Meet the Librarian – Lynsey Southern

When the word librarian is uttered, people immediately think of the age-old stereotypes of school librarians. Dispelling that, we’ve scoured higher education high and low to show you there’s more to librarians than the cliches and stereotypes.

Whilst we typically focus on higher education, Kortext caters to other sectors and industries, including the NHS, within which is an incredible army of clinical librarians.

Clinical librarians, much like academic librarians, have busy and varied roles, but key elements of their role include collating and providing clinical evidence, identifying clinical interests, and designing and delivering research skills training to support evidence-based healthcare.

If you cast your mind back several months, we caught up with Hayley Beresford, Clinical Librarian at the MTW Trust, and this month we’ve headed to the southwest, albeit virtually, to speak with Lynsey Southern.

Lynsey Southern is the Knowledge and Library Services Manager for the Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which is a merger between The Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust (RD&E) and Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust that has been in place since April 2022.

On this, Lynsey said: “We’re all finding our way through that, which has been a really valuable experience.”

“We cover such a large geographical area… Not just north Devon, but Torridge, all the way down to the north Cornish border – so we’ve got colleagues everywhere.”

As an NHS librarian with such a broad area to cover, we were eager to find out what Lynsey’s route into librarianship was.

“Originally it was just because I love books.”

“But, when I start to think about why I wanted to go into libraries, I definitely had this childhood where I needed somewhere to be and there was a little local library in Ilfracombe, that is all knocked down now, which was a space where I could just go and be.”

“I was quite a prolific reader when I was young, and so I was reading Stephen King, you know, by like 10 or 11 or so. That feels like a cliché because everybody seems to say that – so, that’s my cliché.”

“I can just remember going there and they just let me read anything and I just found it a really safe space.”

Between childhood reading and working in the NHS Knowledge and Library Services, Lynsey shared another element of her professional career that has aided  role within the library.

“I ran an independent bookshop for 10 years, so that was my retail experience In the book world, and that was just an awesome, awesome experience. People in the book world are just generally wonderful. And no matter what separates us, you know, whether it’s bookshops, healthcare libraries or public libraries, there’s just so much that intersects… and you just have so many things that you can bring over from whichever sector you’ve worked in when you’re working in that industry.”

In a role that supports so many, Lynsey shared her favourite elements.

“I think the most rewarding part is the lifelong learning, teaching and supporting with evidence-based practice.

“With clinical and non-clinical staff coming at the beginning of either undergraduate study or postgraduate study to have one-to-one sessions…you get to see that lightbulb moment.

“Just recently we had one of our doctors come in and say ‘thank you so much. I’ve passed my exams’ and it was just wonderful to see that. He said he couldn’t have done it without the library’s support.”

One of the things we always find out from the academic librarians we speak with is what role the library plays within their institution, so it’s only fitting to find out the role that Lynsey’s library plays within her Trust.

“For me, it’s underpinning lifelong learning and evidence-based practice to enable great patient care – supporting the individual throughout their careers from the minute they come in as students to how they develop through their time at the Trust.

“The skill set and the professional skills that we bring help save clinicians and non-clinicians time – as we know time is just so incredibly valuable when everyone’s so pressured working in healthcare.”

With time always lacking, and pressure, what makes Lynsey smile again when it does get a little tough?

“We now keep a book of verbal feedback. You know, when you think, oh, ‘I’m having a tough time’ or anything like that, we can go back and go ‘look, this is amazing. This is what people say about us!’ and for the whole team, it’s really uplifting.

“And then outside of work, I like cold water swimming. When you’ve been sitting on the computer for 8 or 9 hours or just been inside all day, I think ‘I’m just gonna go for a dip’ – and I’m so lucky to be able to do that!”

Nearing the end of our interview, we entered a quickfire round after briefly discussing bargains to be had when it comes to sea swimming equipment, but we’ll keep that bit to ourselves!

So, this may not be relevant, but what is the weirdest state a book has come back in?

“OK, so a caveat – this is not in my current job but in my previous job – we had a rasher of bacon inside of a book as a bookmark!”

With the rise of digital content, what elements of Kortext would you consider to be the most useful?

“Oh, accessibility! Being able to ensure that everybody’s able to access it and be able to change fonts, change colours, bookmark key information, export information from books, be able to put it onto their own bookshelves, and for It to be just be a really easy experience for people.”

If you had a magic wand, what would your library-based wish be?

“So, this is for all libraries, whichever sector, I wish that every community had a fully funded library, whether that’s healthcare, public library, school library. So, the magic money tree wand would be good!”

What’s one thing you want people to know about healthcare libraries?

“We’re somewhere for anyone to come to for advice and support ‘can you help‘, ‘how can I use technology and how do I do this?’ You know, so we’re a hub of knowledge and support for all healthcare staff, or for patients to come and ask us for book recommendations, information or just have someone to talk to”

It might be a hard one, but what is your favourite book?

I haven’t got a favourite book. I really thought about this, and I thought I don’t. There are authors that I will buy as soon as the book comes out, so I thought that’s probably the way I’d go… They are Stephen King and Grady Hendrix.

And… your favourite song or artist?

“Oh, David Bowie. Without a doubt. David Bowie’s Life on Mars, but here are so many awesome songs.”

Lastly, if you could send out a universal message to library users, what would it be?

“I think the message wouldn’t go to specifically to existing library users, because they use the library – I’m hoping if they’re using libraries, they know how great we are… But, I think it’s for those that may have not yet put their foot into a library because it can feel intimidating to people, so if you feel like you’re not a great reader or they may think there are barriers to accessing libraries. So, I think it’s just letting people know that libraries are for everyone. All are welcome”

“It’s not just about books, although that’s obviously really important. It’s belonging. It’s about community. It’s about supporting people – from tiny children to old age – and it’s just being there.

“It is being the a heart of a community and they are for absolutely everyone.”

Support your local library by paying them a visit. Tap here to find out where your local library is if you’re unsure.

To keep up with Lynsey and her library, you can follow her on Twitter here!


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