7. Charis – working for the NHS

Charis Miller

Charis Miller

Charis Miller is Librarian at NHS Health Scotland

I decided to study Library and Information Science (LIS) in 2009 after around 13 years in the workplace. None of my jobs had been in or around libraries, but I’d always enjoyed being the person who ‘knew where to find things’. If someone was stuck looking for some guidelines or the like, I could be relied on to point them in the right direction. So the idea started forming in my mind that librarianship would be the way to go. I also have a good friend with a masters in LIS who’s always had interesting jobs (none of which have remotely involved libraries, mind you).

My first impression of the course was that it was really quite technology focused.  Not that I was some sort of Luddite, I’d been working with computers for years, but maybe now was the time actually get round to owning one! I really enjoyed that side of the course, things like website management, search engine optimisation and information seeking behaviour and I’ve used much of that learning since. My previous workplace experience gave me a good insight into of some of the drier topics like management, marketing, service improvement and I was definitely more confident about speaking up in class than I had been all those years back as an undergraduate.

One of the best things about the course was learning about different library and information sectors and health librarianship really jumped out at me as something I’d be interested in. I was lucky enough to get a placement in an NHS library at the end of my course and continued as a volunteer while doing my dissertation. I would highly recommend taking up any placement opportunities – even if it is in the middle of exams. You get great experience and with a bit of luck, make some useful contacts too.

My first job after graduating was with NHS Education for Scotland. I worked on website content management and testing, as well as marketing and promotion. I learned a lot very quickly and had lots of light bulb moments about several of the modules I studied at University – seeing where they fitted in to information management and librarianship.

I now work for NHS Health Scotland, another special health board which works to improve health and reduce health inequalities in Scotland. I’m based in an open plan office with colleagues from the whole organisation. This makes for a more ‘embedded’ approach to delivering our services and facilitates working in partnership with our service users. Being physically co-located with our customers makes it easier to work together on projects and have impromptu conversations that lead to new collaborations.

A normal day for me might involve working on a literature search on something like the effects of gambling on society or the impact of the smoking ban on deprived populations. Or I might be creating our monthly current awareness bulletins, collating up to date research and reports on key public health topics.  Every third week, I manage our team Twitter account, again finding and promoting evidence as well as horizon scanning. All this work goes to support public health specialists in making policy recommendations or creating programmes and campaigns to improve health.

The best things about my job? Three spring to mind. Firstly the topics I deal with are really interesting. Public health is something that affects us all and I do feel that I’m making at least a tiny contribution to improving people’s lives. Secondly, it gives me a buzz when someone really appreciates what I’ve done for them and lets me know specifically how it has made a difference to their work. And thirdly, health librarians and information professionals are a great network. They’re always supportive and ready to freely offer the benefit of their experience.

Downsides? Not many really. It can sometimes be a bit daunting working with a lot of very knowledgeable topic specialists, but I learn from them and they appreciate what I can do to support their work. I can safely say that re-training as a library and information professional is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Thanks to Charis for taking us through a sector which I, for one, knew very little about. Charis is happy to answer questions by email or telephone or in person – in the first instance, please leave a comment below.


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