A call for action on ebooks


The Health and Social Care Knowledge Forum brings together senior leads from organisations which provide or coordinate knowledge and library services for those working in health and care in England, including the NHS.

The core function of these services is to ensure health and care staff and students have access to the knowledge they need to do their jobs: provide care, make informed decisions, develop and maintain their professional expertise and ensure evidence-based best practice.   

Over recent months the issue of e-books has been considered by the members of the forum. 

The importance of e-books

Access to up-to-date information is critical for supporting day-to-day decision making in health and care.  

To deliver high quality care and support to patients, service users, carers and families, health and care staff need access to current and robust knowledge.  

E-books are a key means to make knowledge available to the health and care workforce. This is a distributed, mobile workforce comprising busy, time-poor staff: we cannot reasonably expect them to visit physical libraries to access print books.

Nor, in a sector which values equity and diversity, can we reasonably expect individuals to buy the books they need to do their work.  

The need for e-books has become ever more evident through the coronavirus pandemic. Yet too often, e-books are unaffordable for health and care library services, inappropriately priced and unhelpfully bundled.  Investment in e-books often delivers poor value for taxpayer funding. 

Further, if health and care staff cannot find and access books in convenient formats or because they are only accessible via separate publisher platforms, they will not use them. 

Accordingly, following a meeting of the forum on 16th November 2021, the following participants in the forum have agreed this statement on e-books which they are expressing in their personal capacity as senior leaders in the field.   

Together, they fully endorse the calls to action in the SCONUL position paper, especially the calls for fair and transparent pricing and pricing models other than recurrent annual subscriptions. 

Their specific concerns from a health and care perspective are that:

Pricing should reflect actual or likely actual use

We ask that demand-driven acquisition or pricing based on relevant staff or student numbers is used rather than annual subscriptions with pricing based on whole workforce size.  

Greater priority should be placed on the currency of titles in health and care

Non-current editions should be withdrawn from bundles with a move from the e-book availability and currency being tied to print book production cycles. 

E-books should be discoverable via the platforms and devices health and care staff use

We ask that e-books are provided in formats that enable librarians to make them available via the platforms that health and care staff use, with mobile access and offline access as standard.  

As knowledge and library specialists in the health and social care sector, the following wish to confirm their support of the statement individually and, where specified, on behalf of the groups they represent. 

Ruth Carlyle, Head of Knowledge and Library Services working across Midlands, East and North of England, Health Education England (on behalf of the CILIP Health Libraries Group).

Sue David, Head of Library & Learning Services, St George’s University of London.

Isla Kuhn, Head of Medical Library Services, University of Cambridge Medical Library (on behalf of the University Health & Medical Librarians Group, (UHMLG).

Sue Lacey Bryant, National Lead for NHS Knowledge and Library Services, Health Education England.

Deena Maggs, Head of Library Service, The King’s Fund Library Service (on behalf of the Consortium of Health Independent Libraries in London, (CHILL)).

Sharon Stevens, Senior Information Specialist, Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE).


December 2021