Look how far we’ve come. In the early 90’s, not too long before David Stewart’s arrival in the North-West, we remember using computers with DOS based operating systems and giant floppy disks! We had racks of printed Index Medicus. Working in a Postgraduate Medical Centre, we were told, ‘Don’t let Nurses in’.  If a Doctor was willing to pay for a ‘speedy’ literature search, we dialled into Datastar’s Radio-Suisse via a modem. The printed Index Medicus quickly became redundant as word spread about this new-fangled gadget from the Swiss!

Then, the Windows operating system kicked in with 3.5 floppy disk drives. CD-Rom technology quickly followed with individual CD-Rom players for swapping disks. We eagerly awaited the arrival of the monthly updated shiny Medline disks from Silverplatter. Then, the CD-Rom tower arrived. Wow! We could load all of the CD-Roms in one go! Our paper based document request service couldn’t keep up with the amount of articles being requested as a result of these new technologies busily checking various printed booklets we had for locating Journal titles. 

By the late 90’s, the Internet had revolutionised our service. The shift towards multidisciplinary library provision, as set out in the most recognised driver for change at that time, the Health Service Guideline HSG(97)47 meant that we could provide multi-professional  services.

It was around this time that a chap from down South called David Stewart came to the North-West in the role of ‘Regional Director of Health Libraries’. His role was to lead, better coordinate staff and services and drive forward the fast-paced changes that were on the horizon. The North‐west Health Care Libraries Unit (HCLU) was established. On first impressions, David had excellent comic timing, was very charismatic and everyone quickly grew to love him. Existing relationships within the North-West strengthened as a result. The ADITUS information portal was born.

New national NHS initiatives were introduced at pace, driving change and presenting opportunities for Library staff. The LINC Health Panel Accreditation scheme followed by LQAF were processes that facilitated positive change alerting management to our existence and allowing NHS Libraries to demonstrate value and impact. Advances in technology;  NeLH, ATHENS authentication, NHS England National Core Content, HDAS, centrally procured ‘point of care’ resources, Web 2.0 technologies, has meant our roles and service have continued to evolve. The Librarian became teacher, training end users to make use of the virtual library! Evidence‐based medicine (EBM) became the new buzzword for the NHS of the 21st century.  HCLU, through its Libraries Development funding and coordinating bids to HENW and later HEE literally furnished our Libraries in Liverpool with computers and other equipment allowing them to develop in an era of ever-shrinking budgets.

Knowledge for Healthcare launched in 2015 and stressed the importance of partnership working, sharing expertise and resources. In Liverpool, with the financial support provided by the Health Care Libraries Unit, we achieved a great deal.  Almost 10 years ago, Alder Hey, the Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital, Liverpool University Hospitals and the Liverpool Women’s Hospital implemented a shared LMS increasing access to resources for users and avoiding duplication. The introduction of RFID technology and self-issue kiosks, also funded by HCLU, offered our users more flexibility.

We embraced the concept of Knowledge Management, capturing it and sharing it in projects such as the Royal Liverpool Emergency Medicine Handbook App, Library staff being content editors. The customisation of clinicalskills.net enabled us to connect our workforce to corporate knowledge and best practice. 

Where does our future lie? Knowledge and the skills to help people to use it are now business critical.  Looking forward, this year remains challenging, adapting to new working practices during the pandemic utilising MS Teams and Zoom to meet the needs of our users.  Understanding where we can best add value around public and patient information and health and well-being initiatives are high on the agenda.

We have much to look forward to. NHS Library and Knowledge specialists give health professionals the gift of time.  Time to spend caring for their patients while being confident they have the most relevant, evidence-based information they need to plan and deliver that care. A new national Discovery Service - a gateway, enabling seamless and improved equity of access to high quality knowledge resources is on the horizon. The new Quality and Improvement Outcomes Framework focuses on outcomes and service improvement, ensuring that the quality of our services is defined by outcomes, not process.

Longer term, we would like to see a single sign up to Library & Knowledge Services in the NHS. Let us aim to provide services to all, from any Trust, any patient caring service. Hopefully, the new Discovery service will put an end to the postcode lottery that gives some users access to resources but not all. Education and training should be equitable for all users in our new caring NHS.  

David’s legacy…you have always inspired Librarians from the day you arrived and throughout your time with us. We are invincible, stronger together and making a difference due to all your efforts. A massive thank you David and on behalf of all of us in Liverpool, we’d like to wish you a long, happy healthy and fruitful retirement.

Angela Hall
Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Helen Blackburn
Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust