What I do: A presentation about being a health librarian

My former workplace does this great programme of continuing professional development (CPD) activities for their staff. Every Friday morning the library desks close for an hour so the staff can attend talks, visits or workshops. I was invited back to talk about my role now as a healthcare librarian, and I was very happy to oblige.

Hospital libraries, like other special libraries, can be a bit hidden, so it was nice to talk about what I do with academic library professionals. I thought I’d share and amended version here too, as it’s coming up to 2 years that I’ve been here, so seems a good time to reflect on my role.

I’m the librarian in a small healthcare library in an NHS Mental Health and Community Trust. We do have a physical library, which is where I’m based, but a lot of the work we do is done remotely. In terms of library stock, it’s a few print journals, mainly books on psychiatry and psychology, things like medical textbooks, handbooks, books on leadership and management, or books on types of therapy. We also have a bibliotherapy collection and a wellbeing collection. In terms of e-resources, it’s an interesting setup. We purchase them in two ways. Firstly, locally bought stuff for each library. Secondly, there is a National Core Content collection, purchased and negotiated by Health Education England.

The purpose of the library is to support evidence-based practice in the Trust. That means helping our Trust staff keep up to date with the latest practice guidelines and research, supporting them in their studies, and saving them time by taking on a lot of that searching.

The main parts of my role…


Every two weeks we have Finding the Evidence Workshops; a 2.5 hour workshop on searching and using databases. I also run Twitter training on how to use it for professional development and networking. I designed this from scratch, so I’m excited it’s been well received. In November I’m starting something completely new and running reflective reading groups for nurses to support their revalidation when they renew registration with the Nursing & Midwifery Council.

Literature searching

Staff might need evidence to decide between two different interventions and the want to know which is more effective, or maybe they want an overview of the research on a particular condition, or they want to know the official guidelines for doing something.

You get to research all sorts of topics. Something I really liked about working in university libraries was helping students research for their dissertations, and getting to hear about all the different topics they were looking into. But searching the literature for people was a big difference for me coming from an academic library.

Some of the other particularly interesting searches have been on:

  • The effect of stress, anxiety and depression on the voice
  • Impact of employment on the wellbeing of people with a mental health diagnosis
  • Is mood instability in children and young people a predictor for later bipolar disorder?


It’s online delivery of training, so for example tutorials teaching you about information governance, or fire safety, etc. eLearning is cost-effective because people can do it in their own time at their own pace, rather than getting everyone in a room together at the same time. I’ve been designing e-learning courses for departments, including a couple for Pharmacy – for example, safe prescribing on antibiotics. I don’t write the course myself, but I design how the information is delivered as a course.

Current awareness

It is email bulletins of newly published research on a variety of topics. We have mental health specialist topics and ones which cover a broader range of healthcare, including:

  • eating disorders
  • electroconvulsive therapy
  • mental health law and ethics
  • health promotion
  • black & minority ethnic patients
  • nutrition
  • and approximately 65 more…

Challenges / main differences

One of the biggest challenges coming to the role was adjusting to a new and very different organisational culture, which is much more hierarchical than I’ve previously encountered. Academic libraries I’ve worked in have tended to have a bit more of a flatter hierarchy, with groups of staff at the same grade. The difference is something that really struck me starting in this role.

The pace is also very different. There isn’t the peaks and troughs of term-time and vacation. It did seem to get a bit quieter in summer, because people go on holiday, or we do have students on placements so their courses stop, but mostly we go along at the same pace.

The geographic spread of the Trust is a challenge. We’re working on outreach to our community staff and different sites, and encouraging increased physical use of the library.

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