Young and old using the Internet together

This section contains information about the role of libraries and librarians in providing health information. Services include Health, Public, School, Further Education and Higher Education.

Topics covered include:

  • Standards and guidance for services
  • Quality assurance and evaluation of impact
  • Publications and tools
  • Case studies and presentations from workshops
  • Networks and organisations
  • Links to relevant websites


Given the finite resources of the NHS, policy makers and those who commission services have started to look wider at other sectors that can support the provision of high quality health information, including libraries. The Department of Health commissioned Heath Link to conduct a feasibility study on the role of public libraries in providing information for patient choice. The study concluded that ‘there is a clear synergy between the objectives of the health and library sectors, which could be exploited’. i The study led to a pilot of local partnerships between libraries and the NHS and the publication of the Department of Health report ‘Choice matters, working with libraries’. The report set out how libraries would deliver service to support patient choice, particularly through access to IT. ii

In 2008 the University of Salford commissioned research to explore whether NHS libraries have a role in providing information to the public.iiiThe researchers explored the premise that providing information to the public is a ‘logical next step’ for NHS libraries. The report explores the views of stakeholders as to whether NHS libraries could, or should, provide this kind of information and if so what kind of services could be offered. The report concludes that a clear role for NHS libraries needs to be established; that the provision of patient information is seen as a positive step by the majority but that money, resources and training are vital to ensure effective services.

The benefits of the library

Librarian working on a laptop

Libraries also have the benefit of being able to offer a wide range of information, not just that ‘prescribed’ by health professionals and as result they can offer less biased information

Providing information is a core function of libraries and health librarians are skilled in accessing, using and to a degree understanding health care information.  Many NHS Trusts already provide access to their libraries for patients and some provide dedicated patient health information libraries, often based on site in hospitals.

In whatever sector, accessing health information through libraries has a number of important advantages as far as patients and the public are concerned.  Libraries are outside usual healthcare settings which makes for a neutral, and for many, familiar environment.  Libraries also have the benefit of being able to offer a wide range of information, not just that ‘prescribed’ by health professionals and as result they can offer less biased information. Libraries are community-based and have a good knowledge of local services, organisations and people that a national organisation would find hard to match. Finally, the public has free access to both information technology and information seeking expertise.

Libraries across the UK are involved in innovative consumer health information projects, many of them with partners both inside and outside the NHS. SHALL CHI Group is currently collating case studies of good practice from NHS Libraries. There are many examples of Books on Prescription Schemes across the UK, each with their own websites and book lists. The Society of Chief Librarians is due to launch the National Public Library Health Offer (PLHO) in Spring 2013, including an agreed core Books on Prescription (BoP) reading list and local partnership development with Commissioners and Health and Well Being Boards.


i Information and Support for Patient Choice and the Public Library Service. A feasibility study. Health Link 2005

ii Choice Matters: Working with Libraries Department of Health 2008

iii Brettle A, Ormandy P. Do NHS Libraries have a role in providing information to patients, carers and the public? Institute for Health and Social Care Research Report 2008, University of Salford.

Top Tips  

  1. Thumbs-upIf you are new to delivering patient information, read up on the experiences of others who have carved this path before you and talk to them to learn from their experiences.
  2. Consult with your users, or potential users regarding their information needs, preferred formats and style of service delivery to ensure you are meeting their needs.
  3. Develop links with others who deliver a similar service to such as health promotion agencies, public libraries and healthy living centres.
  4. Be clear about what you can and cannot do as a service. For example, make it clear to your users that you cannot provide a diagnosis or advice on which treatments to follow, but you can provide information to help them have an informed conversation with their clinician.
  5. Consider providing a disclaimer to clarify your role and encourage users to seek medical advice from their doctor or nurse where appropriate.
Acknowledgement: Sarah Greening, NHS West Midlands and Sarah Thompson, NHS Direct
Page last updated: 14/02/13