Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Seal of approval

If you visit the library website you’ll see that we are “proud to be the first Helicon Accredited Library in the NHS in Essex”. It looks impressive - but what does it mean?

Like everything else in this modern age NHS libraries are subject to quality controls. Libraries in the NHS currently use the Helicon (Health Libraries & Information Confederation) accreditation scheme, developed in 1998 and updated in 2005. Accreditation allows the Trusts that host libraries and the SHAs that fund us to see what they are getting for their money.

Helicon is a type of peer review. A typical assessing team will consist of a senior librarian from the area, a librarian from another region, and a third person who might be from clinical governance or HR or another part of the NHS outside libraries. Some teams will also have a “shadow” who is there to see the assessing process in action, either because their own library is due to be accredited, or because they are hoping to become an assessor themselves in future.

The assessment looks at a wide range of aspects of the library service, including age and subject coverage of book stock, equality of access for all staff groups, availability of IT resources and training, the qualifications and skills of library staff and the library budget. The assessors look at what they can see in the library, talk to key people in the organisation (directors of HR, training managers, chief executives), and look over the portfolio of evidence. This will include copies of library strategies, printouts of websites, minutes of meetings, copies of leaflets, training materials, budget statements, and so on.

An assessing visit is something of a snapshot and doesn’t take into account how much the service may have changed and grown (although three yearly revisits will give some indication of this). Nor are there extra points for those libraries that have done well despite being homed in an organisation that might be less supportive than others. And, as is often the way, there is a fair amount of subjectivity in the system. However, it’s all that exists while we wait for the release of a National Service Framework for libraries.

For various reasons the East of England have been slow to take up Helicon. This library was in the first wave of services to be assessed, and since then many others have been through the process. This library is due for reaccreditation in early 2008. Sadly, some recent changes could mean that we’ll struggle to reach even the basic grade, which would make us the first library in Essex to lose accredited status.

No comments: