As one of the most beautiful spaces at Middlemore Hospital , designed for collaboration as well as respite from the stresses and challenges of working on the wards, the Counties Manukau Health Library is a popular space for all staff to work both together and alone. A place of congregation open to staff 24/7. Understanding that with our hospital cleaners being deployed to focus on priority clinical areas we could not guarantee the safety of the physical environment. We could not continue to promote the physical space as a place of coming together.
Moreover as a staff team , some with vulnerable partners and parents and others being the primary care givers for young children, it became clear very early on that we would not be able to maintain a continuous face to face library service on site. We needed to understand and respect the needs of our library staff and transition to a remote work environment.
For the foreseeable future we would offer a purely virtual library service.
In many ways we had anticipated this shift long before it become a matter of necessity. Our large collections of journals and clinical texts are digital. Our systems for access and management of our collections are cloud based. We have had in place for a number of years digital communication channels for both the request and delivery of services such as literature searching, evidence synthesis and interloan. We have long ago enabled remote access to collections, resources and services to all of our staff and also to our partners in primary and community care.
The demand for our services during the COVID-19 pandemic has never been higher. Responding with urgency to literature search requests from across the organisation has cast a spotlight on the expertise and dedication of our library team. Examples of the types of questions that my team of information specialists have responded to in the last couple of weeks include:
Redeployment of the health workforce in a crisis situation (ie pandemic, natural disaster, war, etc). Is there a framework for managing risks and capacity planning in these situations?
What are the postoperative risks or complications identified in patients with COVID-19 and how do we prevent/manage/treat this?
What is the evidence to guide the telephone and virtual clinic implementation for Manukau Super Clinic?
What is the clinical evidence around : Faecal-Oral Transmission of COVID ; Endoscopy and COVID-Colonoscopy; Laparoscopic Surgery and COVID ; Labour and birth care of Covid 19 women ; clinical practice / patient selection for invasive versus non-invasive ventilation and oxygen support therapies for Covid-19 etcetera etcetera
The evidence base to guide our searches and synthesis is growing exponentially day by day as clinicians and researchers globally grapple with new problems and seek solutions. Identification , interrogation and curation of the highest quality evidence sources and an ability to evaluate and synthesise the research base into a coherent and digestable form is critical.
Twice weekly we disseminate to staff a COVID-19 evidence update that includes the latest research and clinical guidance from a broad range of sources. Members of the library team are embedded in projects and initiatives to roll out new service responses and to create frameworks for monitoring and evaluating the impact of new initiatives.
The team have risen to the challenge to be important contributors to our organisational response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As much as we are aware of the urgency of the work that needs to be done we are also aware as a team of the need to stay healthy ourselves, physically and mentally. We meet twice each week via Zoom to touch base on work priorities and just as critically on how each of us is doing. Members of the team participate in wider organisational virtual get togethers such as Monday morning karakia and waiata, and virtual shared lunches and Friday afternoon drinks.
There is already a strong sense across the organisation that some of the ways of providing clinical care and support for patients and whanau both at the hospital and in the community will be forever changed by the dramatic shifts and changes forced upon us by COVID-19. I have a sense that the same may be true of the library service. The application of technology to both work remotely and collaborate across multiple teams and initiatives has proven to be highly effective and is certainly the way of the future.
In a recent essay the celebrated Indian author, Arundhati Roy states that
.."Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.
We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it."”
Arundhati Roy: ‘The pandemic is a portal’
Financial Times. April 4, 2020
I believe that in times such as these we must throw off the shackles of the past and embrace the opportunities to reimagine the value we can add and the contribution we can make to our organisations and communities. In the face of massive disruption and uncertainty the role of librarians as highly skilled and trusted knowledge navigators has never been more relevant or valued.
Library & Knowledge Services Manager
Counties Manukau Health
Peter is National Convenor of the LIANZA Health SIG.