Advice for determining the boundaries and dealing with enquiries 

Tell the enquirer that you are not qualified to advise them about their individual case but can signpost them to information that they can take back to their healthcare professional for further discussion. 

Information should not be supplied unsolicited; it should only be given to the person requesting the information (this may include relatives or carers) and should not be forwarded to third parties.


The library’s role is to give information not advice, i.e. present the information but do not interpret them. 

Two people in discussion around a small table
Library staff member and a patient discuss where to find information about local support groups for cancer.

Information may be supplied from a variety of locally available information sources (drawing on local well-being collections, where available).

Open access e-resources

E-resources controlled by licence are not generally accessible to the public except where local IT policy allows use of an NHS OpenAthens walk-in account.

If local policy prevents non-NHS access to the network, then you will need to explain that you would breach licence terms to provide an OpenAthens account or any form of remote access to e-resources. See OpenAthens eligibility criteria

Direct the enquirer to health information leaflets from your own organisation. 

Signpost enquirers to good quality consumer health information and websites they can access. You may have a local leaflet for guiding the public on finding good quality information. 

You may make ‘library privilege’ copies of material from stock for members of the public, or they may make their own ‘fair dealing’ copies.  In both cases, the copying may only be for private study or non-commercial research, and the amount copied must be ‘fair’ (one article from a journal or 5% of/one chapter from a book is suggested).

In addition, the NHS Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) Licence Plus allows single paper copies or a single digital copies to be made from stock for patients and carers. You do not have to charge but may do so. 

You may also want to give suitable information that is at an appropriate literacy level for the recipient. Assessing the level of literacy of the enquirer could be an aspect of customer service training that you might consider. 

Accessible Information Standard

Ensure that you know your organisation’s policy on the Accessible Information Standard (AIS) and where to go for information in different formats; add field to enquiry forms to ask what format is required; raise awareness of the AIS with other staff. 

Provision of literature searches is a matter for local policy but should be provided with the above caveats in mind. Charges for literature searches may be made. 

If your library does not hold the relevant information, refer the enquirer to the public library to request an inter-library loan (there is usually a small fee) or to borrow a book or use their computers. 

If you allow individuals to join your library on a fee-paying basis, you might offer loans and inter-library loans, as part of this provision. 

Suggested disclaimer on any information provided e.g. photocopy slip  

Information and advice on sources of information is given in good faith but should never be used as a substitute for seeking medical advice.

We have taken care to direct you to reliable information but cannot guarantee its accuracy.

You should always consult a suitably qualified doctor or healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. 

Organisational policies on IT access, e-mail/internet use and confidentiality should be followed at all times. 

Page last reviewed: 31 August 2022