‘Improving digital literacy can have a significant impact on improving health outcomes for [people] by helping them to take control of their health and care. Giving them skills to access to the right information and services enables them to better manage their conditions as well as helping to relieve the burden on NHS services.’ NHS Digital*
As we all work our way through Covid-19, the issue of digital literacy has never been more important. We must widen access to online information by helping people to gain the skills and capabilities they need to navigate and judge whether what they read is true or false.
Evidence suggests there is a growing inequalities gap between those who effectively find and use health information online and those who do not. This week is Health Information Week and there will be many examples of public libraries working together with local NHS Library and Knowledge Services to support their users.
In October 2019, the CILIP/SCONUL Health Social Care Strategy Group brought together health and public librarians to explore the impact of the Topol Review and implications for digital capabilities among the healthcare workforce, healthcare librarians and the public.
At the event, experts from Health Education England, JISC and Breast Cancer Now, among others, shared insights into how people currently use information online. These presentations provided a basis for discussing how librarians could support this.
Discussion then moved on to libraries’ ability to influence people at all stages of their lives. This wide framing enabled everyone to see how the different organisations represented could support improving digital literacy. Suggestions to improve digital literacy included:
- Sharing existing frameworks and resources
- Making the most of current skills within the information profession and considering what new skills librarians might need
- Working in partnership and making informal links across sectors to share experiences and resources effectively.
The group then discussed creating a new volunteer role, Digital Health Champions who would work across local health and public libraries to help members of the public, public library staff and volunteers access quality health information and online resources.
We also recognised that there are challenges. Some librarians believe that their roles are at risk of automation. However, advances so far have supported the work of librarians and have even created capacity to extend skills and services. These include allowing librarians to offer critical appraisal skills to the public, patients and health care staff or to design self-assessment tools for people.
We also need to understand the current barriers to progressing with digital literacy. These include the perceived capacity to take on more activities as well as a sound knowledge of good quality health resources and digital capability. Some solutions could be:
- Better career development provision for librarians supporting health
- Sharing learning across all library sectors
- Signposting good quality health information and online resources to public library staff and volunteers
- Promotion of public health campaigns in libraries.
Working in partnership will be essential for us to succeed and getting involved with Health Information Week, along with other libraries from across different sectors, is a wonderful opportunity to deliver some of these solutions.
We need to better understand what will motivate people to embrace both health and digital literacy and show them that libraries, at any stage in their lives, can help them to develop the skills they need.
by Deena Maggs, Head of Library Service, The King’s Fund and Sue Ball, Staffordshire Libraries and Arts Service and Universal Public Libraries Health and Wellbeing Offer
Health Information Week (#HIW2020) runs from 6-12 July.
Health Education England recently launched a new website with information for the public.
* Widening Digital Participation, NHS Digital