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Letter to the Editor: As Librarian Furloughs and Lay-Offs Mount, Provider Practice and Patients May Suffer

The article by Virginia Marie Trow on May 14, 2020, “Clinical Support: As Losses Mount, US Hospitals Furlough Librarians with Other Hospital Staff,” describes the impacts of COVID-19 on hospital finances and employees, and on hospital librarians. Numerous hospital librarians reported furloughs or reduced hours in their positions related to COVID-19. The author described the furloughed librarians as hopeful that they would return to their positions and their libraries would return to something like normal during the summer months.

One hopes that will be true, but it is also possible that furloughs will turn into terminations for some librarians. Perhaps they already have. A librarian at a northern New Hampshire hospital was notified in early May of being terminated after being on furlough for four weeks. All professional library services have ceased at the hospital. In another case, a Vermont librarian retired earlier than planned due to COVID-19 issues, and the position is advertised as community health resource support but not as clinician information support services, part of the retired librarian’s position. In a third hospital in the New Hampshire/Vermont region, the librarian simply received short notice of the end of her position as of June 19. It is unclear at this time whether any library information services such as procuring journal articles, answering clinician questions, and licensing electronic content will continue at these hospitals.

Many hospital employees—including nurses, food service staff, educators, and some administrators around the country—have been furloughed or permanently laid-off as the article states. These losses are terrible, and it would be self-serving to only advocate for the retention of library professionals. However, the librarian and library services are often a unique core resource in clinical settings. With ongoing furloughs and terminations of hospital librarians, the greatest loss may be felt by health care providers and patients.

The “MLA Comments to the National Library of Medicine re: RFI on the Request for Information (RFI): Evolving the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (UG4)” on December 2, 2019, emphasized the need for continued support for hospital and clinical library services. With the legion of hospital library closures even before the pandemic, the comments stated that health care professionals working with no information sources or services and their patients “possibly constitute a new underserved population.” MLA urged a focus on this group, especially in the context of “health disparities between majority and minority populations.” Given the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism, there is advocacy work to be done. Access to health evidence and information are essential for evidence-based practice and shared decision-making with patients.

As we continue to struggle with and against these pandemics, let us not let these hospital libraries fade away quietly. Let us advocate politically, legislatively, and organizationally for access to quality evidence from research, clinical information services, and patient and family information support provided through qualified hospital librarians, libraries, and knowledge centers.

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