Reaching Out to Hospital Patients — What Public Libraries in England Can Offer

How can hospital libraries and public libraries come together to support patients and their loved ones?

Public and hospital libraries team up to expand their resources for patients and visitors.

Although different library services are usually funded separately in England, there are plenty of cross-sector projects underway at any given time. There are myriad reasons for this — sometimes, it’s simply a matter of geography. Despite the swingeing cuts that have been made to services from the Northumberland/Scottish borders in the north of the country to Land’s End in the south, many public libraries have somehow managed to retain a presence in towns and villages not over-blessed with community facilities.

For every library, the concept of the community it serves lies at the heart of the way in which the service is planned, delivered, and developed. In healthcare libraries which come under the umbrella of the NHS, the community we serve is usually made up of clinical professionals and others, as well as student doctors, nurses, biomedical scientists, and dozens of other professions. Each hospital or Trust is effectively like a small town or village in itself.


Take action today to support libraries!


There is a group that we don’t come into contact with very often, however, and that group is made up of the patients themselves. While we might occasionally encounter a patient who has been sent our way by a consultant who has recommended they read a particular article from one of the medical journals we hold, this is relatively rare.

This lack of contact with patients isn’t really surprising when you consider that most of our collection is aimed at specialists, not the general public. And this is where our working relationship with the local public library service is invaluable.

Although it’s still in the very early stages, the hospital recently enjoyed a visit from our public library colleagues as part of a small-scale outreach session that went down a storm. Anyone who’s ever spent any time in hospital, even if it’s just to visit a friend or relative, knows how tedious it can get when you’re waiting around for something to happen. In some Trusts, there may be a convenience store on site that sells books or magazines, but limited space means you’re unlikely to have a huge choice of titles. Some hospitals in the UK also have preloved books for sale, but these offerings are often run by volunteers, and opening hours may be limited. And that isn’t terribly helpful if it’s the middle of the night and you’re looking for something to distract you.

Again, this is where the public library offerings come in. Many public libraries in Britain use the BorrowBox platform to make their collections of e-books and audiobooks available, and in some cases, the platform includes their magazine offering as well. Our public library colleagues set up a stall near the staff restaurant at the Trust for a couple of hours and did a roaring trade in selling the service (even though no cash changed hands).


Help fight for libraries by starting a $5 monthly donation today!


There were three key factors that meant the session was well received:

1. Location, location, location

I’ve seen before how much passing trade and footfall libraries get if they’re close to a vital service. In Bath, for instance, the public library is near a major supermarket. And the same applies in healthcare library settings. Near the staff restaurant in the Trust is a bookable space for displays and short events. As it’s on one of the main corridors, the area gets plenty of passing trade — patients are also welcome to eat in the canteen.

2. The quality of the collection

Did you know that crime fiction and romance are two of the most borrowed genres in public libraries? And there’s plenty of both to be found in the local BorrowBox collection, which is freely available to anyone with a library card. Readers will also find plenty of biographies, travel, current affairs, and children’s books, while for those with a lengthy commute to work or leisure by car, there are audiobooks to entertain. Loans expire automatically — and there are no overdue charges.

3. The engaging sales talk

Sometimes I think we don’t acknowledge, as library staff, just how strongly developed our sales skills are. Sure, no money changes hands, but so much of what used to be called the Reference Interview involves opening a dialogue with our users. As well as assessing what our library users need, a huge part of our work is finding the best resource or resources to meet that need.

Something else that caught the eye of those passing by the stand was the fact it was so bright and colorful. As well as the eye-catching portable banners and the iPads that meant it was possible to demonstrate how to download books, there was the lure of pens. In my experience, all library users are very partial to pens.

Some of those who stopped were looking for recommendations. Others just wanted general information. And it wasn’t just about books — with a focus on the current cost of living crisis and how libraries can help, there was also information about free events to keep families entertained during school vacations. And finally, for this outreach session, information was also on offer to help library members learn about the service available for those who find themselves housebound.

Although the district general hospital is one of the largest single buildings in the Trust, there are also many smaller locations where staff work tirelessly to support patients in community settings; and we followed up the main outreach session in the Trust with shorter visits to some of these. They were also on the list for complimentary copies of the World Book Night title for 2023, which we successfully obtained, and we’re hoping to extend our book exchange to some of those satellite sites too.



Visit to learn more about our work on behalf of libraries. 

#librarymarketers: Enjoy this story? Want to use it for your library newsletter, blog, or social media? This article is published under Creative Commons License Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International and is free to edit and use with attribution. Please cite EveryLibrary on

This work by EveryLibrary is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0