When I did my postgraduate diploma in Library and Information Management at Manchester Metropolitan University recently, doing a placement was strongly encouraged. It was an opportunity I was keen to take up, as I hadn’t worked in a library before.

I had a number of reasons for wanting to do my placement at The Curve, one of two libraries run by Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust’s library and knowledge service. Firstly, practical, as I live on the northern fringes of Greater Manchester and could get a direct bus more or less to The Curve’s doorstep. Secondly out of curiosity to see the Prestwich Hospital site on which The Curve sits as both my parents worked at the hospital for many years (they even met there) and the place loomed large in my Prestwich-based childhood. (I occasionally got taken to the hospital by my parents and while the site has obviously changed massively since it largely consisted of now long-gone former asylum buildings, I still got a jolt of recognition while walking to the staff canteen for lunch). Thirdly because I have a long-standing interest in mental health; as a former journalist I have won awards for writing about it. As service users – known as guests – can use the library as part of their treatment and rehabilitation, I was interested in how this plays out in everyday library life.

The Curve library sits near the entrance to The Curve building, which is at the front of the sprawling hospital site and hosts the Greater Manchester Mental Health Trust’s executive team and a number of meeting, conference and education rooms. There is also a small café on the ground floor. It is not restricted to swipe card access and so has a quasi-public library feel, with many library users dropping in to use the computers, use the free wi-fi or work at the desks.

My placement began in February. I have volunteered in small teams before and was aware that it can be difficult for them to accommodate a voluntary placement. On their part The Curve had not hosted a placement before, so it was somewhat unknown territory for everybody. However, the service manager Dan Livesey, two librarians, John Brooke and John Coulhurst - known to health librarians across the North West and beyond as the two Johns - and library assistant Caroline Collinge were unfailingly welcoming and kind. Though I did not realise at first that Dan was seldom able to be around during my placement days (which were once a week for around three months), as he has to split his time between The Curve and the service’s sister library in Fallowfield, this gave me a fair idea of the realities of working in a multi-site service. From his own experience as an MMU Librarianship student a few years back Dan is aware of the need for placements to be as well rounded as possible and I am happy to report that that was my experience at The Curve.

I did tasks including a stockcheck (one of those jobs that always needs doing but no one has the time to get round to), and selected stock from before 2000 that was ready to be weeded. This helped me get to know the stock much better. A number of key items, including pharmacology texts, are frequently updated, and along with many titles on cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT service trainees are key users of the service) are among the most borrowed. The Johns also reported that a number of tutors on the CBT trainee courses insist on using pre 1990 texts that said tutors describe as ‘classics’. Other classics on the shelves include seminal works by Freud, Jung and William Burroughs – an intriguing mixture. William Burroughs is amongst the selection of fiction and memoir in the collection. Largely borrowed by guest users and obviously exempt from the pre 2000 rule, these include fictional and memoir titles on subjects including autism, drug and alcohol misuse, depression, anxiety and paranoia.

A key part of the librarians’ work is literature and evidence searches. I watched a number of these be carried out and also carried out some literature searches myself. It was extremely useful to get practical use of the library’s Open Athens account to access a large number of journals and to see how search protocols (such as which services to approach for titles not able to be accessed by the GMMH trust librarians and in which order) are carried out.

Through visits off site I got to meet more health librarians at meetings of Health Care Libraries Unit North (where a conversation with Gil Young led to the writing of this article) and Mental Health Libraries North, which both gave useful insights into emerging and ongoing issues in heath librarianship. The Mental Health Libraries North meeting also included a visit to the lovely library space at North West Boroughs Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and I got to meet Amy Clancy, a graduate trainee who works at the Fallowfield library and Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

On reflection I think I would have benefited from also visiting the Fallowfield library, which is a public heath library situated above a public library, if only to see how it compares with the library at The Curve. However overall my placement was an enjoyable and happy experience, which has cemented my interest in health libraries and – I hope - starting a career in them.

With grateful thanks to the two Johns, Dan, Caroline and MMU’s Dr Frances Johnson, who organised my placement.

Emma Dent
Recent Library and Information Management student and aspiring health librarian