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NHS Librarians’ responses to COVID-19



In this guest blog post, Pip Divall talks about the responses of NHS Librarians to COVID-19. Pip is the Clinical Librarian Service Manager at UHL NHS Trust and the Health Sector Rep for the Information Literacy Group.


Like the rest of the world, health librarians and information professionals have been dealing with huge unknowns. The pandemic has had a huge impact on health libraries and the clinicians that we support.

We’ve been monitoring evidence that is published, via biomedical databases, Public Health England and pre-print servers. We’ve been sifting through hundreds of articles and synthesising evidence to present to busy clinical staff. At the beginning of this pandemic, no one knew for sure what was expected, or even how to search for this new disease that was emerging, before it was officially named Covid-19. We were able to look for published papers on previous coronavirus outbreaks. As the weeks passed, the scholarly publishing world sped up processes and hundreds became thousands of papers, all still requiring appraisal for quality and determining their clinical usefulness if from different health systems and populations.

NHS Health Education England (HEE) moved quickly in convening a group of information professionals to pull together a “Search Bank” of literature search strategies that had been employed to answer clinical queries regarding Covid-19. These would then enable other information professionals, many of whom were working differently through the first wave of the pandemic to make the best of any time they had to answer these queries. Some were redeployed to clinical and other support areas, others remained running a library service in person with reduced staffing, and some were working from home. The aim of the search bank was to provide colleagues with recipes for searches that were tried and tested, with the results from the time of the search. However, given the speed and volume of new evidence being published, these results did not stay current for long. Even those information professionals who use database searching as a daily part of their role were finding the amount of information overwhelming and hard to locate quality articles. Once a question had been answered by an information professional, they were encouraged to submit it to the search bank for others to use.

The search bank now has almost 200 strategies and results which have been peer-assessed with a very light touch, to ensure the strategies will be of use to others. Where terms are superceded, or strategies are submitted that add more to the evidence base, older strategies are replaced. The timely response from HEE to mobilise information has meant we have been able to pool resources quickly and respond to issues. It has been evaluated by those working on the peer review and submission of search strategies and prepared for publication as it is believed that this is the first of its kind.

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