As someone who has been in NW health libraries even longer than David, I’ve seen a lot of changes over the past 20+ years. In the years pre-HCLU (when we were still excited to receive our new Medline CD updates to use on our single computer) we had a Cheshire and Mersey Libraries Group. Online resources were unheard of in NHS libraries and we requested and supplied photocopied articles to each other by post. If we received them within a week, we thought we were doing well.

Even across Cheshire and Mersey the number of (print) journals was limited and the British Library was used frequently – again completing handwritten requests to put in the post. We didn’t think we would one day have instant access to thousands of titles – and then complain that the internet was too slow.

The arrival of David and Team with the formation of the Health Care Libraries Unit (HCLU) expanded our horizons and we found ourselves meeting and working with colleagues in Cumbria & Lancashire and Greater Manchester, and more recently across the whole North area. Wider collaboration has become the norm.

The benefits of having HCLU soon became apparent. We had professional support, training opportunities, extra online resources and funding through bids. The introduction of an accreditation scheme helped give direction, added more professionalism and also had the added bonus of making Trust Board members take more interest in the library.

There have been very obvious changes during my years in an NHS library – the most obvious being the increase in online resources and the instant access to information. I think one of the main changes has been in attitude. Instead of being curators of resources who react to customer requests, we’ve shifted our focus to promoting how integral we are to the organisation’s care of patients, service delivery and efficiencies. Campaigns like A Million Decisions and the current Gift of Time have helped us evidence the impact we can have as professionals with the expertise to make a difference.

We’ve seen a move towards personalised services, providing resources and services individuals want (or don’t even know they want!) how, when and where suits them. Our Clinical librarian service has been able to work closely with departments to understand their information needs and proactively support their patient care.

The past year has provided challenges but we’ve been able to adapt and continue providing services, particularly important as we received those early requests for information on coronavirus. As we’ve just entered our second period of working from home we’re confident we can still provide an excellent service. Offering virtual information training is working well and library staff have actually been able to attend more training and events to keep up to date and develop their own practice.

Change is continuous. We can expect more moves to collaborative working, technological advances and the utilisation of AI tools. However, one thing doesn’t change and that is that our objective to support the delivery of services to improve the health and wellbeing of our population in the most efficient and effective way possible – and our role is essential in achieving that aim.

Suzanne Ford
Head of Library and Knowledge Services
St Helens & Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust