Libraries Week 2019: Celebrating Archives

Libraries Week takes place between 7th – 12th October 2019. This year’s campaign is focused on celebrating the role of libraries in the digital world. Over the course of the week we’ll be introducing you to different teams within the Library and explore how they use technology to support our community.


Today’s post comes from our Archives team, who have been involved in a large-scale digitisation project – so this year’s Libraries Week theme offered a perfect opportunity to provide an update! Click here for previous posts from our Archives.

Opening Up the Body: Digitising, cataloguing and visualising post mortem case books

Opening Up the Body is a project to conserve the Post Mortem Examinations and Case Books of St George’s Hospital, 1841-1946, and to catalogue and digitise those dating from 1841-1917 – that’s about 27,132 cases across 76 volumes. The catalogue data and digitised images will be made available on the St George’s, University of London website.

Post mortem of Caroline Parker, 42, from 1865.

The volumes contain manuscript case notes and detailed reports of the patients’ medical history, including details of treatments and medicines administered to patients. They also contain comprehensive reports of the pathological findings made during the detailed examination of the body after death. These rich and detailed post mortem records are a unique resource, which will contribute to our understanding of medical education, death practices, and the history of London’s hospitals and infectious diseases, amongst other things. Moreover, the volumes feature notable physicians and surgeons, including Henry Gray, who compiled his influential ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ whilst performing post mortems at St George’s.

Meet the team

Two Project Archivists have now started to catalogue the post mortem volumes and the project team consists of the University Archivist, Carly Manson, and two Project Archivists, Juulia Ahvensalmi and Natasha Shillingford.

How do we use technology to support our users?

AtoM (Access to Memory)

AtoM (Access to Memory) is a web-based, open source, standards-based application for archival description and access. AtoM was originally built with support from the International Council on Archives to encourage broader adoption of international standards for archival description across institutions. AtoM is a dynamic open source application with a broad user base who work together to continually improve and enhance the software to the benefit of the whole community.

Our catalogue is made available via the St George’s Archives & Special Collections website: https://archives.sgul.ac.uk/. AtoM allows users to type keywords into the search box located at the top of the banner, or they can explore the collections by browsing via collection, people and organisations, archival institutions, functions, subjects, places or digital objects. The catalogue homepage also displays the most popular items that have been searched for that week, which provides a glimpse into the interests of our researchers.

Each individual post mortem is being catalogued according to international standards and a summary of each will be produced, providing searchable keyword access. The information being captured in the catalogue includes the name of the patient, occupation, gender, date of admission, date of death, the physicians and surgeons who attended the case, a transcription of the diseases affecting the patient, and notes from the medical and post mortem examinations.

Example post mortem catalogue record

The catalogue data from the Opening Up the Body project will be imported from spreadsheets into AtoM.  The digitised images will be linked to the individual catalogue entry, allowing researchers to access the collection remotely and therefore increase access to the collection and also preserve the physical volumes.

Subject access points are being identified using the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) database (https://meshb.nlm.nih.gov/search), which will allow researchers to search and identify cases by disease and anatomy group. For example, at the click of a button a researcher will be able to identify post mortems that were related to diseases of the respiratory system, or patients that were admitted to the hospital following an injury.

Name access points are also being created for every surgeon and physician of St George’s Hospital who treated the patients or undertook the post mortem examinations, and will be linked to their authority record in the catalogue. The authority record will list information such as dates of existence and a biographical history of the key figures in the history of St George’s.

Visualising the post-mortems

Word cloud of commonly found words in a post-mortem volume from 1887 using Wordclouds.com (https://www.wordclouds.com/)

As we catalogue the material, we are collecting a large amount of data. In order to be able to get the most out of this incredibly rich source, we’ve modified our cataloguing templates to structure the data so that we can both export it into AtoM in the required and easily readable format, and to make it easier to properly explore that data and gain new insights into the material.

This also requires standardising the data, especially when it comes to the names of diseases. These can change over time: tuberculosis, for instance, may be called tuberculosis or phthisis, and we want to make sure we can track these conditions, regardless of what they’re called (this of course is not always that simple, but that may be a subject for another blog post!).

Packed circles showing groups of diseases in 1864, using Flourish (https://app.flourish.studio/templates)

There are plenty of free, open-source tools available, many developed specifically for digital humanities. Visualisation tools are great for immediate visual effect, for telling stories and for drawing attention to details that might otherwise be missed, or might be worth more in-depth exploration – why does the word ‘India’ appear so frequently in the word cloud above, for instance? Why did so many people die of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases? Visualisations are nothing new, of course – John Snow (who at one time worked at St George’s) managed to figure out the cause of the 1854 cholera outbreak by mapping the cases.

Line graph showing instances of death from cholera during the 1854 cholera epidemic in London, using Flourish
Sankey diagram illustrating distribution of diseases by gender in 1864, using Flourish

As we continue cataloguing and collecting more data, we can begin to explore changes over time and ask more questions – did people live longer? How do their occupations change? How do medical advances affect the kind of diseases featured in the post mortems? How do the post mortems themselves change? Presenting the material like this not only allows our readers insights into the contents of the post mortem records, but it also gives us a chance to reflect on the details of our work, and on the ways in which we are dealing with the data as we go along. More importantly, though, we can use these visualisations to bring the material to life – so to say!

We are only just starting, so look out for more exciting visualisations as we delve deeper into the post mortems! And feel free to get in touch with us at archives@sgul.ac.uk – we’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have about the project and accessing the material.


If you are interested receiving updates from the Library and the St George’s Archives project, you can subscribe to the Library Blog using the Follow button or click here for further posts from the Archives.

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International Women’s Day 2019

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Happy International Women’s Day!

There’s plenty of superb female writing talent in the Library, from our own St George’s academics, to classic and contemporary fiction writers. As we were celebrating reading for pleasure during World Book Day yesterday, we thought we’d mark #IWD2019 by pulling together a selection of female-authored fiction titles available in the Library.

You can find these and the rest of our fiction on the shelves at PN3353, but if you’d like to browse them online, click the image below. Each item is linked to its Hunter record, so you can check to see whether a copy is available to borrow. If it’s on loan, remember you can place a hold by signing in to Hunter:

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International Women’s Day is all about celebrating women’s achievements, so there’s no better day to mark the accomplishments of our first four female medical students. Admitted in 1915 due to a shortage of men during the First World War, two of them are pictured below. Helen Ingleby (L) & Hetty Ethelberta Claremont (R) went on to have successful careers in the medical profession.

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You can read more about ‘The First Women of St George’s’ in this interactive timeline. Click the image below for more details, or read our profile of pioneering female medics during the First World War.

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St George’s Library Then & Now: 1998

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Libraries Week takes place between the 8th – 13th October 2018. Over the course of the week we’ll be exploring our Archives to look at how the library has – and hasn’t! – changed over time.


In this final retrospective look at the Library, we’ve delved into a really interesting commemorative brochure produced by library staff to celebrate 21 years of being based in Tooting.

Back in the early 1990s staff were singing the praises of their “several CD-ROM machines, word processing facilities and a scanner” which warranted instating an enquiries desk where library staff could be on hand to answer IT related questions.

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It’s interesting to note that even with the differences and improvements in technology over the past 20 years, many of the enquiries that helpdesk staff answered back in 1998 will be very familiar to users and helpdesk staff today!

Needless to say the type of enquiries facing the library staff are mainly computer related. The most common ones are

‘My Printer is not working’
‘The printer has stopped printing half way through’
I can’t open my file on the computer’

The rest of the commemorative brochure makes for an interesting read: it captures a pivotal point in the development of modern academic libraries as the way we access information began to rapidly change. Technology has streamlined many library services whilst also generating new challenges – especially over the two decades that have passed since the publication of this brochure.

For example, the move from print to electronic journals has had a fairly dramatic impact on the physical layout of the library. With most journal subscriptions now online, we no longer require the rows and rows of shelving to accommodate print copies and can offer far more study spaces, which is of real benefit to our users.

 

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The Library now manages access to thousands of journal titles, far in excess of what we ever could have accommodated physically in print, giving staff and students at St George’s access to far more content than before, with the added convenience that in most cases it can be accessed from anywhere and at any time.

However, with online journals the Library typically licenses the content for a specific period of time, whereas with print journals we owned the volumes and issues of the journals we purchased. Our Journals team must negotiate the terms and conditions of these licences with our suppliers each year, making these transactions far more complex.

Supporting access to online subscriptions also requires maintaining a number of key systems, such as our link resolver, which generates the links through to the full text of articles we have access to; either from search results in Hunter or our other healthcare databases.

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The Library also needs to manage the process of authentication: whereby journal sites identify a user is from St George’s and entitled to access that particular resource. The Journals team work hard to make this process as smooth as possible and provide the necessary support for users where difficulties arise. Responding to the pace of change as technologies develop is a real challenge for library staff and will undoubtedly continue to shape the academic library of the future.

On a final note, the brochure also offers interesting snippets of social history too. Present day staff thankfully have much more input over their own sartorial choices!

1977-98 Library Brochure trousers

…and female staff are now permitted to wear trousers for the task.

 


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If you are interested receiving updates from the Library and the St George’s Archives project, you can subscribe to the Library Blog using the Follow button or click here for further posts from the Archives.

 

 

St George’s Library Then & Now: 1977

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Libraries Week takes place between the 8th – 13th October 2018. Over the course of the week we’ll be exploring our Archives to look at how the library has – and hasn’t! – changed over time.


In this exploration of the Archives, we’re looking at some of the physical incarnations of the Library throughout St George’s illustrious history. Today the hospital and medical school are located in Tooting, but until the 1970s were situated in central London at Hyde Park Corner.

The Library at Hyde Park had many traditional features: lots of dark wooden furniture, high shelving, and books behind glass cabinets. There also appear to be desks perched very precariously on the balcony below the lovely domed ceiling, which today might cause all manner of health and safety headaches.

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As St George’s moved to Tooting in 1976, the Library settled into a more modern looking space. These photos, from 1977, give us a sepia-toned glimpse into the Library as it was then: slightly more accessible shelving, hundreds of print journals, much lower ceilings and a slightly sterile looking staff office. That said, the black and white image in the slideshow below shows a much brighter, wider study space that isn’t that dissimilar to the library back in 2012, before our last refurbishment.

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Do you have any pictures taken in or around the library from your time studying at St George’s? Whether it was last year or 20 years ago, we’d love it if you could share them with us!

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If you are interested receiving updates from the Library and the St George’s Archives project, you can subscribe to the Library Blog using the Follow button or click here for further posts from the Archives.

 

 

St George’s Library Then & Now: 1953

LibWeekRGB
Libraries Week takes place between the 8th – 13th October 2018. Over the course of the week we’ll be exploring our Archives to look at how the library has – and hasn’t! – changed over time.


The Library gets a very short mention in the 1953 St George’s Hospital Medical School prospectus:

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The Library, which is under the supervision of an Honorary Librarian, contains current textbooks and standards works of reference in Medicine, Surgery and allied subjects. It is open daily from 9.30 am to 8 pm, except on Saturdays, when it is closed at 12.30 pm. A book is kept by the Librarian for students to enter the title of any publication they may wish to be added to the Library.

These days, we’re a little less shy about promoting the variety of services and resources that are on offer to all our users, from traditional books and journals to databases, apps, point-of-care tools and visual e-resources. We’ve developed a series of LibGuides to introduce you to topics such as literature searching and reference management and well as subject guides that will help you find, manage and evaluate the information you need for your course.

We also offer embedded and bookable training sessions and drop-in services, run a literature searching service for NHS/SGUL staff and support researchers through the research life cycle, including Research Data Management and Open Access publishing. We still welcome resource suggestions from users, although through much more convenient web forms.

In short, we run a very busy service! We certainly need more hands on deck than our 1950s counterparts and the rapid technological advances of the late 20th century have helped to both alleviate traditional library duties and create new ones. We certainly wouldn’t be able to run any of the above services without the support of our wonderful helpdesk staff, who are on hand between 8am – 6pm Monday to Friday. While these are not dissimilar staffing hours to the library of the 1950s, the study space and computer rooms are now open 24/7 during term times. We wonder what the Librarian (and Honorary Librarian) would have thought of that.

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If you are interested receiving updates from the Library and the St George’s Archives project, you can subscribe to the Library Blog using the Follow button or click here for further posts from the Archives.

 

 

St George’s Library Then & Now: 1941

LibWeekRGB
Libraries Week takes place between the 8th – 13th October 2018. Over the course of the week we’ll be exploring our Archives to look at how the library has – and hasn’t! – changed over time.


This excerpt from a 1941 edition of St George’s Hospital Gazette tells the tale of a very dedicated librarian who kept the library collection intact during the Blitz.

SGH Gazette 1941

Following bomb-damage to this part of the School in the early months of the year, all books were evacuated to the Small Lecture Theatre. With the books in residence the Theatre could not be used by lecturers; the Large Lecture Theatre, like the Library, was open to the sky and the weather, and also unusable. However, this unfortunate predicament could not be helped, and while the books were there the appalling amount of brick-dust and slime that coated the covers and clogged the pages was removed by the Librarian, Miss Bond. By July 16th, the damage to the building was repaired, and on that date the Library once again resumed its part in Medical School activities.

Many books now bear honourable scars, but very few were lost by enemy action: the Library is incomplete, however, as there are still some volumes at Luddington House.

Members of the Medical School are indebted to Miss Bond who, almost unaided, rendered fit for use, replace and re-catalogued all the books now on their accustomed shelves.

The conservation and repair of our print books is still very much part and parcel of library life and mostly takes place behind the scenes. While ‘brick-dust and slime’ aren’t high on our list of worries in 2018, spillages are usually the cause of irreparable damage – leaky bottles in backpacks being a particular culprit.

On average, our collection teams repair around 8 – 10 books per week; using specialist glues and tapes to restore pages and damaged spines. Our popular Oxford Handbooks are regular candidates for repair – their signature plastic covers are resistant to glue and have a tendency to break away from the spines with regular use.

One of our Information Assistants, Georgina Coles, takes us through a simple book repair in the images below:

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Cataloguing and processing books so that they are ready for the shelves is another important part of managing our collection. While we thankfully haven’t had to re-catalogue any bomb-damaged books, our Collections Team have been kept very busy this summer accommodating the large volume of radiography resources being transferred from Kingston University Library. This has involved a large-scale weeding project to remove old and rarely used items from the shelves, before reclassifying the radiography books under our classification scheme. The team have so far processed over 670 books and there are more to follow!

We think it’s lovely that Miss Bond’s efforts were recorded in this way – managing the library in some extraordinarily difficult circumstances is no mean feat. We’re left wondering if there are any other mentions of her or other dedicated librarians in the Archives…

 


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If you are interested receiving updates from the Library and the St George’s Archives project, you can subscribe to the Library Blog using the Follow button or click here for further posts from the Archives.

 

 

St George’s Library Then & Now: 1894

LibWeekRGB
Libraries Week takes place between the 8th – 13th October 2018. Over the course of the week we’ll be exploring our Archives to look at how the library has – and hasn’t! – changed over time.


This rather damning excerpt from an 1894 edition St George’s Hospital Gazette highlights a perennial problem for libraries: managing noise.

SGH Gazette 1894

“If we were asked by a reading student to choose some familiar quotation for each room in the School, that to our mind most suited to the Library would be, “All hope abandon, ye who enter here.” For reading in the Library, becomes, at certain seasons of the day, a matter of impossibility. We cannot even hope that our present admonition will result in improvement. Swing doors will slam, loquacious students will converse in stage whispers, pellets will fall from choreic hands, even though an Embryo dwells in our midst. Yet there is room for great improvement without attaining complete perfection.”

We’re not short of ‘loquacious’ students these days either, but in the intervening 124 years methods of teaching and learning have changed which libraries have evolved to support. One of our ‘great improvements’ to the library has been zoning the space to cater for a variety of study preferences: from quiet, independent reading to collaborative group work.

Arguably, we’ve not attained ‘complete perfection’ either. While you won’t find us ‘sssshh-ing’ users these days (a stereotype library workers aren’t always fond of), we are still on hand to politely remind users to keep the noise to an acceptable level.

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If you are interested receiving updates from the Library and the St George’s Archives project, you can subscribe to the Library Blog using the Follow button or click here for further posts from the Archives.