Health libraries

Pip Divall

About me

Pip Divall is the Clinical Librarian Service Manager for University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust as well as Health Sector Representative on the Information Literacy Group. Pip has worked in the National Health Service (NHS) for her whole professional career, first in a mental health trust, before moving into acute hospitals. As a Clinical Librarian, she offers an outreach service to selected clinical teams working in her organisation. Pip takes a lead on the coordination of the UHL Library and information service training to NHS staff.


NHS staff, including doctors, nurses, midwives and allied health professionals, as well as administrative personnel, need access to the best available evidence in order to make decisions affecting patients and their care. NHS staff should have access to a library service, physical or virtual. Some hospitals have their own in-house library service, while others are served by Higher Education Institutions and are linked to university medical schools.

“Healthcare library and knowledge services underpin all aspects of the NHS – supplying the evidence base to the service to make decisions on treatment options, patient care and safety, commissioning and policy, and to support lifelong learning, undertake research and drive innovation.” Knowledge for Healthcare Development Framework (2015). The Knowledge for Healthcare framework also has an informative blog and website for use by all healthcare LIS staff.

who are the users?

Users of healthcare libraries include doctors, nurses, midwives, allied health professionals (e.g. physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists), researchers, managers and administrative staff. Medical and other health students are also often offered a service in the hospitals and healthcare settings that they are placed in during their studies. Healthcare libraries also exist in public health, the charity sector, and in hospices. Some NHS libraries offer services to patients, but this is not a universal offer at the moment.

What information literacy needs do the users have?

Library users in healthcare need to be able to search the evidence base using databases provided through the NHS Core Content scheme, which a national purchasing programme of core resources identified as essential for NHS staff. Databases of medical literature are available to search, as well as point of care decision support systems, and a selection of full text journals. Many of these resources can be accessed via the NHS Evidence site.

Library users need support in using the databases to access the evidence, and health libraries offer training sessions in order to get the best from these, while also offering a service to save the time of busy clinical staff in providing mediated literature search results.

Nationally, electronic learning is available for healthcare staff to make best use of the NICE Healthcare Databases Advanced Search (HDAS), which was developed with NHS Health Education England.

Clinicians may also need assistance in reading and appraising the literature available to them, and libraries can provide training on ‘critical appraisal’ and research methodologies.

Health literacy (of the public and patients) is increasingly important, and the Knowledge for Healthcare strategy emphasises this also. Programmes are being developed to train healthcare staff in understanding the information needs of patients and the public.

Many NHS staff are embarking on programmes of learning and continuing lifelong learning as a part of their career, and look to the library service provided by their organisation to complement the library service they receive during the course of their studies. Some are returning to learning after a break since qualifying in their chosen professions and require refresher training in using electronic resources effectively.

What are library and information professionals working in the sector doing to support these needs?

LIS professionals in healthcare libraries are working on providing useful training and education in information literacy to the staff in the organisations that they support. They are assisting in access to the resources and promoting evidence based healthcare wherever possible, through the use of resources by the users themselves or through mediated services.

What terminology is used to describe Information Literacy within the sector?

The term “information literacy” is not currently as widely used or as familiar to staff in health  libraries, as it is in other professional sectors. Information literacy activity is happening, but with an emphasis on health literacy for communicating effectively with patients and the public, and on training in the use of resources and research for healthcare staff. The provision for healthcare libraries in the CILIP Definition of Information Literacy 2018 has helped to improve understanding of the term, and more work needs to be done to assist healthcare staff as well as patients in navigating the evidence. Health literacy is a term often used to express patients’ understanding of medical words and jargon, and there needs to be wider understanding of the information literacy needs of the clinical and healthcare workforce to help them stay up to date in an increasingly digital environment.

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