5 Dec 2018

Notes from #CISPC18, 3rd December 2018

Collaborating at CISPC 2018 – now we need action…
Guest Post by Lou Peck, Founder at The International Bunch - #CISPC18

Sunday afternoon saw me heading over the border to the bright lights of London town ready for my first Challenges in the Scholarly Publishing Cycle (CISPC) 2018 conference the next day. Around 50 people attended with a mixture of information professionals, researchers, publishers, intermediaries and consultants. Overall the conference was great, I heard valuable feedback and insight from different stakeholders and most importantly met some new people and old faces.

People traveled from all over the country, some flying in from Israel, the US, Belgium and Ireland for example though no representation, sadly, from further afield like Asia Pacific, India etc. However, we did have a number of people with a great deal of experience in these areas to enrich the insight.

As expected, the majority of attendees were publishers/intermediaries keen to find out what the other stakeholders had to say. So it would be great for future events if more can be done to encourage further researchers and information professionals in addition to lower delegate rates. Maybe publishers/intermediaries can sponsor researcher/information professional delegate places.

It would also be great to see representation from the funders themselves. I am sure they would find this event really invaluable and we of course want to hear what they have to say. Also, consultants are usually one man bands and having to pay the same as a large publisher. This be challenging when there are several events to attend during the year and the registration fee is roughly five times more than UKSG annual membership and double that of a CILIP annual membership for example.

Interestingly, as consultants work with a number of stakeholder groups on various projects, we can bring even more perspective to the different discussions, fresh insight. Essentially, we can be very open with our feedback without feeling possible repercussions.

You’ll notice that I talk about Information Professionals. Primarily in attendance were academic librarians and those who weren’t, e.g. from a corporate background, found the discussions to be too academic focussed and didn’t feel well represented in their feedback from the morning breakout discussions when presented to the room – a real shame and a missed opportunity for all as they weren’t around for the afternoon sessions.

The London Art House was quite a quirky venue and in some ways a refreshing change from the usual hotel/conference venue; surprisingly, the internet connection was pretty good too! Sitting having open discussions in the highly decorative ‘Egyptian’ themed room was certainly something I’ve never experienced before – here’s Erin’s tweet to give you a visual!

The day’s agenda was set around collaboration and discussion for the three ‘identified’ stakeholder groups - Librarians, Academics and Publishers. This classification posed challenges – as a consultant I somewhat floated between and had feedback from all parties through research/interviews we undertake on a regular basis. It would be great to include funders in the discussions, we’d love to hear that feedback, and them to hear everyone else’s.

Tim Gillett, Editor of Research Information chaired the agenda throughout the day. I’ve summarised my thoughts below on each session – I realised I took far too many notes and so have condensed them down. You’ll be pleased to read on to more digestible chunks though there is probably still way too much!

Survey Findings Presented
Warren Clark, Publisher of Research Information and David Stuart, Research Consultant, presented their recent survey findings for ‘The Scholarly Publishing Research Cycle 2018’ survey.

Interestingly, from all my years in publishing, my perception of the Research Information readership was more of a publisher trade publication and so I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the readership is 60% librarians, 20% publishers and 20% others. There was the recognition that there needs to be more researcher involvement in these types of events and surveys.

Warren raised some interesting points – more metrics available however abundance doesn’t mean improvement, rebalancing of power (Germany/Sweden and S Plan), collected action with librarians which should continue. Most notable issues from the survey were around Open Access and Licensing, Discoverability, Accessibility, Trust and Validation, and Policymakers’ Scholarly Publishing Policies.

The room commented that it would be interesting to understand the regional differences, as well as the stakeholder differences, including Funders, and interviewing those that didn’t respond, including more regional responses e.g. APAC. Stakeholder categorization seems a bit old hat now. All great feedback for next year’s report.

Morning Breakout Sessions
The room was split into the predetermined stakeholder groups - Researchers, Librarians and Publishers to engage in stakeholder specific discussion. I ended up on the Researchers table, Publishers had three tables and it became very apparent about the ratio of Librarians, Researcher and Publishers in the room. Some key points from each below:

Researchers – Alastair Horne, Doctoral Researcher, Bath Spa University and the British Library

  • Group of many hats, the divided self - what the researcher wants as a producer and a consumer
  • What is the biggest impact for them, less concern with Open Access (OA) to publish in - more for accessing content, focus on compliance can lead to tick box approach, do we need publishers? GitHub as a collaboration tool etc, differing problems balancing requirements and prestige
  • Researchers publishing more on blogs as finding it hard to publish in journals
  • Turning the publisher business model upside down – libraries publishing with little cost
  • Elsevier is the devil in the room
  • No one understands how Article Processing Charges (APCs) are decided (zero transparency)
Librarians – Helen Blanchett, Scholarly Communications, Subject Specialist, JISC

  • Costs – double dipping and tied into multi-year deals
  • Value for library users
  • Researchers’ slaves to REF, moving goal posts - everything changing all the time in the policy landscape, keeping systems is difficult, changes in publishing industry
  • Predatory publishers
  • More transparency around APCs
  • Time to publish
  • OA monographs
  • Lack of understanding about publisher processes
  • Some institutions struggle to fund APCs and a business case has to be done to support it
  • Internal structures in libraries – e.g. collections and OA were separate but now teams talking more to each other and need to talk more
Publishers – Tasha Mellins-Cohen, Director of Publishing, Microbiology Society
  • We don't have a ‘landscape’ but a ‘seascape’ which is changing all the time
  • Idea of balance of power, ship of many souls - no individual has the same idea as everyone else about where we are heading
  • A lot of individuals are negative to publishers, are we facilitators or blockers? There is no knight in shining armour - we need to work together with the other stakeholder groups
  • Publishers ‘tolerate’ the impact factor
  • Value add, transparency, collaboration and education
Open Room Discussion
We then took some time to discuss some of the feedback raised as well as other thoughts in the room – to be honest I felt this should have been longer to give more people the opportunity to speak and really hash out some of the issues that some people really felt strongly about. I felt that some people were overly quiet. Some of these topics are included below:
  • Gatekeepers – are these publishers now also information professionals – is the publisher a curator (e.g. because of DOIs etc.) as well as an information professional? If we have no fences, do we even need gates?
  • Feeling the need for more transparency and support for what an author should do after publication from Publishers – Emerald’s post publication email was mentioned as a great example and I know from personal experience and contribution that Wiley do a great job here too as another example
  • JISC looking to support UK level of archiving and accessibility
  • UCL is a great example of a university press
  • Publishers should be transparent with APCs - what money is going where 
  • John Tenants report on Elsevier
Jeremy Frey, Professor of Physical Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, University of Southampton
  • What is open? Be transparent as possible – record the story behind the research (notebooks), coding in GitHub, sharing standards etc
  • Life as an academic can be impossible - ideas, funding, people to collaborate with, admin, results, teaching, publishing and demonstrating/improving impact
  • Research is a cost to universities unless have funders
  • Impact is important - what goes in the REF, what assessed for and how he keeps his job
  • Some research is immediately impactful, some will be relevant in 100 years
  • Vision - look at the impact of digitization on the whole process
  • Publishers to support new technologies - e.g. QR code and augmented virtual reality in article
  • Publishes at the beginning of the academic year as library has the money
  • Importance of students understanding publishing process
  • Open data - how can we get the data from an article, what is the providence and how reuse?
  • More supplementary data to be on publishers’ site
  • How do we go from here? 2019 is a dramatic year for chemistry and science - anniversary of periodical table, IUPAC 100 years, and redefining SI – loss of the kg
  • Transition from print to e and pre-print support
  • Scientists not believed anymore - how do we change this?
  • Not all chemists wear lab coats
Helen Dobson, Scholarly Communications Manager, University of Manchester Library 
  • Sense of feeling like making it up as you go along
  • Policy - complex framework that is so complicated – in six years already seen two rounds
  • Importance of library voice being heard by University
  • REF - that is where the money is and the pressure is
  • Plan S – helping to standardize policies but publishers taking parts of it and not clear which parts yet – funders should standardize
  • All these conversations going on separately, we need to talk to each other, are we talking the same language just sometimes using different terminology. We need to all start talking the same language
  • Invited by publishers to review products as part of RLUK – when works, works well
  • Developed a system with a deposit form to make it easier for researchers to deposit their work in institution repository
  • Developing simple systems to reduce OA admin
  • Library has to do lots of checking – systems like PURE and JISC Monitor Local aren’t fulfilling their needs and needing to do more manual work for reporting
  • Need to keep talking about systems - working smarter together on quick wins whilst waiting on the bigger developments
Bill Kasdorf, Kasdorf and Associates
  • The Oxford word of the year – TOXIC, The word of Scholarly Publishing is Open
  • Open = Toxic?
  • ‘Open’ feels precarious to many publishers
  • Researchers feel OA is not as open as you think it is
  • The world we are in is all about open science - funder info, research, etc
  • Open doesn't equal free
  • Open standards and open technologies are key to open access
  • Open examples - Editoria, eLife and Accessibility
    • Editoria - open source platform
    • eLife - actively collaborating - Coko and Hindawi partnership to develop xPub MS submission and peer review. Have an initiative called ScienceBean - open tools - looking to unlock 40million records
    • Accessibility - make it something we take for granted - the publication should be born accessible
  • EPUB3 is based on Open Web Platform - schema.org
  • Room comment - No one is talking about the China policies - what about policies from other countries? China data policy issues - China publishing landscape changing - more open access journals being created that are good quality. In 10 years there will be a more Chinese centric approach. We'll start submitting to English language Chinese journals. People will be going over there for research jobs.
Afternoon Breakout Session – Summary of Sessions
Helen Blanchett, Scholarly Communications, Subject Specialist, JISC 
Librarian focused - issues with outcomes - policy/funders, REF, manual process, standards, PIDs, metadata, communications with publishers and libraries - what published and when - publications JISC - manuscripts end up in repository, publication checklist for researchers about what to do next, primary focus has been on UK mandates, funding - how are APC funds managed, libraries and publishers trying to do the same training - can they work together? Maybe researchers more attracted to publisher session than library session, collection action - university presses, UCL.

Alastair Horne, Doctoral Researcher, Bath Spa University and the British Library
Researchers - measurement of research - imperfections of impact factor, abandoning journals entirely. Researchers need to know more about what publishers do and what they contribute to the process.

Tasha Mellins-Cohen, Director of Publishing, Microbiology Society 
Publishers - we all generalize too much, Publishers need to be more transparent and Publishers need to do more – e.g. send the papers to preprint repository services.

Wrap Up
It seems the day was a success for most and some interesting points were made – however we can discuss things as much as we like – it depends if there is going to be any action – I’d like to see some people taking ownership helping to drive some actions forward – there are often key players in the room who have the ‘authority’ to do this.

One point I commented towards the end is that as a consultancy we have a number of commissioned research projects we’re involved with and I know many other industry colleagues do these too. There must be some really great commissioned research out there held on servers that can be made open access through figshare for example so it gets a DOI for all the industry to benefit from – we can only improve and get better together.

Of course, some is competitively sensitive so could have an embargo, and some of course is commercially sensitive so it won’t see the outside of the boardroom but it would be great if publishers and intermediaries collaborated more and shared their insights, beyond the meet ups and discussions usually held at a more senior level – which on some occasions isn’t filtered down the team structure.

If we want scientists to collaborate with open data/open science, why don’t we lead the way?

22 Nov 2018

Positioning the academic library within the institution; a summary

Guest Post by Michelle Breen, Head of Information Services at the Glucksman Library at the University of Limerick.

Things have never moved so fast, and things will never again go so slow. 

What a way to open an event!

This was one of the many memorable quotes in the day’s opening address, given by Pat Loughrey, Warden of Goldsmiths College. As CEO of the institute, he oversees academic and administrative activities at the college and he sees the leadership that the library brings, informed by our daily interactions with students as being a distinguishing attribute of libraries in the campus infrastructure. Pat remarked that it is known in many institutions that if you want to ‘take the temperature’ of the student body you just ask the library or the catering outlets. Pat also remarked that other support services on campus look to the library as a model for how to develop their service; anticipating student needs, acting on their feedback and moving away from the “we know what’s best” approach that might prevail in institutions that are in awe of their own history and foundations. A wider perspective than this can help library leaders – that’s all of us by the way – to become what Sarah Brown from the University of Queensland described as ‘University people’. Sarah talked about the ‘One UQ’ philosophy, meaning that all of what they do is in support of the institution’s mission. Northumbria, led by Tony Woolley, aligns all of its library activities firmly with the KPIs as set out in the University’s strategic plan. It is to this set of KPIs that we can look to for guidance when we ask ourselves “what can I stop doing”. Our library activities need to ALL be in some way connected to a University goal. If they’re not, should we be doing them at all? A compelling quote from the day was from John Cox’s talk when he quoted a book (from 2005) that encouraged us to be ‘University people first, Library or IT people second’. We will all have to read John’s article for the full reference!

The day’s first speaker Regina Everitt from University of East London described how she used the McKinsey 7S model to restructure her organisation. In ascertaining what skills set her teams had, Regina discovered that all had a common ‘customer facing’ outlook. Regina expanded on this so that the teams saw what they had in common and then worked to discover other common ground, “cross-identifying” so that they people could see that it was as valuable to be a service provider as to be a technical specialist.  One crucial thing that Regina found in her work was that our libraries need versatile people who can work outside their own specialty. Regina advocated getting teams talking to each other so that they can cross train but she emphasised the importance of and need for formal training also to help us develop the skills to support researchers as ably as we have been supporting students up to now.

Ruth Harrison, Head of Scholarly Communications Management, Library Services at Imperial College, London talked about changing the roles of the faculty librarians. Ruth’s article in the upcoming NRAL themed issue sets out the skills and competencies she thinks library staff need to have impact, citing excellent relationship management, good teaching skills, knowledge of Higher Ed and ability to converse with researchers about scholarly communication.

We heard from Lijuan Xu from Lafayette College about their functionalist approach with liaison librarians while also maintaining a focus on student support. Ithaka S&R noted in 2017 how subject expertise is valued but that researchers expect ‘sub-discipline’ expertise also from the library. You can get more detail on the talk but the general idea is that if a music librarian can give assistance in a general sense about music can they provide it at the same level about performance? Is this a realistic expectation for ALL of a University’s sub-disciplines and are libraries on a hiding to nothing if they persist with ‘subject’ expertise?  The inter-team discussions that Lafayette library now has, with librarians from cataloguing or other areas also being involved in supporting researchers, creates positive collaborative opportunities whereby a researcher could be put in touch with a library staff member that may not have or ever held a subject role but has knowledge, interest or expertise in the area being asked about.

Always a popular speaker, Róisín Gwyer from Portsmouth talked about librarians reinventing themselves by moving out of their areas, encouraging new roles for library leaders. Róisín referenced the SCONUL View from Above report that reports on the perspectives of senior leaders in universities about libraries.  For this report, 12 senior people were asked how they viewed library directors, what strategies library leaders can use in uncertain times, they asked questions about culture and how library leaders can move up to executive positions within institutions. I recommend having a read of the SCONUL report and Róisín’s article next month.

Sarah Brown from the University of Queensland described the hybrid model where subject librarians provide teaching, learning and research support. Training and placements, peer mentoring and the use of PDRs to identify training needs are all elements in the transformation of subject librarians to a more hybrid model at the University of Queensland. Sarah described the ways that the library facilitates knowledge transfer within their library team but emphasised that inter-team communication is vital to the continuing development of the individuals in the teams. Formal training is a must in the development of subject librarians if they are to support researchers; we can not create experts overnight. The library at the University of Queensland through its very strong relationship with their campus research office will deliver digital skills to PhD students and early career researchers. This moves the library and its staff up the value chain in the university, delivering what is prioritised and needed in their University right now. I really like the UQ motto, ‘One UQ’ and I would say it is fundamental to the success of their inter-departmental collaboration.

Cambridge’s Helen Murphy and Libby (Elizabeth) Tilley reported on what they called ethnographish research to find out how English and Arts faculty perceived the library. They focused on established faculty members and uncovered some really interesting stories to understand the experience of their academics. I must admit that the talks moved at an incredible pace and I did not catch all their examples but you can read about it yourself in NRAL in December.

John Cox opened his talk by saying that trends and pressures in Higher Education impact how the library positions itself.  John presented his detailed literature review article in a very clever way, choosing his top 10 quotes from his research as a summary of his work. There are thought-provoking insights in John’s paper including this quote from Murray and Ireland in a CRL article: “Academic libraries are no longer the symbolic heart of the University”. Lots of John’s points would be good conversation starters with senior university personnel.

Nick Woolley from Northumbria delivered an invited paper for the themed issue. He asked a couple of fundamental questions such as what is a library for? What is the value proposition? What does the library do for the institution? Northumbria created teams around their major value propositions including a Reading Lists team whereby any competent member of the team goes out and does the liaison work and can also be a technical contributor in the management of the reading lists. 

In summary
Michelle Blake from York posed a very direct question in the early stage of the day; why are liaison librarians slow to take on advocacy work with researchers? The libraries that have made strides in this area have reported that their staff are enjoying the change and the challenge that being a research support librarian can bring. Liaison librarians are very good at what they do but their contributions can go up a noticeable notch by focusing efforts on talking to early career academic and researchers about RDM, copyright, collections, licenses, and scholarly communications. What are we afraid of?

Much of what was discussed resonated with me because it was a definite theme in the research I did with Johanna Archbold about Amplifying CONUL’s voice. Our interviews for that project, with leaders of library organisations, particularly in RLUK, CILIP, LIBER & SCONUL, gave us insights in to how non library people view libraries. Our interviews revealed that libraries could be described as the black box of institutions, knowing what goes on, recording valuable information and being robust and fairly indestructible. The challenge we have is how we take advantage of this really unique position, how do we get involved in the management and leadership of those more tricky areas within the institution, lending our expertise where it is most valuable.

Throughout the day, over lunch and on in to the afternoon reception, there was serious chatter and networking and the hosts really looked after us well. Thanks to Leo Appleton and his team for hosting this most interesting event.

The seminar marked the launch of a special themed issue of NRAL which promises to be a very informative and useful set of papers on a very relevant topic to all academic libraries. This issue is due out in December, sign up on their website to receive an alert when it comes out.  Editor in chief of NRAL Graham Walton was OK with the fact that the journal does not have an impact factor as NRAL has enough altmetric data to confirm that the journal is being read and is making a very important contribution through its practitioner style publications from across the globe. Downloads are at about 3,000 per month at present and the journal has very international coverage and if the event at Goldsmiths is anything to judge by, the journal is still in a growth phase. The mix of international authors, many of them present at the event, is a strong signal that this journal has a global reach. The events speakers are all featured in the upcoming issue and today just gave a 10 – 15 minute snapshot of their research. Take a look at some of the tweets at #NRAlAcadLib to see how lively the conversation was on the day.

5 Sep 2018

FORCing the issue: A can’t miss workshop on future directions for contributor recognition

Guest post by Cory Craig, Mohammad Hosseini and Alison McGonagle-O’Connell

An unlikely trio is collaborating to bring the attendees of FORCE 2018 a pre-meeting workshop discussing the CrediT Taxonomy, the standard that everyone’s been talking about.

CRediT is a linked data initiative that allows author contribution(s) to scientific papers to be specified, transparent, and machine-readable. CRediT has been adopted by hundreds of journals, yet implementations vary widely.

With backgrounds in research ethics and integrity, academic libraries, and publishing, researchers Mohammad Hosseini, Cory Craig, and CRediT Program Committee co-chair Alison McGonagle-O’Connell will deliver a dynamic pre-meeting workshop session to advance the dialogue.

As a ‘standalone’ project under the auspices of CASRAI, CRediT has been managed by enthusiastic volunteers on a Program Committee. This grassroots approach to the management of the taxonomy has attracted passionate advocates, but has at times presented some challenges to wider adoption: mainly, a lack of resources to get documentation and visibility to critical levels and ambiguities in relation to co-authorship. This workshop seeks to address these in an interactive session and explore next steps for the CRediT taxonomy. To further engagement with the scholarly community, and identify next steps for CRediT, this workshop will:
  • Start with an overview of CRediT and how it works, including: author, publisher, integrator perspectives; ethical issues; and barriers to adoption.
  • Use live online polls to gather participant opinions, conduct thought experiments, and identify topics for breakout groups.
  • Use Breakout Groups to identify innovations and next steps. Topics to be determined by participants and might include: implementation and barriers, ethical issues, usefulness, and application in non-science disciplines.
  • Share results from breakout groups (both during the workshop and after).
Select the “CRediT: Discussing Next Steps”pre-meeting workshop (12:30-3pm) on October 9, when you register to attend FORCE 2018.

15 Aug 2018


This post by Victoria Archer, Queens University Belfast Library was placed Joint First in the CONUL Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Award 2018. 

Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle. 
Paul Coelho, Brida – 1990

 Here, in my university library we go by a way of life entitled Task Rotation.

In theory it allows all of us to gain experience and knowledge in every area of the Borrower Services workload. Three times a year we learn how to manage a new sphere of library life and impart to the colleague stepping into our shoes all of the wisdom and expertise we have accumulated during our four-month reign. We curate and update our clipboards to make sure the most critical information and mystical secrets of our task are embodied within their sacred, silvery clasp. And then, when training is complete we hand them over, along with all of the highs, the lows, and the quirks of our old life.

There is much lively debate with regards to the pros and cons of task rotation within academic libraries. Overwhelmingly though, despite arguments it is time-consuming and lacks efficiency, it appears that there is much support for its benefits. In Job rotation at Cardiff University Library Service: A pilot study (2009) Sally Earney and Ana Martins concluded that:

 job rotation demonstrably improved the skills and motivation of the majority of the rotatees… job rotation fosters employee learning (Campion et al., 1994), improves motivation or reduces boredom and fatigue (Walker and Guest, 1952; Campion et al., 1994) and enables firm learning (Ortega, 2001; Ericksson and Ortega, 2006).

It is with a heavy heart then that I adjust my tortoiseshell glasses and begin to relay to you the story of my fall from grace

It has been one glorious year since I started to work for Queen’s University Library. Upon arrival my transition from working in the public libraries was an exhilarating and relentless barrage of learning and information. Gone were my days of issuing, discharging and tidying books for a small library attracting perhaps 100 people on a normal day.

The imposing façade of the McClay Library – Winner of The Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) Award 2013

Here I was standing behind the Borrower Services Desk of an institution where the average daily footfall hits 10,000; being educated on how to navigate the intricacies of a library with over a million books.

Nine months in I had graduated to one of the most complicated tasks of all – Inter Library Loan Reporting. With each task rotation my role had become more challenging, complicated and involved and I loved it.

Organisation is key: some of my beloved stationary
I had a diary overflowing with reminders, tips and weekly updates. I had colour-coded lists of libraries and their lending time frames. I got to know Library Assistants on first name terms from all over the UK and Ireland, and the Top Tips section I created for my clipboard extended over 4 pages. Every day was adrenaline fuelled and essentially, I felt like the Wolf of Wall Street; only with more books and decidedly less money.

Teamwork makes the dream work: my wonderful colleagues at QUB Library
Perhaps you can see where this is going.

Time for task rotation came, and I was to be forcibly removed from my Inter Library Loan position; banished to the realms of in-house notifications. My colleagues consoled me and as the final day of my task approached I prepared to part with my high-flying role and cherished clipboard.

I won’t say it didn’t look suspicious when the two colleagues taking over my duties were both taken mysteriously ill in the first week of task rotation. There were whispers that my passion for my work had gone too far, and I will admit that extra week was enjoyed with a bittersweet abandon.

After two months of my new task I am inclined to agree with Earney and Martins. The variety of our rotation allows for a much more interesting and diverse career long term, where we are always learning and facing new challenges.

That said – here I am, patiently awaiting the day when the Inter Library Loans come back to me.
And what have I learned? Don’t poison two people at once, it looks incredibly dubious.

Earney, S., Martins, A. (2009) ‘Job rotation at Cardiff University Library Service: A pilot study’, Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 41 (4), pp. 216-224. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0961000609345089
Photos: Author’s own


This post by Ronan Kelly RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) Library  was placed Joint First in the CONUL Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Award 2018. 

Earlier this year I joined the Heritage Collections team in the RCSI Library. On a daily basis I help with inquiries from within the College and from the general public. Another ongoing task has been the preparation of a booklet on medical instruments and innovations associated with figures from RCSI. From the College’s point of view, the booklet represents a moment of reputation enhancement: an opportunity to showcase one aspect of RCSI’s 234-year contribution to medicine in Ireland.

There will be ten entries in the finished booklet, all quite varied, ranging from the late eighteenth century – Samuel Croker-King’s (1728 – 1817; first President of RCSI) improvement to the trepan (basically, advice on how to drill a better hole in a head) – to the middle of the twentieth – Terence Millin’s (1903 – 1980; President of RCSI) retropubic approach to transurethral resection of the prostate (I’ll spare the reader an image of that).

Title-page and plate from Croker-King’s Description of an instrument… (Dublin, 1791), RCSI Heritage Collections
Individually, these stories are fascinating and distinct (although as I researched each one the overriding question in my mind was whether it dated from before or after the discovery of anaesthetic…). But as the project wraps up I’ve taken a step back to ask myself what the discoveries have in common – and it seems to me that three interesting themes, or lessons, emerge. Despite the RCSI origins, these lessons are not necessarily medical and so I submit them here in the hope that they will inspire others regardless of their field of endeavour.

Lesson 1: Stealing is good
Invention, or innovation, can often be the repurposing of something already in the world. Consider, for example, the case of Richard Butcher (1819 – 1891; Fellow and President of RCSI). Surgery in Butcher’s time involved a lot (really, a lot) of amputation; indeed, a surgeon’s reputation often rested on their speed with the blade. But the sharp edges of sawn-off bones were extremely painful and slow to heal – until one day Butcher observed how cabinet-makers executed intricate or curving cuts by using a particular implement whose blade could be rotated to any angle. In his mind, he swapped the nice piece of furniture for somebody’s mangled limb and lo, his adapted version – known somewhat unfortunately as Butcher’s saw – was born.

Plate from Butcher’s Operative and conservative surgery (Dublin, 1866), RCSI Heritage Collections

Plate from Butcher’s Operative and conservative surgery (Dublin, 1866), RCSI Heritage Collections
Another repurposing happened with that most universally recognised instrument of medical practice, the stethoscope. Its invention is credited to René Laënnec, who in 1816 was inspired by the sight of two children sending acoustic signals to each other using a length of wood. He found that mediate auscultation – using a rolled-up sheet of paper to listen to a patient’s internal organs – produced louder and clearer sounds than the previous practice of immediate auscultation (placing one’s ear directly on the patient). With the advent of rubber, Arthur Leared (1822 – 1879; Licentiate of RCSI) developed this into the binaural version – meaning it had two earpieces – that we know today. Leared brings me to the next lesson…

Lesson 2: Don’t be shy
Having invented his binaural stethoscope, Leared showed it off briefly at the Great Exhibition of 1851; he then sailed off to serve in the Crimean War. When he returned he found that someone who ‘admired’ his invention at the Exhibition was now manufacturing and selling very similar binaural stethoscopes. Belatedly, Leared wrote to The Lancet to set the record straight, but it is his rival’s version that set the industry standard (see Lesson 1).

Leared’s binaural stethoscope from Down’s catalogue of surgical instruments (London, 1906), RCSI Heritage Collections
Something similar happened to Francis Rynd (1801 – 1861; Fellow of RCSI), inventor in 1844 of the hypodermic syringe. He neglected to write up his work and soon enough near-identical inventions appeared in Edinburgh and London. Finally Rynd staked his claim in 1861, when he published in a Dublin medical journal a fuller account of his earlier innovation. Coincidentally, following his sudden death, the same issue of the journal also carried Rynd’s obituary. Don’t let this happen to you!

Rynd’s hypodermic needle featured in RCSI promotional material (©RCSI)
Lesson 3: Keep trying
Failure need not be failure – or, to put it another way, failure is only failure until it is a success. This cheering lesson is exemplified by the uncheering story of 14-year-old Mary Ann Dooley, who suffered an accident working in a paper mill. She was brought to Robert McDonnell (1828 – 1889; Fellow and President of RCSI), who performed Ireland’s first blood transfusion in order to save her. Sadly, Dooley died the next day (‘without pain, and quite conscious to the last’), but McDonnell remained optimistic about the practice. He designed his own transfusion apparatus and went on to save many lives.

McDonnell’s transfusion apparatus, RCSI Heritage Collections
Space precludes sharing the lessons learned from Tufnell’s bullet scoop, Daunt’s lithotome or O’Halloran’s cataract knives – except to say we should all be very thankful for anaesthetic. RCSI Heritage’s next project will be on the influenza pandemic of 1918; no doubt there will be lessons there too…

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