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Career Challenges: starting in Health Care Librarianship

05 February 2019   (1 Comments)
Posted by: Gus MacDonald
Career Challenges: starting in health care librarianship


This article is adapted from my previous blog post here:

When I first started my MA, I most definitely had “becoming an academic librarian” blinkers on. Academic and public libraries were all I had really had exposure to, and I knew public libraries were (and still are) under heavy financial pressures, so academic seemed like the way to go. I had also done my Graduate Traineeship in an academic library, so I had some practical experience to back up the theoretical knowledge I was about to gain from my degree.

However, during my MA, I was exposed to lots of other different kinds of library work. One in particular had caught my attention: health librarianship. I had always had a lay interest in health – my mum is a community midwife with the NHS, so it was hard to escape health-related chat growing up! The only problem was, I did not have any real experience of the sector. This did make me feel a bit panicked, particularly as many of the job adverts I was seeing were asking for previous experience in health. I decided to tackle this deficit in two different ways: theoretical and practical.

My theoretical approach was to, wherever possible, tailor my assignments so that they gave me an opportunity to learn more about health librarianship. For example, I wrote a briefing paper suggesting how to improve a clinical librarianship service, which was where I first encountered policies and frameworks which are now important to my working life, such as the Library Quality Assurance Framework. I also wrote my dissertation about NICE Evidence Search and the associated Student Champion Scheme. This not only introduced me to a resource that I now use regularly at work, but also helped me to secure my job in the first place – as part of my interview, I was asked to give a presentation on an online health resource!

It is obviously easier to study health in a theoretical way as a full-time student, but it can still be done if you are in work. For example, during the first few weeks of my job, I was studying along with a MOOC called ‘The NHS Explained’. This was developed by the King’s Fund and hosted on the FutureLearn platform, where I have also studied courses on GDPR, people management skills, and job interviews. Because you can study along in your own time, MOOCs like this are a great way to dip your toes into another sector without having to commit to anything.

Further, if you are able to attend conferences, they are another great place to try something new without any pressure. As a student, I was lucky enough to win a place to attend the 2018 CILIP Conference. There I went to sessions on things I knew I would definitely be relevant to my career goals – such as evidence-based practice, health literacy, and knowledge management – but also things that I just wanted to know a bit more about, such as prison libraries. On this occasion I didn’t leave the session wanting to change sectors, but you never know – and if you are looking for a change, conferences are full of networking opportunities to try and make contacts in your desired area!

My practical method of gaining experience in health was to participate in the New Library Professionals’ Network job shadowing scheme – details available here. I shadowed the lovely Hannah, who is the Patient Information Librarian at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust. Hannah helped me to understand how concepts I had learned about in the abstract, such as health literacy, can be translated into everyday working practice. I also spent some time with Stuart, the library services manager, and members of the Clinical Librarian team, which meant I gained a well-rounded picture of what it is really like to work for the NHS.

I have to say that I was definitely lucky to have wanted to change sectors when I did. As a full-time student, I had a level of flexibility that is harder to have as a full-time employee. I was able to mould my qualification to my new-found interests, and I also had some spare time to pursue opportunities such as job shadowing. For this reason, I would definitely recommend to current and prospective students that they spend some time during their degrees thinking about where their career interests might lie.

Exploring the possibilities available in other sectors doesn’t have to be expensive or massively time-consuming – it can be as simple as contacting someone who has an interesting job and asking them if they wouldn’t mind having a chat with you. Future Library and Information Professionals Network have a ‘Contact an LIS Graduate’ scheme here. If you have a bit more time, I can personally recommend taking part in the NLPN job shadowing scheme. Participating in one of these schemes might spark a real interest in moving sectors, or it might confirm that you are happy in the one you are already in. Either way, you will have learned something valuable!

Kathryn Aylward's article is the first in a series of personal career stories. We asked library and information professionals around the country to share their stories of how they've addressed a particular challenge in their professional lives.

We have refreshed CILIP’s careers content to better reflect the challenges we face, whether it be starting out, rejoining the workforce, looking out for new opportunities or stepping up into leadership roles.

If you're not a CILIP member yet, now is a great time to join. Your membership gives you access to a broad range of career enhancing resources including online short courses, webinars, discounted events and chartership.



Contributor: Kathryn Aylward
Published: 5 February 2019




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Douglas Knock says...
Posted 20 February 2019
Great article. I would also add joining CILIP's Health Libraries Group as an absolute must for anyone wanting to move into the sector - lots of support for CPD including training courses and the biennial conference.

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