Post from a student on the UCL Health Module

Reflections from students on the UCL Health Module (2024) - part 5

In the early part of this year NHS England Knowledge and Library team members and colleagues from services across England once again had the privilege of supporting the delivery of a Health Librarianship module for Library and Information Studies students at University College London (UCL). Particular thanks go to William Henderson for his work in co-ordinating the speakers and developing the structure of the module.

Ten weekly sessions were delivered, on a variety of topics, with the aim of giving the students a broad look at the structure of NHS Knowledge and Library Services.

As part of their assignment, the students were required to write reflective pieces looking at a topic they had enjoyed from the course. Here is the first piece for you to read. I hope you enjoy their reflections as much as I did.


A systematic approach to training from embedded librarians in the NHS

A major aspect of health librarianship that interests me is the scope that exists for librarians to support NHS professionals’ development through training. In my experience at a school library, running training sessions with students was rewarding and allowed me to help develop their information literacy skills. However, considering Streatfield et al’s categories of information literacy training in schools (7. 2011, p.19), having a small library team meant that there was no “systematic development” towards a comprehensive training programme. My library skills sessions therefore became a matter of “sporadic opportunism,” so it was impossible to support students on a large scale.

In comparison, in the NHS, continuous professional development is essential for nearly all staff, and as such, a “systematic” approach to library training is a necessity.

After completing a medicine degree, doctors must complete a two-year foundation programme to become fully registered with the GMC, then two to three years of core medical training before they can specialise in a field (1. BMJ, 2022). Similar qualification requirements apply to other professionals including nurses, assistant practitioners, and ambulance workers. Across all fields, continuing professional development is also essential after qualifying. UK clinical librarians are already helping to update staff’s clinical knowledge and skills (2. Divall et al, 2022, p.119) through the training and reference enquiry services they provide.

The training that librarians offer can take many forms. For example, similar to my work in a school library, this could be workshop sessions about finding information effectively and assessing its validity. These direct teaching sessions save medical professionals the time they would otherwise have to spend getting to know their information landscape before they can then find the evidence they need (2. Divall et al, 2022, pp.121-122).

However, there is also scope for embedded clinical librarians to provide on-the-floor training with staff: Gibbons and Werner (3. 2019) discuss the latter’s experience as an embedded librarian performing reference enquiry services for physicians and medical students whilst joining them on the rounds. In this way, clinical library training can transcend the traditional classroom environment and become even more meaningful because it is happening in the workplace in real time. A teaching moment like this also supports the Knowledge and Library Services’ aim to give “the gift of time” to NHS colleagues (5. Health Education England, 2020b) by providing immediate access to necessary evidence for patient care within the doctors’ usual environment.

In this manner, having an embedded librarian in a department helps create a more “systematic” approach to librarian training.

With this in mind, however, more still needs to be done to create equitable access to librarian services across the NHS. The current Knowledge and Library Services workforce is not at the recommended ratio of 1 for every 1250 WTE NHS staff member (4. Health Education England, 2020a, p.1). This hinders the service’s ability to “systematically develop” a training programme that supports every professional, similar to my experience working with a small team in the school library.

However, the Knowledge for Healthcare framework suggests that embedding more knowledge specialists within clinical departments is now a strategic priority (6. Health Education England, 2021, p.9). In the long term, this will allow more NHS professionals to access the valuable training that embedded librarians can offer.


Katherine Gair

Page last reviewed: 12 April 2024