Top Tips for running a Virtual Library Knowledge Information Service: Part 4 by Matt Holland

This is the fourth in a series of 4 postings by Matt Holland, Librarian for the NW Ambulance Service NHS Trust, outlining his top tips for running a Virtual Library Service.


There is no model, be your own pioneer: The virtual library service shapes itself around you. There is no model and no physical space to constrain you or define your library service. Be your own model and create the library service users tell you they want.

This is not an argument for an idiosyncratic service. Following the advice set out in this series of postings should help you to create a service that puts the user at the centre of what you do. The VLK/IS should play to your strengths, however, and where there are skills missing  you need to take the initiative and either find solutions, upgrade your skill set or manage the gap. It would be reasonable if you came to health librarianship from another area, say higher education or public libraries to invest time effort and money to get up to speed. Investing in your own skills and competencies is good for you and good for your users.

The VLK/IS Librarian or Service Manager should see themselves as enablers of service provision to their user community. A good approach is for user facing services to be provided in-house using opportunities to outsource back office services such as inter-library loan. Your job is to orchestrate a complete  service from the parts you choose to assemble. Setting up cooperative agreements with other health care library services in your locality might provide a solution to print access. Reaching agreements to share a desk in strategically placed health care service libraries to meet users might be a suitable alternative for some library services to having a permanent office. Being open to cooperative arrangements within the health care libraries community will fill some service gaps and give back some time and resources to underpin cooperative agreements.

You need to be an interpreter of other library services for your users. Typically, there are colleagues taking professional courses or CPD  through their  professional organisation. Students who study part time or at a distance and also work do require support if they are to get the best from their course and realise the investment of their sponsoring organisation.   Circumstances may differ according to the library service, however, personal experience suggests part time/distance/mature students at university do underperform because they are unable to understand and utilise the resources they have access to. A key role of the VLK/IS is to understand library services available to users that come with study and educational activities.  This would include making contact with higher education libraries in your area. Taking time to understand basic processes and procedures, for example how to gain remote access to resources, which databases are available, the basic layout of websites, contact details for the relevant enquiry services.


Conclusion: The point of this series of postings is to embrace the change. Librarians have been discussing what the future library might look like, the library without walls, or printed stock for that matter. for many years. It seems while we were waiting for the future to arrive it happened anyway and without much fuss. VLK/IS are operating now, making and refining the rules as they go. The  VLK/IS is in many ways a return to core values of the role of library services and of the librarian in creating and delivering a service to users whatever the changing scenery. The VLK/IS are all the things any modern service needs to be, nimble, flexible, agile. It will meet the needs of organisations like the NHS which look like changing more in the future.


Reference: Holland, M. 2013. Top ten guide to running a virtual LIS health service. CILIP Update, December 2013, 35. Available from: [Accessed 15 December 2013].

Matt Holland, Librarian, NWAS NHS Trust
Mobile: 07747456736,

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