I started working in NHS libraries in 1997 as a volunteer at The Christie Hospital library following a placement from Manchester Metropolitan University. What inspired me to volunteer at The Christie was a talk given to students about a typical day in an NHS library by Nigel Rainford, a “Systems Librarian” who did searches for medical and nursing staff. Nigel eventually moved on to public libraries and I was fortunate to get the chance to be the full time Systems Librarian at The Christie in February 1999. A lot has changed since then.
Change can be driven by a wide range of factors, an easy example that springs to mind is technological change. Technological change can creep in incrementally as each move forward makes life easier and more efficient. Back in 1999 we were spending hours photocopying “tables of contents” of journals like The Journal of Biological Chemistry or “JBC” as our scientists called it. I always thought one of the reasons it had the most citations is because it published so many articles ………………… the tables of contents (TOCs) were huge. One of my first “innovations” was getting our researchers to move over to “eTOCs” that arrived by email …… this will never catch on I recall someone saying at a meeting.
Another perennial delight was the annual Medline reload that came on 18+ CD ROMs from either Silver Platter or OVID. Each one was loaded onto our “stack” or “tower” and then the technical bit involved changing some script in the .ini files. Very scary. Somehow it worked and the results were amazing, instant results on your personal computer. Still, researchers had to come to the library to request a search and results were printed out. Tim Berners-Lee changed all that. We now had “Silverlinker” and a route to an internet version of the article or abstract at least.
Working at The Christie in the late 1990s and early 2000s was interesting as all us Christie alumni will tell you, we were slightly different from a “District General Hospital” …. we were not quite the same as most NHS hospitals, we were academic, we were a charity, third sector, stand alone. Ok I will say it, we were special or at least specialist.
Change can also be driven by people. My view of the last 24 years working as an NHS librarian is that we are definitely “Healthier together”. Yes, technology is a great facilitator of change but ultimately the biggest changes are delivered by people: people who bring a vision to what is possible and get the buy in from the crowd. People who then oversee that change and support those who need it most and encourage those who embrace it.
Back in 1997, across Greater Manchester and the other hospitals covered by the Manchester Deanery we were part of NORWESLA. We had a Union List of Journals; hand crafted by Graham Titley in Rochdale, a great collaboration that helped librarians share resources and reduced the need to go to more expensive sources such as The BMA or British Library.
We also had a good sprinkling of organisations that were eventually merged in the forming of new NHS Trusts. Withington Hospital and Wythenshawe Hospital became South Manchester University Hospitals or SMUHT: soon changed to UHSM, a cleaner acronym.
As we have come together across Manchester and then the North West, and ultimately the north we have transitioned from NORWESLA to LIHNN and now to Health Education North region. As each coming together created a stronger network the community has expanded and the technology has enabled better collaborative working.
When Health Care Libraries Unit brokered the “Ovid 9” deal, soon expanded to the “Ovid 12” it inspired more consortia and collaborations between trusts. We created a Medline Complete Consortium that was trust led and funded based on the ethos of we can get better value if we act together.
A major piece of change was a move that for librarians in Greater Manchester started as ADITUS. In 2001, ADITUS was a portal that delivered bibliographic databases and some full text journals. If this sounds familiar now that is because it preceded the national core content project that gave us Dialog Datastar access to databases and via The National Library for Health and NICE information Services became HDAS and National Core-Content.
In my view, I would say the north and East of England have led on content-based collaborations. Working together we now have a national set of core resources that includes BMJ Best Practice and the possibility of a national Oxford Handbooks consortia is close at hand.
In 2008 my career took a turn to finance and I became an Education Business Manager. I was managing a team of administrators who dealt with invoices from providers, such as higher education partners running CPD courses. I was also managing a portfolio of education services including the library and education centre. I worked in this role from 2008 to 2014 when I returned as a library manager to what is now called Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust.
Working in education finance I got see how our education colleagues saw the role of the library and librarians. I saw how the wider Quality Assurance mechanisms projected the importance of library and knowledge services in both the Learning Development Agreement (LDA) and GMC survey for doctors in training. I got to understand how the various tariffs were calculated and implemented for medical students, nurses, and trainee doctors. The education tariffs are refined over time with more sophistication, better data, and a move towards following the activity and away from block contracts. Watch this space.
Returning to NHS libraries in 2014 most of the changes described in this article had become the landscape we work in today. There is still room across our region for “special”. Our hospitals are filled with regional, national and international specialists in medicine, nursing, and allied health professions.
They are also employing a special group of people who work in libraries. We have a job where we go to work to help our colleagues, we get to source answers, and we get to show them how to get those answers for themselves. We provide a safe learning environment away from the clinic.
“Healthier together” is our Greater Manchester strategy to provide the best care across our footprint, how working together can help eliminate inequalities and promote better outcomes. In my 24 years working in Greater Manchester as a librarian my reflection on our successes is that we are healthier together and that will benefit the whole workforce.
Head of Library Services
Manchester University NHS FT