About a month ago, I attended a session for NHS librarians on synthesising and summarising information. You can read about my impressions of that event here. Today I attended the follow up, a session led by Anne Gray, Knowledge Officer at Arden and GEM CSU. Whereas the previous session focused on finding good quality evidence and information for clinicians (and summarising this information in a way that made it readable, accessible and clear to those requesting it), this session focused on using the same skills, but on behalf of a different user group: NHS management.
Anne began by giving us some background to this group of users and their needs, and highlighting several key characteristics (and the challenges this would present to librarians). This user group is:
- Time poor, and unable to spend a lot of time learning information searching techniques or finding their way around multiple platforms
- Sees evidence as important, but tend to be a bit ad hoc about using it
- Wants information that strikes a balance between standardised, ‘global’ evidence and local material
- May perceive library services as being geared towards clinical and research support, and thus may not see the library as a natural place to go when seeking expert support in finding information
These are some of the main challenges in finding information for this user group. Anne also mentioned that library staff can sometimes lack confidence in finding their way around the sort of material that this user group needs, material that is normally termed ‘grey literature’. To support library staff in finding this information, she has compiled a wiki hosting useful tools and resources specific to this type of literature, which can be found here. During the session, we had a chance to try out these resources (many of which were new to me) when searching for evidence on individual management-related topics, and I found them to be excellent sources.
After some time spent playing around with these resources, we moved on to creating a summary of the evidence we had found for our hypothetical management topics. Anne stressed that the manner in which this information was presented was critical in terms of both its eventual implementation, and as a demonstration of the value of library services and library staff expertise. Although Anne explained that reports, summaries or other presentations of this material to management could vary in terms of presentation style based on users’ preference and needs, there were some common elements, based on her own experiences, that were crucial. These were:
- An easily readable format
- An executive summary and/or bullet points, with key findings, should be at the beginning of the document, with detailed analysis and lists of sources to follow
- Purposes and outcomes of the findings should be clear, and easy to find in the document
- Links to references must work: don’t rely on downloads from databases to contain working links, and instead check each link yourself
- References can be organised according to type (e.g. all national guidelines grouped together, all government reports grouped together, all case studies grouped together and so on)
- Don’t lose sense of locality: place all findings in their local context, and make sure this relates back to the context of your own Trust and the topic of the report you are compiling
This is all fairly straightforward, although it would involve a lot of work by the librarians involved. The important things to keep in mind are the needs of this user group (particularly the demands on their time), the need for library staff to be present at moments where key decisions are being discussed and made (e.g. Trust board meetings), and the importance of presenting information in a manner and style in which it is most useful.
There was also some discussion at the end of the day about ways to support library staff in their provision of this kind of service. Ideas mentioned included a shared alerts/current awareness bulletin system, shared, editable websites or intranet sites where librarians from different Trusts could share knowledge and resources, training at annual, biannual or quarterly workshops, and things that librarians are already doing, such as requesting and sharing information via subject specific mailing lists.
This workshop offered me insight into the perspectives and needs of a user group with whom I don’t ordinarily have much contact. It also gave me a clearer understanding of the management structure of individual NHS Trusts (and who is involved in the decision making process), as well as hands-on experience of conducting searches on topics and using platforms that were far outside my comfort zone. It also gave me ideas about how to promote library services to a new user group, and reinforced the need (in all library sectors) to provide tailored, targeted support for individual users or user groups, even if the, even if the skills being utilised or taught are actually quite universal.