No Time to Be Bored: Board Games in the Health Library

You'll find educational games, phone chargers, simulated babies, and even Fitbits on loan at some hospital libraries.

Hospital libraries have their own version of a Library of Things.

When people think of libraries, they usually think of books—after all, even the word “library” is linked to the Latin word for book. Even though online books are always increasing in number, we still loan print books to many of our users. It’s a myth that the younger generation, in particular, would always rather have an online copy — many of our users prefer the solid sensation of an actual paper book. For some books, particularly those called atlases of particular conditions, a print book is easier to use than the online version.

We don’t only loan books, however; over the years, like many libraries, we’ve branched out into CDs, DVDs, and other kit, where we’ve been able to obtain a library-loanable copy.

In common with many other libraries around the world, we also loan:

  • Headphones
  • Cellphone chargers – With so many different connectors these days, we have a whole packet of different plugs and cables; we also have a couple of wireless chargers.
  • Space  – Usually in the form of the ever-popular pod, arguably the quietest space in the hospital and certainly one of the cosiest (Yes, okay, I’m biased.)

We don’t loan out laptops or tablets at this service, but there are plenty of libraries that do. The same applies to items for patients—at this library, we don’t loan items to patients at this Trust, but there are some hospitals that do so, including iPads preloaded with curated healthcare links. Many public library services also have a “Home Library Service” for those who struggle to get to a physical library. 

Back on the hospital site, the new medical school building is so close to being completed now. They’re even putting in the entrance and the car parking spaces, and once it’s complete, the Trust is aspiring to become a fully fledged teaching hospital in the near future. That will have implications for our collection. 


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We already work closely with many of our clinical educators, and we’re always on the lookout for ways to make teaching innovative and memorable. So I wasn’t entirely surprised recently when we had a request from one of our Practice Education Facilitators (PEFs), as they’re called at this Trust, who are registered nurses and other clinicians. They teach practical clinical skills across the Trust to groups of students and staff alike.

The request was for something that many people aren’t aware exists: board games.

I don’t mean Monopoly, Ticket to Ride, or even Operation or Pandemic. (It might still be a little too soon for that last one.) I mean specially designed board games that teach students about particular conditions or situations. After all, when we’re kids, we learn by play, so there’s no reason the theory shouldn’t still hold once we’re (ahem) grown up.

Clinicians can learn or be reminded about the importance of nutrition and hydration via the Nutrition Game and how to stop pressure ulcers (once known as pressure sores or bed wounds) in the Stop the Pressure game. There’s a whole range of games available, from The Communication Game to Drug Round to Game of Stools.

No, this isn’t a variation on Game of Thrones, despite the name — it’s actually about C.Difficile, which is one of the infections that, unfortunately, can be picked up in hospital. Every year, hospitals in the UK have targets to hit to lower the rate of these infections.

Many of these are designed to be played in teams, simulating what would happen in a real-life patient care situation.

Some, like the Priorities Game, are targeted at students or newly qualified nurses. While this game isn’t specifically clinical, it does teach soft or transferable skills—in this case, prioritization and decision-making. Not only are these types of skills important for clinical staff, but they’re also the foundation of nurse management and administration.


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Some of the games are now available online, and while e-learning has been used in the NHS and many other health sectors for many years now, it can depend on how robust your wifi signal is (not to mention your budget!) as to whether an online subscription to these games is an option.

 We always have to make sure that we can demonstrate value for money in the collection development budgets we oversee, and as you can probably imagine, most of these board games represent quite a substantial investment, cost-wise. They’re professionally produced and have to be robust enough to cope with generations of clinicians using them.

And being able to buy these ourselves wasn’t an option, so we turned to our regional consortium, which we joined recently (now over twenty-five libraries in the Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Cheshire, and Lancashire area, all sharing resources).

The board games went down very well with our PEFs, who used them in a study day but not before trying them out themselves to make sure they taught the skills that were required. Apparently, it got “quite competitive” on the trial run. . . !

Using traditional games also has a well-being angle. In some Trusts, some of my colleagues always had a jigsaw on the go in the well-being corner for people who wanted something of a distraction, a way to rest their brains before heading off into the clinical fray again.

The jigsaws were usually large and fairly complex, and some people would come back repeatedly; others just wanted the satisfaction of putting the corners in place or one side or concentrating on a particular part of the picture.

Mostly, these were withdrawn during COVID-19, but they’re starting to reappear. We’ve also had word searches available to support particular “event” days or anniversaries—it’s a great way to unwind over a coffee.


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What also isn’t well-known outside hospitals is that many hospitals, including those that come under the Trust I currently work at, also have device libraries. These can be anything from blood pressure machines to heart monitors to many other specialized devices, and these units are usually separate from the medical library.

Medical device libraries usually have at least one experienced and qualified technician in charge. As part of a joint project with our local public libraries at a previous Trust, patrons were also able to borrow blood pressure machines for a week at a time — they proved very popular, and the library service also looked at the possibility of loaning other devices such as Fitbits or other trackers.

In two of the combined NHS/medical school libraries where I’ve been employed during my career, we also had rooms of anatomical models, some of which had moving parts that could be removed, rotated, and generally studied. Sometimes, these were incorporated into library stock; sometimes, there was a separate unit.

If you’ve ever attended a first aid course, you’re likely to have come across Resusci Annie, whose face is based on that of a young woman who tragically drowned in the River Seine in Paris in the 1800s.

You might also know about other aids to healthcare education that are often found in medical schools or education centers, including SimMan and SimBaby, which are part of a range of programmable 3G mannequins often used in emergency training.

All of these approaches help ensure that our future doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, and hospital managers and administrators have a good grounding in what to expect in the course of their careers.

For those interested in the history of medicine, some of the Royal Colleges in the UK have small museums attached with all kinds of instruments from centuries gone by. Most of them make me very glad indeed that we currently live in a world of sensors and computer technology!



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