If you ask an average healthcare library user to picture what comes into their minds when they hear the word ‘space’, they might well end up seeing stars. The average healthcare librarian isn’t quite so imaginative. It’s not that we can’t think ‘outside the box’. Instead, our particular box has been getting smaller for years under the pressures of other departments seeing library space as an easy target for their offices, and we’ve been defending that space to the last ditch. That was certainly the case when I first started at Harrogate. The library workroom had long since been lost to the recruitment department and we were about to lose the library office too. The installation of a full-length sleep pod in the journals section was doubtless good news for drowsy doctors, but bad news for our collection strategy.
This called for a rethink; an opportunity to pause and reflect on what really mattered to us as a service. And that opportunity arrived in the most unexpected way. As the chair of one of the staff equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) networks, I attended an ‘EDI in the research library space’ webinar run by Research Libraries UK in December 2022. Initially, I didn’t see relevance to the perspectives of the university librarians giving presentations that day, but their promotion of inclusive health and wellbeing zones struck a chord.
This shouldn’t be surprising. The history of health and wellbeing initiatives in healthcare libraries is a long and distinguished one which I haven’t time to do justice in this short article. But what I took away from the webinar was a fresh perspective. Up until then, I’d been using the need for stock and study areas to dominate my defence of library spaces. But by encouraging healthcare staff to see the library as a space to just be people rather than constantly be productive, we could appeal to their primary need to relax away from their busy and stressful environments, improving their work-life balance and demonstrating the benefits of the library service in a way that was more likely to increase our foot-fall, especially since our library space is available 24/7.
Of course to realise that ambition, sacrifices had to be made. There were sliding shelves in the library workroom I still had access to, so many of our journals could be saved, but not all. Luckily, the first refurbishment of the library for 25 years was happening during February-March 2023, so the impetus to weed stock before the move was already there. As a result, an entire double-shelf in the main body of the library was cleared of outdated material, and study tables once crammed into the now empty journal area were relocated to that more pleasant vacated space.
After making a convincing business case, our very obliging charity provided us with the funding for throws, cushions, rugs and mood lighting. I also ring-fenced some funds for health, wellbeing and mindfulness stock in the months leading up to the library refurbishment. On Wednesday 10th May, we launched the library health and wellbeing area with the books we received from the reading agency (belated distributed as part of World Book Night), and much-needed cake was consumed!
The result of this change of perspective in the battle for space is visually striking, as you can see, but I would like to think that its implications go deeper than the soft furnishings and the mindfulness books. NHS Trusts have ‘people plans’ in various guises, all of which promote the health and wellbeing of their staff. And I’d think that we can make a major impact to these through our creative use of library space without ever having to reach for the stars.
Harrogate & District NHS Foundation Trust