Report on Health Information Study Day, Leeds, July 10th, 2017

Katie Nicholas, Knowledge Officer at Health Education England, has kindly provided a report and her personal reflections on the Health Information Study Day that took place in Leeds on July 10th, 2017, as part of Health Information Week. The free event was open to all library knowledge service staff working in healthcare and public library services across England. There were over 60 attendees and both sectors were well represented. 

How did it all start?

The Head of Libraries at St Helens Council, Sue Williamson, suggested a joint public/health library study day after an event she had attended at CILIP in London [1]. As part of the annual Health Information Week agenda, a Health Information Study Day was organised. This full day was attended by librarians and information professionals from across the North of England, from both public and health library and knowledge services.

In the spirit of the week’s focus, the point was to bring together two sectors with the same core aims; promoting the use of high quality patient information and supporting users in finding the information they need. These shared objectives were a springboard to working together, taking advantage of the strengths of each sector, to best deliver them. The way people access health information and manage their conditions has changed. Recent trends have shown that 1 in 4 patients ‘self-diagnose’ using material found online (usually through Google) and there has been a strategic push for patients to adopt self-management techniques, more proactively taking control of their own health and conditions [2][3]. As a result, patients are increasingly accessing health information, of varying quality, online. It is in the space between library users and resources (i.e. information) that librarians have always operated, making them prime candidates to support users with their health information needs. In recent years, there has also been an increased focus on the Patient and Public Information agenda as part of the Knowledge for Healthcare programme – the two key aims being; “Patients, carers and the public are empowered to use information to make health and well-being choices” and “Partnership working is the norm in delivering knowledge to healthcare” [4]. The event was advertised using the JISC email lists, LIS-PUB-Lis, Lis-Medical and Lis-Link, as well encouraging contacts in public health libraries to advertise to their colleagues.

In the past, the two library spheres (public and health) have often operated separately, but it is increasingly apparent that there is a lot to be gained from working more proactively together. In theory this sounds simple enough, but in practice it is more difficult to achieve. Any successful Community of Practice needs a shared purpose and ‘regular interaction’ to achieve its goals and remain vibrant [5]. The study day was an attempt to bring representatives from both spheres physically together to solidify relationships. Looking at attendance figures, this seems to have worked – 63 people attended, 31 of whom were from public libraries, so 49%. The other delegates were from health, the academic sector or came as independents as they were interested in the topic. It became clear in discussions throughout the day that lots of partnerships already existed; these delegates shared their experience and tips for creating successful cooperatives. Questions that felt difficult to answer for health librarians were answered by public librarians, and vice versa, and the day confirmed that, despite the library setting, the experiences and challenges were shared, and could therefore be potentially tackled jointly.

From a personal perspective, the mixture of librarians was illuminating and incredibly useful. For a start, there are initiatives happening in public and health libraries that I knew nothing about, but the most fruitful aspect of the day was being able to ask questions and get immediate answers, because the person you needed to speak to was either in the room or knew who you should contact. It was the networking power that I felt on the day and the real sense that, in KM terms, ‘people were really being connected to the right people’, which is often a difficult first step.

The day itself

A keynote speech by Ged Byrne (Director of Education and Quality – HEE, North) opened the day. Someone so senior reinforcing the importance of library and knowledge services invigorated delegates for a day of workshops.

The two workshops that I attended were:

  • Sarah Henessey’s presentation on ‘Recovery Colleges’
  • Lisa Jeskins’ workshop on ‘Information literacy in the fake news era’

All the slides and a synopsis for each workshop are available on the Knowledge for Healthcare blog [6].

Both sessions encouraged me to dig a little further after we’d finished. For a start, I wasn’t sure at all what ‘Recovery Colleges’ were, so I had little idea how information services could support them. Recovery Colleges are usually linked to mental health trusts and offer alternative therapies for those who have been discharged; attendees can join courses in a number of skill areas (anything from woodwork to reading aloud) to support their mental wellbeing and build confidence. Sarah had supported the colleges in her trusts by offering sessions on reading aloud, supporting the volunteers to better organise and manage a library collection, if they had one, and help with information literacy. They seem like such a good partner to be aware of and, after the day, I researched them and attempted to look up the colleges in the footprint I work in. The Recovery Colleges are also developing a network. I shared this update with the national health information professionals’ network after the day.

Lisa’s workshop had the ambitious aim of creating guidelines for information literacy in our services. She admitted this was unachievable but hoped the discussion would unpick key themes that would need to be included should services develop guidance. The public library perspective in this discussion was useful and seeing the priorities (we were asked to put stickers next the 5 most important issues) was revealing. I think priorities changed very much depending on the sector and environment delegates worked in. The outcomes of this discussion are available here.

When asked what do people need to know, the most popular answers were; that libraries are open and accessible, that there is quality information in an accessible and understandable format, to question things, and to identify reliable sources [7]. For me the most important thing is not the library space but the skills librarians can cascade – patients knowing where the information they need is, and being able to assess the quality of that information is key. I don’t work in a library so it is not as important to me that patients are aware there is a building that exists, rather that they know that I, as a member of staff, am approachable and accessible and that they can identify me as someone who could be able help them with this.

It came as no surprise to me that, when asked what skills do patients need, Digital Literacy and Literacy were identified as most important. Understanding the technology and honing the skills needed to evaluate and appraise information is key, though I would argue Digital Literacy relies on Information Literacy – after all what good is being able to find the information if the patient cannot understand what it means for them. After the event, I researched some organisational policy around this as I was curious what the NHS was doing to support its own workforce. I found a Digital Literacy report outlining work to make every nurse an e-nurse which I shared on Twitter and with colleagues [8]. I reflected on what I would include in guidance for colleagues about information literacy, keeping in mind what the combined response from delegates had been. I think I would keep it short and to-the-point, encouraging patients to ask themselves three questions:

Where should I look?

Use websites that are NHS stamped or approved by leading organisations in the area I am researching.

Who should I ask?

If you’re struggling to find information, ask a librarian or information professional. They will signpost good quality sites and teach you techniques to find the information you need.

How reliable is the information I have found?

If in doubt, be a sceptic. Think critically about the information you find: look at the source, the year of publication and the author. Remember – just because it is online does not make it true or reliable.

Closing thoughts

David Stewart, Director of Health Libraries North, summed up the day with an anecdote and the acronym BADGER.

David believed the day had shown the importance of Building partnerships; he said if there’s one thing people took from the day, it should be this. I certainly felt this throughout the day and was encouraged to familiarise myself with key contacts in my footprint. After all, it is not possible that every contact attended the event and the idea was this was the start, not the end, of discussions. Adapting and trying new ways of doing things is crucial; this is nothing new but it felt like new connections had been made and there was a feeling that this was a real opportunity to be innovative. Echoing my earlier thoughts, David highlighted the importance of developing new ways of working – reassessing what is everyday practice and asking what can we stop doing or do in partnership. At present, it seems this is paramount for all NHS organisations and I agree that libraries should be no exception. Exploring best practice is the easiest way to achieve this. Many of the workshops on the day showcased great ideas that worked well and copying them was encouraged; the Recovery College workshop was a great example of this. David’s final thought was about Rediscovery – we are standing on the shoulders of giants and should not be afraid to go further back than ten years to find examples of good work and great ideas. This resonated with me as so often when searching for best practice I won’t venture further than a few years ago; as if good ideas have expiration dates. In future, I won’t be so quick to dismiss projects because of the date, when there may be an opportunity to refresh them with success.

Some feedback from the day

“Bringing together two sectors and seeing the amount of valuable knowledge sharing happening was very exciting.”

“Health information is such a broad area and this event gave a really good overview of what is going on, and things to take away and think about. It is good to be reminded, or find out, what is going on out there and talk to other people in the sector.”

Lots of delegates planned to do things differently in their workplace as a result of attending;

“Have made contact with Public Library colleagues and invited to visit; will revisit ‘Making Every Contact Count’ to see if useful for Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs)’, joint training with PL, Trust Health & Wellbeing Agenda.”

“I am going to be involved with the MAP toolkit – Also, will think more carefully locally about joint working and opportunities with our health partners, not just Public Health.”[9]

Read more about the event – a report by Gil Young, NHS LKS Workforce Development Manager North


[1] https://www.cilip.org.uk/information-services-group/events/our-good-health

[2] https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/blog/2014/05/how-do-people-become-good-managers-their-own-health

[3] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/11760658/One-in-four-self-diagnose-on-the-internet-instead-of-visiting-the-doctor.html

[4] http://kfh.libraryservices.nhs.uk/patient-and-public-information/about-the-ppi-workstream/

[5]https://www.nationalvoices.org.uk/sites/default/files/public/publications/enabling_change_through_communities_of_practice_0.pdf p. 6

[6] http://kfh.libraryservices.nhs.uk/tag/health-information-week/

[7] See Tables (Flipchart notes)

[8] https://www.hee.nhs.uk/sites/default/files/documents/3146%20-HEE%20RCN%20Report%2016%20pages%20FINAL.pdf

[9] https://maptoolkit.wordpress.com/

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