The Management of Health Library Outreach Services: Evaluation and Reflection on Lessons Learned on the VIVOS Project*

Article excerpt

Purpose: The aim of the VIVOS project was to develop and evaluate methodologies, i.e., sets of methods, for determining the value and impact of "virtual outreach" information services in the health sector in the UK.

Methods: Five different projects were recruited initially, with another two added later. Methods were largely qualitative, with over 130 interviews conducted among health professionals, complemented by postal questionnaire surveys.

Results: Identified factors that affect the successful roll-out and continued development of the projects included the need for help-desk type services to provide sustained support for new users to the services.

Conclusions: Follow-up of the projects eighteen months after the end of the VIVOS project revealed that the long-term impacts for the participating library managers included the benefits of using evidence on service outcomes, enhanced recognition locally, and greater confidence in evaluation.

INTRODUCTION

VIVOS (Value and Impact of Virtual Outreach Services) was a one-year project running from February 2000 to the end of January 2001. It was conducted by the Department of Information Studies, the University of Wales Aberystwyth and received funding from Re: source-the Council for Museums Archives and Libraries, England. The research team collaborated with information professionals working on a variety of outreach projects in various settings (rural, urban, inner city). A largely qualitative approach was taken to determine the benefits to health professionals of using each service and the way use of such services might be encouraged.

This paper discusses the methods used, then presents and discusses the main themes from the findings for marketing and management of such services, with reference to relevant management theories. A brief overview of progress since the formal completion of the VIVOS project indicates how evidence from the project was used to develop services and skills among staff.

Aims and objectives

The aim of the VIVOS project was to develop and evaluate methodologies, or sets of methods, for determining the value and impact of virtual outreach information services in the health sector. The findings were intended to inform guidelines for project management of these and similar services-a set of such guidelines is currently in preparation. The objectives were

* to extend and refine existing value and impact methodologies.

* to assess the usefulness of multiple methods of evaluation (quantitative and qualitative).

* to evaluate the effectiveness of various training approaches.

* to develop guidelines on the methods for management and evaluation of virtual outreach services.

* to develop research and evaluation skills among information practitioners through active involvement in the project.

LITERATURE REVIEW

The development of networked information services has meant that groups of health professionals and health consumers who have previously found access to library services difficult, for reasons of time or geographical constraints, now have a wide variety of information services available. Growth in provision of services to dispersed health professionals, or to those working in remote rural areas, has been rapid. However, easier access to information does not mean that users will make use of services provided, and a review [1] of the information needs of rural health professionals suggests that health librarians need to make sustained efforts to convince this group of the benefits of using information services, thereby changing their information-seeking behavior. Experience of projects in a rural setting suggests that users value the services provided, but that training must be an important part of such projects [2-5]. Indications from a follow-up outreach project [6] suggest that services need to be tailored to meet the needs of particular groups, and that "readiness" for outreach was affected by greater awareness and experience with computers in general. …