In this article I will reflect and comment on how Clinical Librarians have developed in the last 20 years. The current state and future development.

Looking ahead, I think the future is bright for that mix of expert searching skills, communication, organisational skills and confidence to proactively promote and market health and social care information resources. I say this because the roles are recognised in the Health Education England Development Framework, Knowledge for Healthcare, and the growing evidence of their impact.

Currently many library staff across the North and nationally our carrying out Outreach and Clinical Librarianship work, ensuring evidence is mobilised for the pandemic effort and maintain core services, through to recovery. It feels like the pandemic has driven on changes in delivering of Library and Knowledge Service online, through Zoom and MS Teams, which was already under way as a process before, and this will continue.

Since they began in the UK in the 1980s at the Department of Surgery at Guy’s Hospital and later on at Leicester General Hospital, Clinical Librarians positive impact providing evidence at the point of need is now a standard way of working in most health and social care Library and Knowledge Services. The number and type of roles dedicated to, or containing an element of outreach has grown. I’ve experienced this as a response to the growth and complexity of online information, evidence-based practice & reorganisation in health care organisations.

I have worked as a Clinical, or Outreach Librarian in the NHS for the last decade. My first Outreach Librarian role was dedicated to providing a service to Mental Health Trust staff, who had no in-house library service. One feature of development has been Clinical Librarian roles developing to be part of other roles, managing staff, electronic resources, staffing physical service points, or e-learning. This happened to me, through organisational merger, I became part of a Library and Knowledge Service Team, carrying out more electronic resources work and covering physical service points. So, looking to the future, I think it’s important to see Clinical Librarian roles as a set of skills integrated into a service as part of other roles. I’ve ended up working as a Knowledge Specialist where I still proactively market and promote the service across the Trust, carrying out literature searches, attending events, and embedding our resources. I also lead on Liaison with the Knowledge Service.

Exciting developments through the National Discovery System and Regional Library Management Systems provide the potential for more LKS staff to be involved proactively in extending services to staff not able to access an on-site library service, and discover high quality information resources to meet the needs of the organisation.

Some areas of development currently affecting the skills needed are the transition to using native database interfaces (OVID, EBSCO and Proquest) for literature searches. Currently an Early Adopter Project is taking place, our service is lucky enough to be part of thanks to HEE funding. Opportunities to take part in research and evaluation will continue with the need to build the evidence of impact. I think skills in using decision-support tools, data visualisation and online facilitation will also be key areas of the skills set to enable access to Library and Knowledge Service across the health and social care landscape.

In this way Outreach and Clinical Librarian skills will continue to be important to ensure we are moving up our ratings on the Quality and Improvement Outcomes Framework. Especially Outcomes 1 and 2. There may be fewer physical libraries, but more LKS staff carrying out dedicated or hybrid roles in our networks in the future.

Rosalind McNally
Knowledge Specialist, Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust
Ashton-under-Lyne, Tameside, Greater Manchester, England