Putting the RCVS library to the test... - Veterinary Practice
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Putting the RCVS library to the test…

GARETH CROSS takes up the challenge and investigates the work of the library at the RCVS in London

I WISH to start this column with a
correction to the September edition
Cross-words. In it I criticised the
French for keeping erratic opening

I was lampooning a shop called “8
till eight” for being shut for two-and-a-
half hours in the middle of the day and
thus being misleadingly named. I wish
to retract that as I have been informed
that the correct times
of the said French
shop are in fact: 9am
until noon then 2 till
7.30pm. This does,
therefore, in a
satisfyingly maddening
way, neither open nor
close at any time with
an eight in it.

column featured a trip
to France and the
October one went off
the rails with a slight
mental meltdown so
this month is a good,
sober look at one of
the slightly less understood
or appreciated veterinary institutions:
the RCVS Trust library

This article is a follow-on from the
August Cross-words where I compared
different ways of acquiring veterinary
information when faced with a specific
clinical problem in practice. After I
wrote it the library got in touch with
this magazine and said, “Hey, what
about us?” as I’d not included them in
my comparisons. So now it’s their turn…

The library is separate from the
RCVS but located on the ground floor
of Belgravia house (rather like the
surprisingly useful Indian aphorism:
“Same, same, but different”).

Independent charity

Here is a brief potted history. In 1884,
the RCVS was established and nine
years later it set up a library. In 1923 a
Mr Sewell left a legacy to the RCVS
Library and museum and in 1958 a trust
fund was set up to transfer land and
investments to, which included the
library and museum.

The aim of the trust then and now
is “To promote, encourage and advance
the study and practice of the art and
science of veterinary surgery and
medicine; To advance education in
connection with said art and science;
…the provision of a library or libraries.”

The trust is an independent,
registered charity with its own board of
trustees. It works very closely with the
RCVS and there are some RCVS
Council members on its board. The
library does charge for membership to recover some of the costs of providing
the service. However, the trust heavily
subsidises the service provided.

Membership is currently £75 a year
for an individual and this gives you
around 30% discount on library services
(e.g. book and journal postal loans,
photocopies of articles, inter-library
loans, journal circulation, literature
searches, subject updates), access to full-text articles from just
over 900 journal titles
mainly from the Wiley
Online Library (going
back to early 1990s)
and access to VetMed
Resource (a
bibliographic database
where you can do your
own literature

costs/savings are:
postal book loan, £10
non member, £7.50
member; literature
search (using CAB abstracts), £44 non
member, £33 member (going back to 1973).
The books are as up-to-date as can be; however, if there is something you
need and the library doesn’t have it, it
will do its best to buy it. Books are on
loan for four weeks, but may be
renewed; journals on loan for two

A physical place

As an institution serving members
around the UK and world, it is
important to remember that it also a
physical place and is open to all
MsRCVS to go into in Belgravia house
and use as a library – open from 9.15am
to 5pm, with no mention of a French-
style lunch-break closure.

With most one-day CPD lectures
being £350 plus travel, an overnight
jaunt to the big city to use a free library
may not be a bad option, especially if
you have coursework to complete or
exams to prepare for.

I asked if membership should be
tacked onto the RCVS retention fee:
currently library membership is taken up
by about 2,000 people and there are
26,000 MsRCVS. To generate the
current membership income, therefore,
would be about an extra £6 per year per

I imagine there will be some
increased institutional subs for the
library to pay for due to higher
membership numbers, but many of us
wouldn’t mind paying a bit more for the
library we can all use on a regular basis.
However, as the RCVS and the trust are
separate entities, “tacking on” the fee is not possible. So those are
some facts, the big
question of course is: just
how useful is it to us?

In my trial of
information gathering in
August I asked a simple
clinical question and tried
various means to get an
answer. [NB. all these
trials were free on the day
(i.e. barring costs of
purchasing the books sat
on the shelf at work).]

I compared google, google books,
practice library books, academic search
engines (in this case Wiley interscience)
and a few other ways and means.
Results can be seen in the August
edition of this magazine available online
at www.vetsurgeon.org, or in the printed
version languishing under the huge pile
of paperwork on your desk.

How did the library do? Well, mixed
feelings really. The simplest way would
have been to phone the library and say,
“Do you have any books on xx
subject?” and borrowed them for the
fees outlined above. And in this the
library would have scored highly in
speed and reliability of material, but low
on cost effectiveness.

The library also ran a literature
search for me, which would have cost
£33/£44. The results were e-mailed to
me the next day. In terms of clinical
usefulness or relevance, they scored no
higher than my own efforts on “Pub-
med” and “Wiley interscience”, i.e.
mainly highly acadamic and slightly
eclectic. I would not have been too keen
to pay £33/44 for the results compared
to my own efforts.

My search request was for “Current
thinking on treating canine pancreatitis”.
What I wanted to know really was, is it
currently the fashion to feed through or
keep dogs on NPO and IVFT?

The search results came with
abstracts and most of the journals cited
are available to members online, but the
ones that happened to be relevant to me
were from conference proceedings that
were not in an online journal at all, but
could be photocopied for me for a fee.
However, the library is mainly used by
and for people doing further
qualifications or writing cases or papers
and needing references.

So what is the use of it to most of
us in practice? Well, I certainly do use
“Pub-med” and “Wiley interscience” in
the course of a working week for some
cases. I am sure most GP vets do and I
hope all referral vets do. Most of your
findings can only be viewed for free as
far as the abstracts.

I currently subscribe to one Wiley
journal which covers my main area of clinical interest. That
costs me £74 a year, for
one journal: paper
copies and full text
online of that and a few
others on Wiley.

If your areas of
interest are wider, say
oncology but also
associated medicine and
surgery, you may wish
to subscribe to various
journals. In that case it seems a no-brainer that to join the
library is a much better bet than getting
the individual journals.

Of the 900 you get with the RCVS,
included are generalist things like JSAP,
useful to have in a searchable form.
However, whilst 900 is a lot, it is
probably a job-lot and not all are that
useful, e.g. The plant journal and Software
, and some quite well known ones
are absent, e.g. Veterinary Clinics of North
, published by Elsevier. I have
just typed in my search there and would
have had to pay $31.50 to access one

Terrific value for money

So I think the main thing you benefit
from is the access to the 900 online
journals and “Vet Med Resource”. And
this does represent terrific value for
money. With that and things like
“Wiley” and “Pub-med” you can do
your own searches and have access to
most of what you find in full text for
no further cost.

Book loans would be useful as a
pre-purchase trial run, for specific
studies and the occasional top-up to the
practice stock. I think anyone doing a
further qualification should join due to
the amount of references you will be
able to look up for casebooks, etc. (and
not just read the free abstracts, but no
one ever does that and not read the full
article do you…?), and anyone
considering subscribing to a journal
should have a look at what’s available
through the library first.

Its response to me was very prompt
and most enquiries are dealt with pretty
much immediately.

For what it’s worth, I think the
library should consider a careful review
of which journals it provides access to
and also provide and encourage practice
membership. There could be scope for
building a CPD clock into its website so
if you are beavering away for hours on
end researching a case, it is logged as
CPD time. Membership could also be
recommended for all PSS practices.
I’m trying to think of a snappy
punchline-paragraph to finish up, but as
I’ve just written 1,500 words on a
library, to be honest I’m struggling…

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