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RCN Lit Search

08 November 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Sharon Bacon

RCN Library

A fresh look at literature searching at the Royal College of Nursing

Julie Key and Mandy Watson outline how the Royal College of Nursing Library and Archives Service reviewed and updated its literature search service for staff and members. IN 2016 the RCN Literature Search Team undertook a significant and far-reaching review of all aspects of its literature search offer. The long-standing service dates back over 20 years and is maintained by two part-time Literature Search Specialists. This review was the first to be undertaken in over a decade.

Our current service

The Royal College of Nursing is the largest professional association and union for nursing staff in the world with more than 435,000 members. Our mediated literature search service is offered to staff and full members (qualified nurses, health care assistants, assistant practitioners and retired members). The service is not offered to student members as they have access to support where they are studying, or to other health professionals or members of the public.

Much has changed over 20 years and consequently we needed to consider whether the service was still relevant. Nurse training had altered its focus from ward-based education to university-led training in order to meet the needs of a graduate-entry profession. Societal changes have led to a more IT literate population and self-service culture, with users accessing databases and resources online and carrying out their own searches. Is our service therefore still relevant for today’s nurses?

Scope of the review

The service covers the UK with libraries in Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff managed locally by their own librarians. It was vital to liaise and inform our UK-wide Library and Archive Service colleagues though the review would be focused upon the needs of our England-based members. The review would also evaluate the needs of RCN staff who use our services.

A further aim was to investigate how we could extend and enhance our services. This would need to be managed within current budgetary and staffing constraints; while continuing to be a free service as part of members’ subscriptions. We decided to adopt a multi-pronged approach to capture users’ views.

Review of the literature

Early in 2016, a review of the literature using Library and Information Science Abstracts (Lisa) was carried out. This produced some encouraging articles on the value of a mediated service and how a literature search service can complement information literacy services.1, 2 “Both services are valued by users who see them as complementary methods of obtaining information.”3

Benchmarking the service

How do librarians define a quality literature search service? We needed to find out find out how our service compared with other similar healthcare organisations. To answer these questions and benchmark our service, a Jisc ­online survey was set up to which 26 ­librarians ­responded. We also visited or ­interviewed colleagues from 10 ­healthcare libraries and informally ­approached members of the South ­London Literature Searching Group.

It was reassuring to find that our literature search service was comparable with other healthcare libraries. Most offered a free service to users and provided a service to full members only, with advice and guidance provided for student members. Our current service demonstrated many of the quality features identified, including relevancy of results and timeliness of response. Most libraries surveyed offered lists of references as our current service does; however 48 per cent additionally offered scoping reviews and 28 per cent offered systematic reviews. These more extensive services are areas we will consider offering in the future.

Future direction of the RCN

RCN policies were examined to ensure the service was meeting the aims and direction of the organisation. The literature search service supports the strong focus on evidence-based practice recognised as essential for the nursing profession, as identified in the RCN’s Strategic Plan 2013-18. It also assists with the promotion of self-service as prioritised by RCN Council.

Discovering our users’ views

We held a focus group and carried out telephone interviews with staff and members, and analysed the SmartSurvey online questionnaire which is sent out with search results.

Focus group and interviews

RCN research colleagues provided invaluable insight into undertaking focus groups and advised against a members’ focus group as, unlike a university, we lack a “captive audience”. It was decided therefore to concentrate on telephone interviews and all members who had received searches ­between May and July 2016 were invited to a phone interview. The response rate was low but still provided a useful insight into how our members view the service.

Colleagues from organisational development provided advice on composing questions, facilitation and scribing for the staff focus group. We contacted staff who had used our service in the last 18 months. Twelve staff attended the focus group and a subsequent eight agreed to be interviewed. A range of staff took part including those from our nursing and legal departments, as well as staff who work in our regions. Staff outlined their own experiences of the service and suggested ways to improve the offer.

SmartSurvey analysis

The analysis of our SmartSurvey for the last 18 months provided 70 responses and useful quantitative data on satisfaction rates, purpose of request, and intended use of results. It also provided comments on the service: “This service is very much appreciated to a busy clinician, and I want to thank you for supporting front-line nurses.”

What did we discover?

The survey analysis showed that our current service is popular with users: “A complicated and specialised topic so am very grateful for your input.” Over 80 per cent of users were completely or very satisfied with their results. There were also many repeat users with 22 per cent of respondents indicating they had used us before. We did discover that the use of the service was geographically uneven; and staff and members commented on the lack of promotion of the service and recommended it be better publicised. Staff indicated that additional services such as current awareness would be useful.

The findings showed a need to provide and promote self-service options for those members and staff who wished to carry out their own searches alongside a need to retain the option of a mediated search service for those struggling to find relevant resources.

What we did

To support users wishing to undertake their own searches we overhauled our webpages for our literature search service which now provides sections for each user – student, member, rep and the public. All sections include guidance on resources and how to search for materials. Liaising with information literacy colleagues, further resources are being developed to support users’ carrying out their own searches, including a video on formulating search strategies.

new website

A new webpage to promote current awareness has been launched. “Keeping Up To Date” aims to demonstrate the value of ongoing information seeking. The webpage includes details of current awareness bul­letins, new library resources and information on how to set up database alerts.

One unexpected benefit of the review was that it raised the profile of the two Literature Search Specialists amongst library ­colleagues and RCN staff. ­Recommendations of the review were presented to colleagues at the library away day. It was essential to liaise with our library colleagues in E-Systems on the design of the webpages. We received ­advice on user engagement from our customer service colleagues. The literature search review also contributed to the evidence needed to achieve the library’s Customer Service Excellence accreditation this summer.

What next?

In 2018 we will focus on publicity and promotion to increase awareness of the service, especially amongst groups of RCN members and staff where uptake is lowest. We will rerun the staff focus group and ­interviews, and investigate additional ways of engaging with our nurse members in ­order to gather their feedback. The service will be included within the library and archives marketing strategy, ensuring it continues to be promoted effectively to all our members and staff.

We are very much looking forward to the future and an ever developing service in response to our users’ needs.

We would like to thank the healthcare ­librarians and our staff and members for their contributions to our literature search service review.


1 Kelham, C. “Health care librarians and information literacy: an investigation”. Health Information and Libraries Journal, 2014, 31, pp. 235-8. 2 Addison, J., Glover, S., & Thornton, C. “The impact of information skills training on independent -literature searching activity and requests for -mediated -literature searches.” Health Information and Libraries Journal, 2010, 27, pp. 191-7. 3 Brettle, A., Hulme, C., & Ormandy, P. 2007a. -“Effectiveness of information skills training and mediated searching: qualitative results from the EMPIRIC project.” Health Information and Libraries Journal, 2007, 24, pp. 24-33. 4 Brettle, A., Hulme, C., & Ormandy, P. 2007b.-“Effectiveness of information skills training and mediated searching: quantitative results from the EMPIRIC project.” Health Information and Libraries Journal, 23, pp. 239-47.

Published: 8 November 2017

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