#GLTU15 – Gartnavel Hospital Libraries: anatomy of a visit

18 Jun

Thanks to Christine Glasgow (@glasg0wg1rl) for her report of this fascinating visit.

Gartnavel General Library awaits its visitors

Gartnavel General Library awaits its visitors

Yes, library tweeters, I couldn’t resist a cheesy medical pun to lead us into a description of the excellent GLTU visit to the libraries at Gartnavel which took place on Tuesday the 28th April 2015. I had thought about using “a book a day keeps the doctor away”, but as you’ll soon discover, thanks to the excellent services provided by Shona McQuistan and her colleagues, it doesn’t keep them away—it draws them to the library! And not just doctors, but nurses, students, child play experts, community health visitors, canteen staff and numerous other stakeholders use these libraries on a regular basis. On the 28th April, the user group widened further to include 10 or so librarians from a variety of sectors, all eager to learn more about health libraries with #GLTU15.

This was my first library tweet-up and, having never visited a health library before, I really had no idea what to expect. I naively assumed that health librarians simply “help doctors with a bit of research”, but as I was soon to discover, this is only one aspect of the job (and a ‘bit’ of research is putting it mildly!). I also expected to get some interesting cross-sectoral chat with my peers, but again I underestimated how valuable this would be. So, about to have my teeny-weeny preconceptions blown away, I settled into the comfy chairs at Gartnavel General Hospital library, where Shona our host gave us a warm welcome and a CILIPS goody-bag. (Cheers, CILIPS!)

Shona shows us the library

Shona shows us the library

Shona began by explaining the structure of NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Library Network and her role within that as Library Hub Manager (West). Shona manages (what was) the library at the Western Infirmary as well as the library at Gartnavel General, and during the afternoon we visited 3 other information services on the hospital campus, including those at the Beatson, the Public Health Resource Unit and Gartnavel Royal. It was clear from the outset that Shona and her staff have a real passion for their work and that the libraries are a huge part of the hospital community. The library at Gartnavel General in particular has a very warm, welcoming feel, similar to a public library, and many of us were surprised to see a large selection of fiction books on display, alongside popular self-help and fitness titles and language learning and literacy materials as well as the expected medical textbooks. Shona then explained that due to the shift patterns worked by many hospital staff, they may struggle to find time to visit their local public library, whereas the hospital library is right on their doorstep. The library at Gartnavel General is a neutral area where staff can get information on a variety of personal development areas such as quitting smoking or coping with change at work. Shona and her staff also run a literacy and numeracy project as well as IT classes for staff who did not have the opportunity to gain these skills at school. This includes outreach to staff in other locations, such as the laundries in Hillington, and staff are encouraged to take part in the Reading Agency’s “Six Book Challenge”. Many staff have already taken part and gained a sense of achievement from receiving their Challenge certificates. To promote this, the libraries have also held author visits (Christopher Brookmyre and Janice Galloway to name a couple). As you can imagine, this totally confounded my narrow preconceptions of what a health librarian did, and goes to illustrate the importance of the library service to the whole hospital community.

Having said that, assisting medical professionals with their research is obviously a major part of the work of a health librarian, and Shona’s sense of job satisfaction was clear when she talked about the important contribution which the library staff make to patient care. The library at Gartnavel stocks a range of medical texts and we were shown how to understand the National Library of Medicine classification scheme which is used in the libraries. Shona gave us some examples of the type of enquiry she can receive (some were not for the faint hearted!) and explained how searches were divided into ‘levels’ – with a level 3 search taking maybe 5 days to a level 1 search lasting several months. The library staff also help students with their literature searches and this led into a mini-debate about the age-old issue of “how far should you go to help a customer?”

Gartnavel General Library

Gartnavel General Library

This was perhaps the part of the visit which I found most enjoyable and useful as we got to hear the views of librarians from different sectors, all at different stages in their career. Government, health, public, academic, music and college libraries were all represented and on the tweet-up were library assistants, job hunters and those in their first professional post, as well as library managers, subject librarians, retired (but very active!) professionals and even the Director of CILIPS! We all had a good natter about “how far is too far?” This seemed particularly relevant as we had just been talking about the classes which Shona and her staff run to help people to be more self-sufficient in their reading, writing, numeracy and IT skills. A few librarians from the academic sector spoke about their experiences with students expecting library staff to do their full literature searches for them. This led back to our discussion on librarians as teachers and the important fact that we are there to teach people information seeking skills and to provide them with the resources they need in order to help themselves, not to do their work for them. This is certainly a golden rule which I endeavour to adhere to in my own working practice.

Beatson Library

Beatson Library

The next stop on our tour was the library at the Beatson, the West of Scotland’s specialist cancer care centre. This library is closed to the public and is for academic and research purposes. The texts available are obviously mainly concerned with the treatment of cancer in its various forms, and doctors at the Beatson carry out important research in this area. The librarians here are therefore specialists in this subject area, and the work they do greatly contributes to patient care. At this stage in the visit, we collected some leaflets about the various online information services provided to NHSGGC staff. These are all collated under a single online interface called QUEST and include document delivery, ILLs, current awareness services and literature searches. Part of these services is the ‘Tools and Measures’ service. I found it interesting to learn that diagnostic tools and frameworks may be copyrighted, and this service investigates whether a tool is under copyright or not so that medical professionals may use it, or purchase a licence if necessary.

Public Health Resource Unit

Public Health Resource Unit

After the Beatson, we visited the Public Health Resource Unit which is also based on the Gartnavel campus. This is the NHSGGC’s information service for all matters related to public health, from smoking cessation campaigns to what would happen in the case of a citywide swine flu epidemic! Staff liaise with emergency services and provide a free batch ordering service for public health related leaflets, such as those found in your local GP’s surgery. It was very interesting to hear about an information service which plays a part in all of our lives even though we may not be aware of it, and it made me wonder how many other unsung information heroes there are across the nation?

The final stop on our tour was the library at Gartnavel Royal Hospital, a mental health hospital which provides inpatient care for the west side of Glasgow. The library is open to all staff but has a more academic library feel than that of Gartnavel General. The vast majority of the resources available deal with the subject of mental health and, once again, library staff become like academic subject librarians as over time they build up specialist knowledge in this area. Some library staff are currently undertaking a digital preservation project, to safeguard the hospital’s historical collections for future generations. Once again, this kind of activity is not something I had imagined to be part of the role of a health librarian.

At the end of the visit, I think it is safe to say that all of us on the tour were impressed by the variety of tasks which make up the job of a health librarian. Indeed, Shona and her staff seem to be fulfilling the role of public and academic librarian at the same time, not to mention the role of subject and special collections librarian witnessed in the three smaller information services. Their depth of knowledge, experience and unrelenting passion for their work is inspirational to see, as is their resilience to the changes currently taking place at NHSGCC (the Western Infirmary transferred to the new South Glasgow hospitals at the end of May 2015). From a personal point of view, I was encouraged to learn that, although some of our skill sets may vary, the values which underpin the work of a health librarian and a public librarian are really no different. Sector aside, every librarian there has a heart for seeing their service users gain access to the information, skills and resources they need to flourish and to help others flourish in their turn. I believe that libraries are places of healing, just as hospitals are, and thanks to Shona McQuistan, her staff and my fellow Glasgow Library Tweeters, this particular librarian is feeling encouraged to continue prescribing books and other online resources to her ‘patients’ for the foreseeable future.

Thanks to Christine for that comprehensive and entertaining account. An added bonus of the visit was strolling between libraries and viewing Gartnavel’s grounds – and, for four of us, a delicious meal afterwards at Sisters’ Restaurant in Jordanhill. Ideas for #GLTU16 welcome!


2 Responses to “#GLTU15 – Gartnavel Hospital Libraries: anatomy of a visit”

  1. Anabel Marsh June 18, 2015 at 10:04 am #

    Reblogged this on 23 Librarians – and counting! and commented:

    Not a 23 Librarians piece as such, but lots of information for those of you interested in health librarianship.


  2. bookmarkpeople June 18, 2015 at 10:12 am #

    Good stuff… “the importance of the library service to the whole hospital community” it’s a model for many other communities. https://bookmarkpeople.wordpress.com/?s=hospital

    Liked by 1 person

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