Capturing knowledge: a purposeful role for librarians

by Aoife Lawton, National Health Service Librarian at Health Service Executive
@aalawton on Twitter

In June 2017 I welcomed over 400 health library & information professionals to Ireland to the Joint International Congress of Medical Librarianship and the European Association for Health Information Libraries. It was a great success. It was a week of learning, knowledge exchange and inspiration. As head of the International Programme Committee I was involved in putting the scientific programme together with a great team of librarians from all over the world. This meant I didn’t get to soak up as much of the content during the week as I’d have liked to, but that is really the only drawback of being one of the organisers. The learning involved in conference planning was immense and having the opportunity to work mainly using virtual communication with like-minded professionals who I will likely never meet in person, was a real pleasure.

A standout of the conference for me was a continuing professional development workshop I attended on “Embedding knowledge in healthcare transformation: creating opportunities to inform strategic change”, led by Alison Turner. It was an empowering workshop which paved the way for librarians and knowledge specialists to shape new roles and services to embed knowledge in strategic decision making. Evidence summaries and evidence synthesis are common services delivered by health science librarians, typically to inform patient care decisions. This workshop concentrated on performing specialist knowledge services to enable decision making at another layer – at the managerial and strategic levels of organisations.

The workshop was attended by librarians and managers of library services from many different continents and countries, including Australia, Ireland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Finland and Canada. We shared our varied experiences of how we strive to embed knowledge into healthcare. International exchanges of practice like this are a rare but valuable insight into progress in different areas of the world. From my point of view, it gave me a marker for practice in my organisation and a benchmark to work towards. Alison gave us tools for what she calls ‘Knowledge Capture’. This is something she has been carrying out in the UK with the NHS (National Health Service) for many years. She explained it as working as a knowledge specialist with multidiscplinary healthcare teams. They may have a meeting or a workshop planned and Alison would join them and capture the knowledge exchanged during the meeting, as an independent, non-bias specialist. This sounded like a simple yet innovative way of librarians working as part of a healthcare team and adding real value. Alison explained it is not synonymous with minute taking, it goes much deeper that that. The librarian uses their information skills to organise, capture and deliver the key soundbites of information and deliver it back to the team in a comprehensive, standard template.

Back at work, just a few weeks later, an opportunity arose to try this out. A senior psychologist who works also as a knowledge broker in my organisation contacted me to see if a librarian was available as a co-facilitator for a workshop she was running on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). Specifically she was looking for someone to capture the knowledge exchanged during the workshop. I didn’t hestitate to take up the offer. The purpose of the workshop was to aid the team to reach a common vision for the prevention of FASD in Ireland and an action plan for its realisation. At times I was a passive observer, particularly as conversations got heated, at other times I was an active participant. My main job was to ensure that the knowledge was captured and that it would aid decision making about the topic. I took photos, I introduced myself to everyone and as people worked in pairs, I aided the psychologist with the roundtable discussions. This is librarians stepping out of their comfort zones, stepping out of the confines of a physical library and getting embedded at the strategic decision making table, where value really is added. This is a new type of service and one that I intend introducing to the Irish healthcare system. It is a practical and innovative use of a health science librarians’ time and skills. I have always considered it a privilege to work in healthcare. What I find most rewarding is working with healthcare professionals – Doctors, nurses, allied health professionals. This type of knowledge capture service can boost motivation, productivity and align librarians more closely to the mission of the health service, namely to improve health.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

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