Royal College of Psychiatrists Antiquarian book collection catalogue loaded

We’re pleased to have added the catalogue of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Antiquarian book collection to Copac.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is the professional body for psychiatrists in the UK and Ireland. It began in 1841 as the Association of Medical Asylums and Hospitals for the Insane. In 1926 it received its Royal Charter to become the Royal Medico Psychological Association and it finally became the Royal College of Psychiatrists after receiving a Supplemental Charter in 1971.

Royal College of Psychiatrists Library

Royal College of Psychiatrists Library

The Antiquarian book collection consists of English, German and French language books which were donated to the predecessor bodies of the College between 1895 and 1971. Some of the books in the collection date back to the 15th century. Most of the books are from the working libraries of doctors Daniel Hack Tuke, J. R. Lord, C Lockhart Robertson and J. R. Whitwell, T Hyslop, P.W. MacDonald, H. H. Newington, Professor Pighini, R. H. H. Sankey, G Smith, W Starkey, H Yellowlees, and others. The books were either written or edited by notable authors such as Daniel Hack Tuke, Forbes Winslow, Henry Maudsley, John Connolly, Emil Kraepelin and many others.

The collection is a great source of information for the study of psychiatry and psychology. The subjects covered include The structure, functions and diseases of the brain; Causes and cures of nervous disorders; Administration of asylums; Philosophy and anatomy of sleep; Causes, prevention and treatment of mental disorders; Habitual drunkenness.

To browse, or limit your search to the holdings of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Antiquarian book collection, go to the main tab on and choose ‘Royal College of Psychiatrists’ from the drop-down list of libraries.

A visit to the London Library

Ever since we added the collections of the London Library to Copac in early 2012, I’d been hoping for a chance to visit. The Copac team are based in Manchester, and I don’t often get spare time in London, so when I found myself with a couple of unexpected hours, I knew exactly where I wanted to go!

From St James’s Square, the London Library doesn’t look big enough to hold over a million books. The original building has been extended and refurbished over the years, to accommodate the library’s ever-growing collection.

And it really is growing! One of the London Library’s unique features is that (unlike most libraries) their collection is never weeded. What goes in the London Library, stays in the London Library. This leads to a fascinating collection, full of the works that other libraries may have discarded.

I was shown round the building by Head of Acquisitions Gill Turner, who explained how they get their stock. Some of it is donations, often from the private libraries of members. Members might build up a specialised collection in a certain area, which they then pass on to the library, allowing the London Library to acquire small special collections around subjects as diverse as sundials and Australia.

Science & Misc subject headings

Science & Misc subject headings

Much  of the acquisition is patron-driven. Gill showed me the Suggestions book, which sits in the foyer, and where users can record anything from book requests to reports of faulty lightbulbs. Before access to the library foyer was restricted, journalists from the evening  papers used to pop in on slow news days to scour the comments book for titbits for their gossip columns.

When it comes to actually acquiring the works that members request, the library is able to do so through booksellers channels rather than the usual library suppliers, thanks to the influence of former President T S Eliot. Gill explains that this can allow the library to acquire books more quickly than through traditional library channels as they also do not require any servicing of the books.

They’re able to move quickly to catalogue acquisitions, too. The library is part-way through a major retrospective cataloguing project, transferring the records to the online catalogue. Employing 7 FTE  cataloguers in the Bibliographic Services team also means that the library has the cataloguer-power to process new acquisitions very quickly, meaning that they’re often the first library on Copac to have records for recently-published items.

From the back rooms, Gill took me on a tour round the building, which is a wonderful amalgam of airy, hushed reading rooms and labyrinthine stacks – all full of books, books, books! The collections are split into Art, Literature, History, Religion, Biography, Fiction, Topography, Periodicals and Science & Miscellaneous along with smaller collections in Philosophy, Philology, Bibliography, Genealogy and of course the reference collection in the Reading Room. I could happily spend hours just browsing the shelfmarks in Science & Miscellaneous. The alphabetical ordering gives rise to wonderful concatenations and serendipitous discoveries, with ballooning, baths, beer, bees and bells all cosying up to each other.

As well as the books, the building itself is fascinating, with odd crannies, mysterious doors, and a slightly-vertigo inducing floor in the back stacks. Made up of metal grilles, it allows you to look down to the floor below, and causes problems for cataloguers working on the retro project, who have to ferry books across by the armload, as the floor won’t admit trolleys (this led to me, cheesily and I’m sure unoriginally, dubbing it a ‘cattle-oguer grid’).

Grille floors in the London Library

Grille floors in the London Library

As we go round, Gill tells me more about the workings of the library. We peek into the main reading room, set aside for entirely silent study (no laptops – the typing disturbs other members). This silence is highly valued – indeed, the library has recently seen a rise in student members who value the silent study space more than the book stock.  This is an intriguing change of membership for the library, whose users were traditionally more long-term members, often treating the library as a club, or local lending library.

The London Library does lend out its stock. London members are allowed to borrow up to ten books at a time (more for a fee), while ‘country members’ who live more than 20 miles from the library are allowed to borrow up to 15. The library doesn’t have a dedicated inter-library loans department, and all ILL requests are handled by the country members support team. This may be changing! Since the library’s holdings were added to Copac, requests for ILLs have increased dramatically.

Before I leave, Gill shows me the bound volumes of the original library catalogue. Still well-used, the volumes are full of annotations, and are a fascinating snapshot of the development of the collection. Although around 65%  of the catalogue is now online, some older  users still prefer to consult the printed catalogue. Book jackets from recent acquisitions are displayed on a wall nearby, to remind users that there are post-1950 acquisitions in the building.

‘And what about ebooks?’ I ask, and am slightly surprised by the answer that they have none. There’s just been no demand for them, explains Gill, though she expects that this might change in the future. They do have an e-library of online reference work and journals, but as yet no-one is clamouring for Kindles.

And, despite being personally addicted to ebooks, I can understand why. I’ve visited many fantastic research and specialist libraries, and the London Library stands up there with the best. The very air feels full of potential, and I’m almost glad to leave before I can lose myself in the stacks. I hope I’ll be back.

Announcing the new Copac interface and design…

A tremendous amount has been going on behind the scenes of Copac for quite a period of time now.  Like everyone across the sector we’re working at what feels like full tilt  —  tackling multiple projects, and figuring out as a team how to juggle and prioritise it all.  We’re undertaking quite a few JISC innovations projects, including the work with developing a shared service prototype for a recommender API based on aggregated circulation data, a considerable amount of effort is being invested in the Copac Collections Management project, we’ve been collaborating with our colleagues across the office on Linked Data research and development, working closely with the Discovery initiative, and our developers (namely Ashley Sanders) have just about cracked the new database design and algorithms that will address some of the major duplication issues we are currently challenged with as a national aggregator of bibliographic records.

Image of the Copac websiteIn order to understand and meet the needs of our current user-base (800,000 search sessions per month, and counting) we’ve also been conducting market research in the form of surveys, focus groups and interviews with our users and stakeholders. We’ve amassed a lot of knowledge about how Copac is used, its benefit to academics and librarians, the features most valued in the interface, and what we could be doing better (deduplication! Ebook records and access!) We still have a way to go to meet all these needs, and as a service with a ‘perpetual beta ethos,’ committed to innovation, we know we’ll never be ‘done’ with this work.

But the launch of the new interface and design today is a very significant milestone, and one we want to mark.  These changes are the product of a great deal of committed work to the principles of market research and user-centred design. Thanks to the efforts of Mimas web developers Leigh Morris and Shiraz Anwar, the new application interface positively reflects the real world user-journeys of Copac users, and has been rigorously tested to ensure it’s in line with those needs. The new graphic design has been developed to communicate the value proposition of Copac as a JISC service representing Research Libraries, and also as a tool to Research Libraries.  Mimas’ new graphic designer has done an excellent job of transforming a site that was out of date, (‘lacked depth’ and ‘cold’ I believe are words used) into something more engaging, reflecting the breadth and richness of the libraries that make up Copac.  Certainly, beyond providing an excellent resource discovery experience for end users (and this is why the simplicity and ease of use of the search and personalisation tools are our primary focus) it is important for us to communicate on behalf of JISC that Copac is a community-driven initiative, made possible by its contributors and representative bodies like RLUK. We hope that the new elements of the website represent this community feel, giving Copac a bit more of an engaging voice than perhaps we’ve previously had.

A big vote of thanks to my fantastic Copac and Mimas colleagues, and particularly those who have worked quite a few late nights and weekends lately: Shirley Cousins, Ashley Sanders, Leigh Morris, Lisa Jeskins, and Beth Ruddock. Thanks to Shiraz Anwar for his work earlier in this project in ensuring every detail of the interface design reflected user needs. Thanks also to Janine Rigby and Lisa Charnock from the Mimas Marketing team for the market research work, and working with us to identify the value proposition and identity of Copac, and to Ben Perry for translating that so swiftly into a design we all instantly agreed on.