HILJClub: Global responses of health science librarians to the COVID-19 (Corona virus) pandemic: a desktop analysis.

The paper for discussion is Yuvaraj, M (2020) Global responses of health science librarians to the COVID-19 (Corona virus) pandemic: a desktop analysis, Health Information and Libraries Journal, 37(4), pp. 337-342. https://doi.org/10.1111/hir.12321

This desktop analysis is quite limited, especially as it only considers the oldest library association’s websites. I am sure many contributions have been overlooked as it’s a very surface level approach. The professional associations rarely capture the real experiences on the ground. The article feels a little out of date now and I suppose this is the nature of the Covid world we are living in now. Things change so fast! It was published before the Covid-19 vaccine rollout and it obviously does not discuss the impact this has had on health libraries. Masks are still mandatory for us and the majority of our meetings and training is still being delivered socially distanced or remotely. We are still in this pandemic and it’s hard to consider “the next pandemic” but I would like to think this experience had made us a lot more flexible and adaptable.

I was still working in HE in March 2020 and the one thing that the pandemic emphasised was the lack of regulation in the publishing and eResources marketplace. Due to copyright law, libraries cannot just purchase eBooks in the way individuals can and the closure of physical libraries simply highlighted the dodgy publishing practices that make electronic books unaffordable, unsustainable and inaccessible to libraries. See the academic eBook investigation for more on this. I read an interesting piece in TIME by Kahle who is the founder of the Internet Archive. They paint a grim picture of the current book marketplace and the impact this is having on libraries and it got me thinking about health libraries too. What is a library in the post-Covid, online world?

Perhaps the healthcare library will fully move away from a physical, operational library service i.e. print books, study spaces etc. and we can prepare for the next pandemic my making sure our services are flexible and deliverable online (if the publishers play nice that is). Some staff had extra time for research during the first wave; they wanted to read papers and do the work they ordinarily didn’t have the time to do. So my colleagues were really busy during lockdown with literature searches and article requests.

All tight-fitting face masks need to be tested before they are used by staff in healthcare and the man power to deliver this testing just isn’t there so members of our library team were redeployed into fit testing a few days a week. On the one hand, this is important work and it’s fantastic that we are able to support the Trust and keep healthcare workers safe. On the other, it’s a shame that library staff were taken away from their work, which of course, we believe to be very important too. This feeds into the bigger issue on the perception of libraries generally. The library building was closed so perhaps it was assumed staff had no work to do? Of course, this wasn’t true.

The use of online chat workspaces such as Teams has made our training more accessible. We can be flexible around staff needs and they do not need to spend additional time getting to an in-person training session. Giving people a choice in how they want to attend a session is a good thing and is something we will continue to do, even when social distancing is no longer required. However, I have found the majority of people want face-to-face support. You can get so much more from a meeting or training session when you are in the room with people. Likewise with the physical library space, some people just prefer to read print books and study or relax in the library space and I think they should have the option.

The article only briefly touches upon disinformation and fake news relating to Covid and notes that “the role of academic health librarians now includes controlling fake information and providing authentic, updated information to health workers and the public”. Our team have been providing up-to-date health information way before the pandemic so the skills were already in place to help navigate the deluge of good and bad Coronavirus research. We can always do more though; training people how to spot bad research and fake news, helping the public navigate confusing health information, making information easier to understand and using our skills to help people develop digital literacy skills.

What does it mean for a health librarian to be a health activist? I like to think of myself as a health activist; I try to keep myself informed, I support evidence-based practice in healthcare, I promote high-quality learning resources at every opportunity, I am training to be a health and wellbeing champion in my Trust, I do my bit to try to keep healthy and I share information with my friends, family and social media network. But the current climate of disinformation and nastiness on social media can make it quite difficult to be an online health activist. The dismissal and distrust of expert opinion has come to the fore during the pandemic and it’s a little bit terrifying.

I think health activism falls under the bigger umbrella of social justice. As noted by Elaine Russo Martin, “medical librarianship is not only an information science, but a human science. It is the search, retrieval, evaluation, and application of information to meet human needs to help health professionals, students, and patients make informed decisions about their health.” It is our responsibility to provide access to accurate, trusted information as well as the tools and skills to critically evaluate that information in ways that promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. By doing this, we are all being health activists.

This was a really interesting article and I think it would be beneficial for library teams to reflect on their covid response and use it as a opportunity to reconsider their goals and priorities, and also give themselves a very large pat on the back ❤

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