St Mary’s Fleming Library: A Nursing Perspective

HLG Nursing Bulletin Vol 33 (3/4)

John Nyman
Senior Library Assistant, NHS Support
St Mary’s Campus Library
Imperial College London

Libraries have become much easier to use over time thanks to the speed and development of technology, and related to that, the skills of librarians, who are still useful in helping people to access and use information effectively.

Some people still find libraries a daunting and mysterious place, but thanks to the vigilance and perseverance of librarians this is becoming much less so – a lot of people now feel that libraries are a place to go, not something difficult to do, because they know that if they have any problems there will be staff on hand to help them. They know that when they come to the library they will go away with something useful, not the frustrations of technical problems and not being able to find what they want.

A lot of users are still not ‘information ready’ or ‘information savvy’ as I like to call it. They know this and they also know that they can be helped to get up to speed with the help of librarians. So help is actively sought rather than avoided because there is no uncertainty and confusion about what the library service can offer.

This article is about exploring the perceptions and uses of St Mary’s library by a nurse mixed in with seeing if there is a wider picture on how library services can improve.

Vickki Harmer is a breast cancer nurse specialist working at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, part of the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. She has been working at St Mary’s for 14 years, starting as a ward sister before transferring to her current specialisation. In 2013, she won the Cancer Nurse of the Year Award at the Nursing Times Awards(Imperial College Healthcare 2013).

Vickki first joined the library in 2002 and said that it had always seemed open and easy to use, with an impressive range of titles in the collection. The library’s refurbishment, which took place between August 2012 and April 2013(Handford 2013), made many significant improvements to the environment, with better lighting and computers spaced about, rather than concentrated in a single cluster, making the library seem like less of a ‘work’ environment. One thing that Vickki did note though was the fact of being issued with a number of different passwords – because the library is part of Imperial College London, rather than the trust, NHS users receive separate logins to access the library’s PCs, in addition to their Athens logins and any other details they will have received from the trust, all of which they need to remember, as well as having to remember what resources can be accessed from where.

Vickki mentioned that she had not made many specific suggestions as to how the library could be improved, although it had purchased a book title that she had recommended. She was also unaware that the library was open on Saturday afternoons, having come in on a Saturday morning to find it closed. She stressed that, in her view, the library’s role of training users, and more specifically NHS users, in using the resources they have access to, continues to be a relevant one. While people will use library resources more and more in an e-library way, from their desktop PC or mobile device, the physical library would come to be seen as a place that serves as a quiet contrast, allowing more focus in people’s research/learning than can be accomplished in the clinical setting that is their everyday work environment.

A significant element that has emerged in the last few years has been how libraries can aid clinicians in their provision of patient care. Vickki is a firm believer in the idea that staff who feel encouraged will be more enthused when providing care to their patients, and that the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge will do this – they’re more likely to help with something that they’ve just learned, are enthused about, and want to pass on. Vickki commented on the fact that an assignment she had written on the blurring of boundaries in professional identification (Harmer 2010), with the help and support of the library, she went on to adapt for publication, disseminating what she had learned further. Libraries form part of a cycle – you learn something, likely via the library in some form or fashion, and you pass that on to someone else, who will come to use the library to learn more about it, and so on.

Vickki Harmer is a user who is enthused by using the library, finding that she likes the setting and is able to access what she needs easily, safe in the knowledge that there is help there if she can’t. Although there are issues, perhaps most notably being able to access Imperial College’s e-resources away from the library itself, these are issues that can’t be solved overnight and require long term negotiation between the library and the NHS.


Handford, L., 2013-05-22, 2013-last update, Imperial’s historic medical library reopens thanks to funding, [Online]. Available: [November 21, 2013].

Harmer, V., 2010. Are nurses blurring their identity by extending or delegating roles?, [Online]. Available from;article=BJN_19_5_295_299;format=pdf [November 20, 2013]

Imperial College Healthcare, 2013-10-31, Cancer nurse wins coveted award, [Online]. Available: [November 20, 2013].

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