What does a solo NHS librarian do?

I feel really proud to be able to say that I work for the NHS. Although in my previous role at St George’s I did help provide some training and support for NHS staff, it wasn’t my primary focus. My current role is in a specialist cancer hospital supporting our NHS staff, but we are odd in that we also deliver accredited university modules at undergraduate and postgraduate level, so it is more of a hybrid HE/NHS role. I thought I might use this blog post to outline my responsibilities and what I do, as healthcare librarianship can be regarded as a specialist niche within the library profession and I want to demystify it a little.

General responsibilities

  • We are a tiny team of two – just myself and a library assistant. I spend at least half an hour a day supervising the library assistant and providing training where necessary when tasks have been delegated to them. This was a new responsibility for me as I hadn’t line managed anyone directly beforehand.
  • Answering enquiries! As we are such a small team I share equal responsibility for dealing with day-to-day tasks like circulation, phonecalls, etc – the bread-and-butter work of all libraries. Today I’ve unjammed a printer, found a journal article for a nurse, renewed some books, alongside my other responsibilities.
  • Ordering books and journals. I know this sounds very basic, but when I was at larger libraries I just instructed the acquisition department to get certain titles in, and it just happened as if by magic! I now have to liaise directly with suppliers and, more challengingly, NHS procurement and finance to ensure that the books and journals that we need are available. This can take up far more of my time than I would like.
  • Systems librarian (!?) – I had practically zero systems experience before this role and had to learn quickly! I initially found this one of the most challenging things to do. I look after our link resolver (NHS libraries use OCLC), our authentication system (OpenAthens, for now) and the backend of our EBSCO Discovery service. Our LMS is hosted by another organisation so that’s one system I don’t have to worry much about, luckily.
  • Interlibrary loans – as with book acquisitions, I used to just ask another member of staff nicely to order these for me, and it just happened. Now I liaise with other NHS libraries, local HE libraries, and, if needs must, the British Library to obtain these for our users.
  • Copyright officer – I ensure that we meet the requirements of our Copyright Licencing Agency Higher Education and NHS England licences, and advise lecturers on how they can best utilise copyright laws in their teaching.

HE responsibilities

  • I provide information skills training for students at the Royal Marsden School. We have 20 different modules across each academic year, with many of these running multiple times in the year so that we have over 40 groups of students to induct and provide information skills training for! One of the big challenges is the diversity of each student group as you can have, in a group of 20 students, 10 who have not studied for a decade or more, 5 who are recent graduates, and 5 who have already attended several of your information sessions. I try my best to produce unique info skills content for each module to minimise repetition and introduce variety into their learning.
  • Academic staff often come to me for support with finding learning resources for new modules, or when they are looking to revamp existing modules. I help to compile reading lists and also ensure that reading lists on our VLE are all linked to our catalogue.

NHS responsibilities

  • Literature searching – this service usually lies at the heart of most healthcare libraries. For the uninitiated, this is a highly technical, specialised way of searching established databases to find all the available published papers on a topic. A search looks abit like this. Librarians do these for clinical staff to save them time – it takes about 1-2 hours to do a good search, especially if I then review the results to highlight key papers.
  • Promoting the library is a huge challenge for all organisations, but perhaps especially in the NHS, where we often deal with a transient workforce who have very little time, and who are often scattered geographically.
  • Engaging with the wider NHS library community. There are a lot of national and regional shared resources and working groups, and it is a great community to be a part of as everyone is very helpful and proactive – I found it absolutely invaluable when I was first finding my feet. I attend meetings with other NHS librarians in London and the South East once every couple of months. There are national standards (LQAF) that we need to meet, and a strategic steer from Health Education England known as Knowledge for Healthcare.
  • I also provide 1-2-1 and small group training for NHS staff in literature searching and critical appraisal. This is currently on an ad hoc basis, and is something I’d definitely like to develop further in the future.

Part of the reason that I have written all of this down is that recently I have been feeling anxious about how well I am doing as a librarian. A year has gone by in my ‘new’ role and it can often feel like little progress has been made, although I know this isn’t true! There’s a lot that I wish we could do – I’d love to set up a current awareness service for NHS staff, do more to promote the library, and I’m behind on several projects – but when I write all my day-to-day responsibilities down it helps me to realise that I’m already doing rather a lot and perhaps it’s ok for us not to be a perfect library service… yet!

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Third month as a trainee liaison librarian!

Well, it’s been a month of highs and lows!

I’ll start with the lows, then. I mentioned in my last blog post that I would be running three teaching sessions for students at the Modern Languages department. Because I was nervous about this, and wanted to make a good impression on the students, who I’d previously had little contact with, I spent quite a lot of time preparing for these teaching sessions. However, I unfortunately only had two students attend these sessions – in total. Needless to say it was a big disappointment! However, feedback from other sessions during Enhancement Week (a new thing at Reading) showed that attendance was poor overall. Next time, I won’t get my hopes up so high… and I’ll definitely do more to market my sessions beforehand!

Given this pretty abysmal showing during Enhancement Week, then, I was really surprised to receive a Celebrating Success award from the Head of the MLES department! Staff at the department have been pleased with the work that I have done for them in terms of supporting their teaching and research. I have to work harder to prove the value of the Library to the department’s students, though – have yet to receive a single enquiry from them! I’m still brainstorming ways to promote the value of my services as a liaison librarian to these students, and would eagerly welcome any suggestions.

Other things that I’ve been up to: figuring out how I can best support the learning and research of a visually impaired student, doing more teaching (a mixture of large groups, small groups, and one-to-one), and finally, getting started with Chartership. I’ve paid over my £50 and am now looking for a mentor. I’ve also signed up for the Academic Practice Programme here at Reading and that starts in a few weeks. So let’s see how it all goes!

Second month as a trainee liaison librarian

This month has been really busy! Since my last blog post, I have delivered additional induction sessions, as well as running three advanced searching workshops. The feedback for the workshops has been largely positive, which is such a relief! My colleague Rachel kindly sat through my first two sessions and gave me some tips on presentation style and worksheet layout, which has been really helpful.

Most of my teaching thus far has been with Education students. I will have my first sessions with the Modern Languages and European Studies department next week; this is a bit of a challenge for me, as I’m hoping to use this opportunity to strengthen the relationship between the Library and the department. I don’t get many enquiries from staff or students from MLES, which is something I’m hoping to change. I also don’t have much of a background in modern languages, so I’ve had to do some homework to ensure that I’m up to speed and confident with all the relevant databases and information resources. At this stage, preparing for these new sessions is taking up a substantial amount of my time, as I’m creating new materials and learning as I go along! Hopefully as I get more confident and begin running sessions repeatedly, this process will become more efficient.

A swan at the University of Reading Whiteknights campus - we have a lake!

A swan at the University of Reading Whiteknights campus – we have a lake!

I’ve also had quite a few one-to-one sessions with students over the past week – about seven hours in total! Because it’s half term, many of the Education students have been able to book one-to-one appointments, usually on reference management and databases. Teaching has definitely been a major theme this month; it’s something that I’ve discovered I really, really enjoy, and I’m hoping to develop my skills in this area, probably through reading around the subject and attending CPD courses. We had one or two sessions on this at Sheffield, as part of the Academic and Research Libraries module, but really nowhere near enough, considering how important teaching is to the job roles of so many information professionals today.

Besides teaching and teaching preparation, I’ve also been busy with book ordering and ensuring that course materials are made available to students via the VLE. Another new development over the past month has been my role as shelving team manager for the 4th floor in our library. I chaired a meeting for the first time this month, and am trying to figure out these new managerial responsibilities.

I’m looking forward to seeing where the next month takes me!