last year we changed this from a fairly standard feedback form which was given out at the end of the session to an Impact Assessment Questionnaire which we send by email a few weeks later. There are pros and cons to each; the response rate is higher on the feedback forms because they fill them in straight away, but because we are collecting them in they loose the anonymity factor that would get us truly honest results. They had also stopped giving us useful feedback – everyone ticking excellent doesn’t help us fix the falling numbers of people taking part.

The Impact Assesment Questionnaires are filled in online, and while we send an email to ask for it, the response is anonymous. We asked more focussed questions too, such as ‘Have you used the skills you’ve learnt?’, ‘Has it changed some aspect of patient care?’ and ‘List one thing from your training that you can use in your practice’. These results are telling us what people find valuable in our sessions, and we can then add more of these aspects to the courses we offer. While the response rate is a little lower, the answers are far more useful to us.


I spent a good chunk of this morning going through the reference data of our library system trying to work out why a user was being charged fines when their user category meant they shouldn’t have been (we give 5 days grace to staff employed in the community so that they can post the books back). I recalled it happening in November last year to a different user and me and my line manager had failed to find a reason – we’d brushed it off as a random occurrence, but this time it was bugging me – I just couldn’t find the cause!

As a change of scene I processed some new donations to our Leisure collection. I don’t usually get involved in cataloguing new stock in my current role, and it’s one of the few jobs I miss since my promotion (I always enjoyed spending a quiet afternoon inputting!) We have a relatively relaxed attitude to cataloguing our Leisure Collection books, especially where subject indexing is concerned but experience has taught us that this shelf is browsed by users, instead of conducting searches in the catalogue. I always love the chance to browse the books before they get onto the shelf and I’ve found some good books this way!

Determined to solve the problem of the erroneous fines, I eventually started digging again, this time in the user’s history. I eventually, and admittedly by fluke, realised that the user’s category had been changed after they were issued the books – when a new member comes to the counter with a pile of books we tend to add a skeleton record (usually just name and barcode number) and then update the record later on when we get a chance – and it was using this default category to pick the fine sequence, not the user’s current category! I’m rather impressed I worked it out, and at least next time it happens we’ll know why! I’ve also told the other library assistant’s why this is happening, so in future we can change the category when adding skeleton records and it should prevent it happening again!

This afternoon was spent readying the monthly newsletter to be sent out next week. For the most part it’s Library news from our blog, but we send out a print version for people who don’t have access to a computer, as well as sending an email version out as some people prefer to read it all in one go instead of having emails come in whenever we post something. It’s a job I normally do the first week of the month, but there’s a lot to squeeze into this month’s newsletter so I thought I’d start early; especially as there’s a few photos to go with some of the items, which I think always add interest to the newsletter. (I also put a printed one on the display board by the canteen – the pictures draw people in and it means that something obvious on the display is changing regularly, which keeps it looking up to date!)


I spent most of today doing a literature search for a doctor who’s preparing a presentation. We do these for a variety of reasons, sometimes it’s for research, for a paper they’re writing or a presentation to other members of staff, and sometimes it directly relates to patient treatment. We don’t offer it to the undergraduate students based at our hospitals because this is a skill they are learning as part of their course, but we’re more than happy to offer them pointers and training sessions instead! It always takes me a while to go through the databases and pull results out, but I like to come back to it after a change of scene to filter the results to the most relevant, so I spent some time today printing out some bookmarks.

At the end of last year I designed some magnetic bookmarks for the library – they went down really well at the last Roadshow and they are still very popular. The idea came to me after the Health Libraries Conference last year – I was looking at all of my freebies and thought ‘I should take some of these ideas back with me’! I’ve also taken inspiration from Burton’s clothes store before – when queueing at the till they had little business cards with a QR Code leading people to a website where they can leave feedback. It was just after we’d put a feedback form on our website so I took one to show my Line Manager – we now have a pile of cards on the Library enquiry desk with some of our own. They’re also very handy when we give out the door code for the library for out of hours users as we can write it on the back! 😀


I have Friday booked off this week, so I won’t be at work! But I’m going to use this space to mention a few things I didn’t do this week.

We occasionally do a short talk about the library in department meetings. It’s usually by invitation, but we’ve been working to invite ourselves to a few to show what services we can offer. A few months ago I did one to the Dieticians based at our site. I had a brilliant presentation planned where I was going to do a demo of some of our e-resources, but an hour before I was due to start I was told the room had been double booked and I wouldn’t have the planned access to a computer. Thankfully I had a chance to print off some stuff and grab some print resources as examples. One tip: always bring freebies – I impressed them quite a bit with a freebie pen, despite them being old ones I’d found at the back of the store cupboard!

I also do admin stuff for our Link Resolver – updating print holdings records and adding in new e-journal subscriptions. It’s one of those jobs that comes in fits and starts. I spent an afternoon in January updating our electronic holdings and I’ll spend an afternoon in the summer updating the print holdings after we do our annual weeding session (we keep up to 5 years of print journals, though more of our subscriptions are electronic now, mostly because our library members can access them from anywhere in the hospital as well as from home, but also because we don’t have to find space for them! The statistics are easier to gather as well, instead of relying on users filling in a survey sheet we attach to the journal that people never bothered to fill in!)

That was my week – what was yours like?!


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