On 27th September 2021 we delivered a presentation about Bolton Health Information Partnership at the CILIP Health Libraries Group Virtual Study day. The day was focused around Users, Partnerships and Knowledge Mobilisation, just perfect for the topic of our session. I’m fairly confident that some of you in the North might be familiar with the work we’ve undertaken in Bolton and you can read more about it in this article which was published in Information Professional.

The session was initially a presentation about Bolton Health Information Partnership sharing the background, membership, examples of collaborative working and shared insights from members of the partnership on the benefits they feel being in such a partnership has both in their role and to their organisation. As part of the session we also shared some views from a similar partnership in Nottinghamshire. We thought it would be useful to do some analysis at the end of the session to see what other partnerships exist with a long term vision of creating a national map of partnerships. We used Padlet as a way of attendees interacting and answering some pre-set questions.

There is a lot of appetite for establishing health information partnerships nationally, and those which already exist vary in degree of formal or informal networks.  The Leeds Library and Information Services Partnership Group is long established with representatives from all NHS trusts, the city council, two universities and Health Education England. The Inspire group in Cornwall has been set up in partnership between Cornwall Health Library at Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust, local colleges, universities, council, and private libraries across the county. In Wales, Cardiff University has a service level agreement in place to support Cardiff and Vale University Health Board. NHS Scotland have a national initiative linking all sectors to promote health and wellbeing. University of the Highlands and Islands and NHS Highlands have developed a scheme to redistribute spent public library stock across NHS and social care centres exemplifying public health and social care working together.

Informal cross-sector partnerships with health libraries involve: training, sign posting to each other’s organisations, reading projects, wellbeing events such as Health Information Week and World Mental Health Day, plus presentations to groups such as HealthWatch.

These formal and informal partnerships are seen to have great value. We learn from other sectors by sharing knowledge and training, maximise resources, share spaces, and bring new approaches when we work collaboratively. We get a rich understanding of how other library sectors work and a deeper understanding of our local picture.
Identifying opportunities to work together and developing relationships and partnerships in our areas allows for more integrated services for our end users. Signposting to the work of other sectors enables local people to access information more easily- especially where there is a large geographical area to cover. Networks between NHS Trusts, colleges and universities strengthen ties with students as they move between one organisation and another.
Post Covid, it is felt that this collaborative working not only feeds into the greater good- it can safeguard the survival of some libraries. Formalising these networks could help us to deliver the objectives of our local integrated care systems.

The context of working alongside Covid 19 and following guidelines has been a barrier to building relationships. Digital meetings are not always as conducive to this as face-to-face, and maintaining momentum can be difficult when meetings are not in person. Likewise, different organisations have different rules- activity needs to be tailored to what each allow.
Lack of time, funding, and resources is also a challenge for many. Making connections, finding appropriate/interested partners and leaving the past behind to explore opportunities can be difficult. Small teams find networking a challenge due to staff changes, other commitments, or sickness and isolation due to Covid. For some the size of the area is a challenge due to the large number of libraries.
Useful next steps

Attendees agreed that a map of local partnerships would be very useful as linking the national with the local is challenging. This would allow us to build a national picture of activity, would aid formal exchanges, and bolster day to day ability to get the right answers from the right sources. A published resource such as this with contact details, and memorandum of understandings would aid future activity. Overall it was felt that speaking and working together is very much valued, and plans to set up a community of practice should be explored. As a result of the session many felt inspired to explore partnership working in their local area. There are lots of ideas, but concrete next steps are needed in order to overcome the challenges. Advice and guidance from local HEE leads would be welcomed, and it was felt that writing a memorandum of understanding in order to move informal partnerships forward would be a good next step. Exploring project funding sources such as the National Lottery was mooted, and learning from the session would be brought back to colleagues – not least incorporating the use of Padlet into future training sessions.
Access our Padlet if you want to find out more.

Dawn Grundy
Academic Librarian MCLIP SFHEA
University of Bolton

Siobhan Linsey MCLIP
Knowledge and Library Services Lead
Bolton NHS Foundation Trust