Reflecting on my own information literacy as a health knowledge specialist

Pip DivallIn this blog post, Pip Divall, CILIP Information Literacy Group’s Health Libraries rep, reflects on her own information literacy practice while working in the NHS in the role of Clinical Librarian Service Manager.

Working in the NHS is an ever-changing environment and my original reasons for becoming a librarian were because I bore easily, so it’s the ideal place for me!

Early next year, the NICE Healthcare Databases Advanced Search (HDAS) interface, that the NHS in England uses to search the major biomedical databases for evidence will be retired. This means a transition to the provider interfaces for the databases that we use. This also means big, scary change for a lot of us. The providers of databases are usually up for tender every 3 years, and the HDAS system, built and maintained by NICE used APIs (Application Programming Interface) to search the databases included in the NHS National Core Content Collection which meant that while the providers may change behind the scenes, the user experience remained broadly the same. I’ve lived through major change in NHS libraries before HDAS was introduced, and after a period of deep mourning and denial, I began to see how change could be good again.

My organisation was part of a regional bid to be in the pilot scheme for moving to the provider or native interfaces. The pilot work was done to understand how big a change this would be, and what training and resources would be needed for my colleagues. Now, while this wasn’t a complete sea change for me as I’ve used the provider interfaces in the past for complex research, but usually only for one or two databases rather than for everything. What I found though was that I had become very stuck in my ways and often worked on autopilot. This project really made me reflect on my own information literacy and technical searching skills.

Having to relearn the quirks of all the provider interfaces meant that I really needed to spend time thinking about my approach to searching databases, often mapping out what I planned to do on paper before even opening the databases. I also needed to think about my approach to 1:1 training with healthcare professionals. With the added complication of having to carry out these sessions virtually! It has meant that I’ve had to go slowly, and that I can’t just take the mouse away from someone and click-click-click away, taking away their learning, which I think I’ve been guilty of in the past. I’ve made use of screen sharing so that they can explore the databases and ask for advice while I keep an eye on their progress. Some of this has been pure trial and error and working out as we go what features each database and provider offers.

So what have I learned? I have to admit that now the pilot is over, I sometimes find myself slipping back to the old way of doing things, especially when I need to present a quick “decision ready” package of information to a clinician requesting evidence for patient care. When I’m undertaking more complex pieces of research work, such as systematic reviews, I am heading to the provider interfaces, as I did before, but trying to stick to those for all aspects of the search strategy. When training, I’m making sure I approach sessions with an eye to teaching transferrable skills and knowledge to healthcare professionals, and not just demonstrating how to use one resource. With many of my customers starting further study from September, it’s important that I show them the interfaces that will last the length of their study and not fade away in the spring.

As a part of the panel peer reviewing searches for the NHS Health Education England Covid Search Bank, I’ve also learned a lot about the approaches that others take to searching. It’s made me think about my search strategies and whether they can be improved, while also making sure the work I do is timely for the requester. I’ve picked up tricks through looking at these, and also realised what I’ve been missing – it’s so easy to get into a comfortable rut!

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