The Road to Wigan . . . Library?

Have you ever visited a hospital library?

NHS libraries are not all the same.

I’ve worked as a librarian in the NHS in England for longer than I care to admit, and in that time I’ve worked at several different hospital Trusts around the UK, although mainly in the South West of England. However, I’ve always worked at acute hospitals with an ED attached  or integrated care.

Every one of those Trusts has been different, with different needs and different user populations to serve, despite the fact we’re all part of the “National” Health Service.

Since I started my new role in March this year as Library Manager at my new Trust (Wrightington, Wigan, and Leigh, or WWL for short), the weeks have flown. As always, in a new organization, I’m still learning how this particular example functions.

This is despite the fact that many aspects of our services are now pretty standardized across England, thanks largely to the amazing efforts of our regional and national Knowledge and Library staff who work across several organizations. (Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and Northern Ireland all have their own arrangements.)

Wrightington, Wigan, and Leigh is a group of teaching hospitals in the North West of England — the next town along from Bolton, where I worked from the summer of 2022 until March this year.


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The Royal Albert Edward Infirmary is where I spend most of my time, as this is the main teaching hospital. We host medical students, physician’s associates, nurses, and Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) from several educational institutions in the area.

The longest-established partnerships are between ourselves and Edge Hill University and Manchester University, as well as some Bolton University students and nurses from the University of Central Lancashire.

There is a massive shortage of clinical professionals in England at present, and in partial response, more medical student places have recently been created. The North West of England has relatively few medical school places for the size of the area, so Edge Hill University is one of those that will be taking on more students as of this year.

Students spend a lot of time on placement in hospital or community settings, allowing them insights into the practical skills they’ll need in their careers and how different Trusts function. 

I can’t think of any teaching hospital in England that doesn’t have a library, although it’s relatively recently that my current Trust was granted teaching hospital status. 

The library at the RAEI was purpose-built around eleven years ago as part of an education centre with modern facilities. 


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It has plenty of natural light and decent amounts of study space. Our book stock, however, definitely needs a bit of a revamp, particularly as we’ll be taking more students and doctors in training from the autumn of this year. 

The RAEI main site is easy to reach by public transport (although car parking on-site and nearby is always an issue) and is close to the centre of Wigan. Wigan is around sixteen miles from Manchester. Wigan is the largest town in the borough, and the Trust serves a population of around 320,000 people. 

The other main hospital we support, Wrightington, is very different. It’s in a very rural location, and for many years, the library has been in the basement of what was once a very grand manor house. It’s now used as the conference centre. At this hospital, parking is much less of an issue, largely due to the fact that it’s a different type of hospital: It’s a tertiary or highly specialist hospital, specialising in orthopedics, so the trainees who are located at this site are generally already very experienced clinicians.

The requests that come our way here are much more specialist and detailed. The library is located in a beautiful, historic building, but given the climate, there are some estates challenges that we’re trying to resolve. (It really does rain a LOT in this part of the country.)

Wrightington Hospital was the location of the first successful total hip replacement surgery carried out by Professor Sir John Charnley (back in 1962, believe it or not). All of the operations on this site are planned, and this, combined with the very rural atmosphere and location, is a great contrast to the busy, bustling, always-on Royal Albert (or just the Infirmary, as many of the local bus drivers know it).

There’s also a third site where there has been a small library in the past, but at present, we have neither staff nor space on-site, so I need to think about the best way to serve staff who are located there. This is especially important given that new medical facilities are currently in the process of being built, and the fact that we have already had a small number of enquiries since I started in post in March.


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One thing’s for sure: There is never a dull moment in an NHS library (or any other, come to that). It always makes me smile when people say how lovely it must be to have a “nice quiet job in the library.” My response, accompanied by a charming smile, is often, “Let me know if you find one!”

It’s true that our location is less noisy than most of the wards or other medical units, but the days of the “shushing librarian” are long gone, if they ever existed at all. And on that topic, I’ve learned over the years to never, ever, ever use the “Q” word on a hospital site. Peaceful, tranquil, calm — but never, ever, ever the “Q” word that means the opposite of noisy. 

There’s certainly plenty to get my teeth into at all sites, and I’ll be drawing on previous best practices from former employers — including Bolton — to look at improving and promoting our book stock and other resources and establishing a training program.

“Lunch and learns” over Teams are pretty popular at the moment in the NHS, as they don’t require a teaching room — always at a premium! I’m also looking at forging links with our partner university libraries and the public library, as well as research and other departments within the Trust who may find our services particularly useful. All staff and students on placement are very welcome to use the library, and when we do get enquiries from members of the public, we refer them to our colleagues at the local public library service.

All of this starts with the compilation of a strategy to make sure that the service aligns with both the organisational objectives and the national objectives from our NHS England stakeholders. I’m very much looking forward to building and developing the service, though given that this is the NHS, I know it won’t happen overnight.

(Oh, and in case you’re wondering, despite the title of George Orwell’s famous book, Wigan is one of the most landlocked places in England. Therefore, it doesn’t have a pier. At least, not in the “by the seaside” sense!)



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