Increasingly health librarians are being asked to support activities in their organisations which are leading us into new territory: transformation, service improvement, business decision-making and the development of whole system pathways. Those of us working in the NHS have seen this reflected in a rising demand for our services from managers and service leads. How do we make sure we have the necessary skills to support this work? And surely this is an ideal opportunity to position NHS Library and Knowledge Services as business critical?
I recently attended two days of training, organised by LIHNN and aimed at equipping librarians with skills in summarising / synthesizing evidence and advocating our position as business critical to the NHS.
On Day 1, Tim Buckley-Owen presented a masterclass in how to harness our summarising and synthesising skills to ensure that the information we provide is easily digestible to the end user. Gone are the days that our customer has time to read through pages and pages of article citations; of much greater value in today’s fast-paced NHS is an easily digestible summary that extracts the key messages of the results found.
I feel that as a librarian I already possess a lot of the skills required to do this; Tim’s session gave me the tools with which to harness these skills to greatest effect. One learning point for me is that writing a summary in this context is not the same as writing an abstract or a precis; a summary extracts the key points relevant to the enquirer, and is tailored to their specific needs.
In Tim’s session we talked about adding credibility to our search results by making the format look more polished and professional. The added effort required to ensure the search report is more focused on the customer’s needs is worth it to provide a truly more satisfying, value-added end product. I can see how undertaking a summary of search results immerses you in the material and ensures that you can reel off a verbal summary at a Trust meeting or in that much-anticipated elevator conversation. Accordingly, practising these skills and altering the way that our searching services function can allow us to network more effectively and maintain relationships with the organisation’s movers and shakers.
On Day 2, Anne Gray presented an undeniable argument for the necessity of library and knowledge skills in a modern NHS. Many of us have a good understanding of the reasons why clinical decisions have to be evidence based; Anne presented the viewpoint of a manager or commissioner in an effort to encourage us to understand our customer.
Perhaps my biggest learning point from the day was an acknowledgement that delivering services to managers doesn’t mean simply providing management-related evidence searches. It’s clear that managers rely much more heavily on the knowledge and expertise of colleagues, so our challenge as librarians is to become part of their trusted network. It may be that acting as a broker of knowledge and disseminating ‘golden nuggets’ of useful information to key contacts is all that is required. It’s not difficult; it simply requires us to build and maintain relationships with those people making the business decisions in our organisations. As has always been the case: working in libraries is about working with people.
A challenge for me in Anne’s session was to force myself to approach a search topic in a different way. When faced with a searching for a clinical question, I usually stick to the topic parameters and try not to digress beyond. However, having a greater understanding of the way that managers use knowledge to ‘think around’ an issue, I felt liberated to include evidence that was perhaps outside the scope of their original search request, but that I felt was important to their understanding. It sounds obvious but was a breakthrough moment for me.
The finale of Day 2 was a discussion around how librarians could collaborate to support each other in this work, perhaps through networking, buddying, and sharing good practice and useful resources. The group felt that there was potential to work together on some topics that would be common across organisations: integrated care, discharge planning, Accountable Care Organisations, for example. My first action will be to share this blog post with the discussion list and perhaps generate some debate. I’ll be considering how MAP Toolkit, that I lead with Tracey Pratchett, can support this work. After that I hope to cascade my learning to my team here at Wirral and adjust the way we support managers. Plus there’s a search request sitting on my desk right now from our transformation team that will allow me to put some of my new found skills into practise!