Books

Harnessing health libraries By Bruce Madge Radcliffe Medical Press 96 pages£17.95

This book provides an overview of the historical and information strategy contexts for health libraries, as well as the role of such libraries in the evidence-based age.

The title is suggestive of a wide readership, but there is a lack of clarity about the intended audience. For example, Madge states that the health library is 'an important source of evidence for treatment' and, in the same paragraph, goes on to say that 'increasingly, librarians are learning how to critically appraise the literature that they retrieve'.

It may well be that the book is targeted at librarians. If so, such a readership, who may be new to the health library, would find this a useful handbook.

The section on the role of libraries in the evidence-based age is interesting, but a little misleading in that it contains a brief discussion on the role of librarians, but nothing explicit on the role of libraries in the evidence-based age.

Madge also addresses the questions of organisation, access to, and retrieval of, information with descriptions of useful directories, databases and websites. This includes information on cataloguing and classification schemes and where special collections are held.

There is also helpful information on how to search for material published on the Internet and that available on CD-ROMs, with a section for patients and clients on useful sites such as NHS Direct and Healthfinder.

Madge examines the British Library's approach to the 'digital' library and covers its method of describing electronic journal websites and multimedia databases.

A particularly useful chapter covers appraisal skills and criteria that can be used to evaluate websites.

A discussion of the role of librarians and the digital age raises questions about the future of the library and whether or not it will be a 'museum of the book' or 'just a collection of computer terminals'.

These questions are all currently part of the international debate on digital libraries and require further analysis of the services that will be offered by libraries in the future.

This is a specialist health library book, which is practical, concise and of value to anyone in the healthcare setting who does not fully understand what health library information and information systems are available and how to access them.

Beverley Hunt Fellow in education and leadership development, King's Fund.