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Evidence-based decisions in law, health and business

The issue

Near enough isn't good enough when it comes to life-saving medical procedures, multi-million dollar deals and high court actions. Detailed, accurate information is essential if doctors, lawyers and business executives are to make the right decisions - decisions that give the best results for patients, clients and every small shareholder. Google and Wikipedia searches provide useful pointers, but you cannot beat the quality and depth of information provided by highly skilled library and information professionals.

When budgets are tight, it's often the library budget that is cut by top level management who don't use the service and don't realise the contribution it makes to the quality of their people's decision-making. Often the dollar saving is tiny but the negative impact on the organisation is massive.

Health libraries are a good example. In 2012, ALIA and Health Libraries Inc published A Question of Life and Death, an investigation into the value of health library and information services in Australia, which revealed just how important libraries can be to good outcomes for patients. Asked about their use of the library service, doctors, nurses, surgeons and other medical professionals gave the following replies:

  • 95% said it had helped them progress their studies
  • 95% said it helped them discover new and valuable information
  • 86% said it helped keep them abreast of the latest clinical developments
  • 83% said it had helped them improve health outcomes for their patients
  • 82% said it helped them progress their research
  • 76% said it had helped them achieve higher marks in their exams
  • 65% said it had helped them confirm their diagnosis or treatment plan
  • Most significantly, 76% said it had changed their thinking and improved their diagnosis or treatment plan.

The Commonwealth Budget, handed down in May 2014, announced a shake-up in government health agencies, which means Health Libraries Australia (HLA), an important group within ALIA, has to resell the importance of libraries to a new set of administrators. For example, HLA wants to see health librarians included in the National Health Workforce Dataset - at the moment, health librarians are not counted in the medical workforce, despite their vital role. The government has committed to Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records for patients, but ignored the opportunity to involve health librarians, who have the skills to help patients and clinicians work through electronic records.

Our position

Australians need and deserve evidence-based decision-making from the health, law, business and other professionals who give advice and take action on their behalf. Employing library and information professionals is the best way to ensure that the information on which life-changing decisions are made comes from highly reputable sources, with little room for error. Unfortunately, the people who use and value the library and information service are rarely the people who sit at the boardroom table.

What we are doing

It's our job to convince the bean counters of the importance of investing in library and information services. In 2014, ALIA, Health Libraries Inc, HLA and the Australian Law Librarians’ Association published the findings of an independent report into the return on investment of these special library and information services. SGS Economics carried out the cost benefit analysis and reported that for every dollar invested, there was more than $5-worth of value. Taking health libraries alone, the return was in the order of $15 for every dollar invested, as reported in Worth every cent and more.

Our HLA Group plans will be lobbying government for health librarians to be recognised as an integral part of the health workforce, with unique and valuable skillsets, which not only support current activities but may be of even more use in the future, with the emphasis on open access to health and medical research. By sharing the work of researchers in a more open environment, curated by library and information professionals, advances in medical science can be achieved with more efficiency and greater speed.

How you can help

Many health, law and corporate libraries are under serious threat. If you work in an organisation with one of these libraries, go and talk to the library staff about your local situation. If there are threats to funding, talk to your manager about the importance and value of the library service. Help spread the word to senior management that cutting funding to the library is a small short term gain which can have serious long term consequences.

Share your story 

Do you want to tell us about your experiences in how the library helped your with an issue in health, law or business? Please drop us a line or post your story on our Facebook page.

Also if you have used one of our tools or suggestions, tell us the results of your actions. For example, if you have written a letter, made comment in the media, or received a response on a issue, please let us know and then we can keep the FAIR community informed via our newsletter.