30 Jan 2012

"Health library services must be seen as a mainstream healthcare activity"

A timely report on the status of health librarianship and libraries in Ireland (SHELLI), Irish Health Libraries: New Directions, was launched a few days ago in the Dublin Dental Hospital. The report was commissioned by the Health Sciences Libraries Group (HSLG) of the LAI to explore and record the current role of health science libraries in Ireland, and to inform their future development and strategic direction. I have only had a very quick look through the report so far, but even at first glance a number of interesting ideas stand out.

Of particular note is the recommendation that "health library services must be seen as a mainstream healthcare activity." In my view, this is key to the future sustainability and development of health science libraries, and the solution requires not only promotion of and advocacy for existing services, but more importantly, building long-term relationships with clinical staff and management, and delivering 'library' services within a structure and a context which is both valuable and meaningful to these users. The latter may require a change in the way in which some health libraries currently package and deliver their services.

At present there is a risk that some healthcare professionals may view 'the library' as a separate physical space and indeed a separate standalone service, and one which falls outside mainstream healthcare activities. Even positioning it as 'the library', may make our services seem somewhat removed from other hospital and healthcare activities, and more like a 'nice to have' add-on. Some still associate libraries exclusively with their more traditional services and historical functions, which may not necessarily match the current and emerging role which health libraries now fulfil (time for rebranding anyone?). Appropriately integrating library services to make them more relevant to staff needs, and increasing the visibility of 'the library' (and here I am really referring to the skills of the librarian and library staff, rather than the physical space) within the hospital, is therefore an important step in ensuring that library services are perceived as an essential element in healthcare delivery.

No doubt further readings will highlight many more practical and strategic recommendations which those working in the sector can explore, and I am sure the report will serve as an extremely valuable reference-point and benchmark for Irish health science libraries in the years to come.


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