Tag Archives: Training

Health Literacy: an issue for life

To make good decisions about our health, we need to find, understand, appraise and apply health information.  This is the essence of good health literacy.


What is the issue?

Levels of health literacy in England are very low: 43% of working age adults cannot understand textual health information, rising to 61% when a numeracy element is added (1); and 43% adults are unable to calculate paracetamol dosage for a child based on age and weight (2).  Individual health literacy also varies.  If someone has just had a significant diagnosis, then their ability to comprehend information will be reduced.

As people live longer with multiple health conditions, they need to be able to make the treatment choices that are right for them, and to understand how to use self-management techniques or take medications.


What role for health library staff?

Working with patients and the public takes different forms within NHS library and knowledge services.  All depend upon library and knowledge services staff having the confidence to see how core skills in finding evidence and appraising sources apply to health information materials for patients and the public.  Supporting the health literacy awareness of colleagues, and identifying information resources of differing levels of complexity, can enable library and knowledge services to have an impact on the way that patient information materials are used.  This supports treatment choice and effective self-management of health conditions.  For this reason, health literacy is a priority for Knowledge for Healthcare work on patient and public information in 2018-2020

Library personnel in education and public library sectors are keen to collaborate on health literacy, as the information literacy and digital literacy skills that they promote feed into health literacy. Whereas good information literacy in education may be seen as a short-term benefit for coursework, health literacy is a life skill.


What next?

In 2018-19 we will be offering training on health literacy awareness and accredited “train the trainer” training for health library and knowledge services staff in England, which can be used as the basis of training for NHS staff and partner organisations, including public libraries.

In the meantime, resources are available to increase your awareness of health literacy issues, with tools that you can use.  Working with NHS England, Public Health England and the Community Health and Learning Foundation, Health Education England has developed a health literacy toolkit, including case studies and a “how to” guide https://www.hee.nhs.uk/our-work/health-literacy .

If you have ideas, questions or would like to be involved in shaping health literacy activity, contact Ruth.Carlyle@hee.nhs.uk

Ruth Carlyle


  • Rowlands, G. et al. A mismatch between population health literacy and the complexity of health information: an observational study. British Journal of General Practice Jun;65(635):e379-86. doi: 10.3399/bjgp15X685285. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26009533
  • Mayor, S. 2012. Nearly half adults in England don’t understand health information, study indicates. British Medical Journal 345:e8364 https://www.bmj.com/content/345/bmj.e8364

“Not for shrinking violets” Knowledge Organisation in 21st century

Back in March, I attended the International Society of Knowledge Organisation’s event looking at the future of knowledge organisation (KO) from the perspectives of employers, universities, trainers, researchers and practitioners, with each giving their views on the roles, skills and training needed. It was an afternoon of interesting discussion (plus the opportunity to see some scary-looking antique dentistry equipment on display, as it was hosted at the British Dental Association!*)

I must confess I’ve never really considered KO as a whole subject in its own right; while I appreciate its importance, it seemed to be part and parcel of what we do, so an entire event looking at just the KO aspect was mind-bogglingly detailed, yet fascinating. Inevitably there was a lot of crossover with knowledge management (KM).

You can view all of the presentations in full and find out more about the ISKO on their website, so I will briefly summarise some points from the event.

Sylvie Davies discussed the teaching of KO and how this has changed from her perspective over the years at Robert Gordon University. One of the points highlighted was a perceived reluctance of the students to get involved in the more technical elements – which I found a little worrying for a profession that needs to be IT-literate. Indeed, in the case of RGU, KO has replaced the more technical Information Retrieval module.

Anne Ashdown from recruiter Progility gave the recruiter’s perspective on how KO roles have changed to become more commercially focused and intersect more with marketing. Key skills sought by employers are the ability to combine external information and content with internal knowledge, avoiding information overload. Anne also highlighted Knowledge Management and KO are not for shrinking violets – we are very much in the thick of it.

Dr Vivenne Winterman gave an overview and brief history of KO practice. The first approach we took to KO was good old (resource-intensive) databases, before moving on to tools such as After Action Reviews and Knowledge Harvesting. Vivienne highlighted that people and culture are central to knowledge transfer. She highlighted the skills shortfall in digital and information literacy, worrying given 90% of roles require IT skills – and interesting given Sylvie Davies’s presentation. She stressed that the next generation of information professionals still need taxonomy and metadata skills.

David Haynes’s observations on delivering metadata and taxonomy training again highlighted the need for these skills, and how important they are in multi-professional teams and projects. David also highlighted the importance of communications between those procuring IT products such as SharePoint, and those with KO skills – who can bring different perspectives to help fully understand the product.

Noleen Schenk from Metataxis then took us on a journey into the future of KM, KO and information management – with a few key facts and figures, such as the fact data is doubling every 12 hours: by 2020, 44 Zetabytes of data will exist. There are 40,000 Google searches per second. ‘Digital’ changes everything – we are now in a smart, connected world. Artificial Intelligence might be just transactional at the moment, but as AI gains additional context and capability will change how we act and react with it, not to mention the Internet of Things already becoming reality – which of raises some real worries around cyber security. All things we’re well aware of, but what will this mean for our roles? Noleen suggested roles will need softer skills complementing information and KO skills.


So, what did I make of it all? An interesting afternoon looking at the different perspectives, perhaps no major surprises in terms of what we’ve seen with changing roles- the skills may not vary drastically, but we seem to be using those ‘traditional’ skills in new ways, combined with softer skills or working as part of multi-speciality teams. Perhaps the worrying thing was that the universities don’t seem to be keeping up with this as well as they might – a risk in terms of how we have the right skills in the workforce of the future.

*There are some amazing pictures on the BDA website!

Emily Hopkins
Programme Manager – Knowledge Management
Health Education England