RiLIES report highlights 6: Lessons from healthcare and medical librarians

Introduction

This is the sixth and final RiLIES1 highlight posting. It is based on the findings discussed in full RiLIES1 report. Here, we look at the LIS community that the RiLIES1 project found to be the most successful in linking research and practice: healthcare and medical librarians.

The broad aim of our first RiLIES project was to investigate the extent to which funded research projects in the domain of library and information science (LIS) influence practice in the UK. It focused particularly on identifying factors that increase or hinder the impact of research findings on those who deliver library and information services.

We highlight the research practice of healthcare/medical librarians as an example, and inspiration, to those working in other sectors.

In response to calls for library and information services to be developed on the basis of sound research evidence, the ideal is that “Research and practice, at least in theory, [should] enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship. Research should inform practice and contribute to the development of theory. Practice should benefit from research findings (particularly where those findings go towards improving the product or service provided by practitioners) and raise more questions for research” (Haddow & Klobas, 2004, pp. 29-30). This is important to both (a) current local service priorities, and (b) the future of the broader library and information services profession. Calls such as this often go unheeded – but this is not an issue that is unique to LIS: it has also been identified in other professions, such as teaching, social work, nursing, and management.

The power of context

The RiLIES1 project confirmed that community profile is a factor when it comes to how LIS research is accessed and consumed by different groups of practitioners. For example, those working in academic and healthcare/medical environments are often more aware than others of routes to access research results, and of the benefits that practitioners can gain through direct participation in research projects.

In particular, when we spoke to healthcare/medical librarians during the RiLIES1 project we learnt of their interests and strengths in evidence based practice. The influence of end-user community values is important here. Healthcare practitioners such as doctors and nurses have a need for evidence based research. They therefore value librarians who can access the research evidence for them. At the same time healthcare/medical librarians work in an environment where evidence based practice is routine.

Winners of the Practitioner Researcher Excellence Award

Award winning clinical librarians
L to R: Dr Ben Goldacre (presenter of the award), Anne Webb (award winner), Dr Alison Brettle (mentor to award winners), Debra Thornton (award winner), Rosalind McNally (award winner), and David Stewart (Director of Health Libraries North West)

Working in such an environment offers a further advantage: it can give healthcare/medical librarians easier access to research funding than is the case in other sectors. A good example is the recent prize-winning work of the North West Clinical Librarian Systematic Review and Evaluation Group acknowledged at the DREaM project concluding conferenceon 9th July 2012. This was employer-funded because a direct link from effective library and information services to improvements in the delivery of health services could be seen.

Other examples of funding sources were identified at our workshop with healthcare and medical librarians in Salford in June 2011. For example:

  • Occasionally those working in healthcare and medical librarianship have access research funds that are not explicitly earmarked for librarians. Research opportunities arise, for example, when health service colleagues need LIS research expertise to strengthen their work.
  • One workshop participant explained how her authority funds Masters study. This then generates research results in dissertation format, which in turn may be presented at conferences.

Workshop participants also mentioned cost-effective ways of staff training as related to research. For example, chartership candidates and project students reverse mentor senior colleagues by passing on news of research project results and developments in good practice.

Access to research: popular sources

Across all sectors the RiLIES1 project found that LIS practitioners frequently access sources other than published LIS research in support of their work. In the context of healthcare/medical librarianship, we confirmed that subject-specific journals are used extensively. For example, the British Medical Journal contains valuable practical case studies on activities conducted by healthcare and medical professionals in the course of their work, including literature searching and critical appraisal. Such work is useful for LIS practitioners to prompt new ideas, for example in the deployment of research methods. Equally, routine work such as the provision of current awareness services for end users increases familiarity amongst healthcare/medical librarians with subject-specific publications.

Other than mailing lists, sources popular with heathcare/medical librarians include:

As with the other LIS practitioners, face-to-face communication and conference attendance is greatly valued by healthcare/medical librarians. The “serendipity of networking with old and new contacts” is particularly appreciated, and works best away from the normal work environment.

Conclusions

Healthcare and medical librarians clearly benefit from working in a professional environment in which research engagement is highly valued. For example, end user expectations of professional practice amongst colleagues aligns well with healthcare/medical librarians’ enthusiasm for evidence based library and information practice, and healthcare/medical librarians are able to identify research support from less-obvious sources.

Librarians in other sectors may draw inspiration from this. For example: academic librarians may do more to promote their research expertise amongst teaching and research staff; school librarians could investigate their eligibility for research funding directed at the teaching profession.

A further lesson from the healthcare/medical librarians encountered during RiLIES study is the value of research mentoring, as illustrated in the prize-winning work of the North West Clinical Librarian Group, supported by academic Dr Alison Brettle.

Reference

Haddow, G. (2010). Communicating research to practice: The role of professional association publicationsLibrary and Information Research, 34(108), 33-44.

The RiLIES report; read the full study

To read further details of the study please see the full RiLIES1 report, freely available to download.

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About Peter Cruickshank
Lecturer in the School of Computing and a member of the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland. Interested in information systems, learning, politics, society, security and where they intersect. My attempts at rounding out my character include food, cinema, running, history and, together with my lovely wife, bringing up a cat and a couple of kids.

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