Report on USTLG Summer Meeting on, Royal Society of Chemistry, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London Wednesday 5th November 2003


Science and Society



Frank Norman
Librarian, National Institute for Medical Research


Science is all pervasive in everyday life. Members of the public need to engage with science and scientists; scientists are encouraged by their funders to engage with the public. Where (if anywhere) do scientific libraries fit into this?


The National Institute for Medical Research

Frank began by explaining about the National Institute for Medical research. Based in North West London there are some 730 people with 19 Divisions and over 200 scientists, 100 post-doctoral fellows, and approximately 100 postgraduate students making the Institute the largest of the MRC's research establishments.


Science in Society

He went on to say that Science is all pervasive in everyday life. Members of the public need to engage with science and scientists; scientists are encouraged by their funders to engage with the public. Where (if anywhere) do scientific libraries fit into this?


Science is however complex and uses specialist language.  It is often misunderstood and people turn to it for probability and certainty when it does not give this. However, Science is documented and it is all-pervasive in its effects on life today. For example in Health, Food, Environment and Technology.


History of Science & Society

Frank then went on to give a brief History of Science & Society in the UK.


In 1985 a Royal Society working party produced the Bodmer Report. Out of this the Committee on Public Understanding of Science was set up. (COPUS) This set up a grant scheme to fund activities.


COPUS produced publications, held meetings and generally became the focus for the Public Understanding of Science in the UK.


In 2001 the House of Lords Science & Technology Select Committee produced a report called Science & Society.  This report examined the recent problems around communicating scientific issues/decisions to the public such as BSE. The report concluded that new thinking was needed.


In 2002 The British Association for the Advancement of Science produced a report “Science in Society”.   From this report COPUS passed away, but the grant schemes remain. The report had five main messages:

  1. There is a crisis of trust and this threatens the public’s tacit assent towards research.
  2. The public's values and attitudes must be listened to and this includes attitudes towards the ethics, morals and values behind the science.
  3. ‘Public understanding of Science’ was demeaning and condescending and is no longer enough. Scientists need to understand the public: hence the importance of dialogue and engagement.
  4. Secrecy must give way to a presumption of openness and transparency. The Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation will give more impetus to this.
  5. Scientists must learn to live with a free press and therefore Scientists need training to handle the press better. More generally improved education for scientific literacy is needed (particularly as the majority of the science curriculum is oriented towards the very small minority of students who wish to go on to do science.)


Three years on...

The Office of Science & Technology (OST) - part of the DTI called a meeting earlier this year to review Science & Society (S& S) three years on after report. OST announced it was establishing a new S&S directorate.


POST (Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology) is an office of the two Houses of Parliament (Commons and Lords). It provides independent and balanced analysis of public policy issues related to science and technology. POST looks at a very wide range of areas, including defence, transport, IT, environment, health and science policy. It can be noted that the focus has been somewhat on government science (i.e. policy advice and decision making) and the more general PEST (Public engagement in Science & Technology) have been less addressed.  Frank noted that recently the MRC newly appointed Chief Executive Professor Colin Blakemore signalled S&S is one of his priorities.


The next step Do we fit in here?

At its most basic level, if research now entails S&S and scientists in training need to be trained in S&S too, then Libraries need to take account of that. Perhaps Libraries can be instrumental in achieving the broader goal.


Frank suggested that LIS professionals have to be bold explorers. By using not just books and journals but audio-visual material, CD-ROMs, websites data and VLEs, PEST is about information. He noted that interestingly Open Archives (OA) might have an impact.  If anyone can access results of research this can be an opportunity or a problem.  Frank mentioned that when he raised this issue on psci-com he got a snotty reply to say that it was wrong to force scientific literature into a role it wasn’t designed for.  Frank however, feels that maybe we need to redesign the literature.  Interestingly enough PLoS (top tier OA biology journal) says "All PLoS Biology research articles are accompanied by a synopsis written by a professional science writer for a general audience. It is our goal that the synopses will provide non- experts with insight to the significance of the published work." While professional synopses and press releases are not appropriate for all publications, we may see lay abstracts become more commonplace as OA grows.


Frank also noted the following from Steve Morgan from the University of Glamorganwho said, "Why don't library staff go into local communities and preach the HE gospel." THES (11th July 2003.) In this he was talking about meeting challenges for widening participation. Frank wondered whether maybe this could be extended to other areas?


Collection Development

Researchers (and students to some extent) need to see examples of popular science books in their disciplines.  They should be seen as part of the literature of the discipline.  Books, reports on science policy are also important.  Books giving guidance on how to write clearly and how to write for a more general audience can also be valuable.  It may be helpful to highlight these resources to users of your Library. Through web-based services we can also draw to researchers’ attention any local (or national) events, organisations, information from the European Parliament, Westminster, Government depts. (DoH, DTI, DEFRA), Agencies (HGC, HFEA) Organisations such as Café Scientifique and other meetings could be publicised. There is a great deal going on.  An area of your internal website drawing this together could be helpful.



Frank said we should "Get involved." There may be a lot going on in the organisation already.  The Library can get involved and help.


The Fringes

The National Institute for Medical Research has resident artists and they find Library is a good starting point. The History of Science can be a good way in to science.  The Laboratory of Medical Biology employs an archivist to present stories of its past research through their website.  Maybe the Library could organise an S&S or PEST interest group (internally). Or host some external meetings?


Is this going too far? Do we want the public in our Library?

Obviously not everything will be appropriate for all libraries, but most of what’s been mentioned is going on in different libraries around the country. Frank concluded with the following that it is interesting to note how in the health sector in the last 5 years there has been a sea-change.  Senior LIS professionals were brought in to develop strategic plans for all the regions (as they then were), and these included patient information - i.e. how to get health information to the general public.  LIS professionals in this sector are engaged with this issue.




Louise Simon
Information Officer, Wellcome Trust Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine


The Wellcome Library's science and society collections and the development of an internet gateway on public engagement with science.


Louise spoke about how the public often have a strange perception of science from tabloid headlines which can be sensationalist and alarmist.  "Stop the GM Zombie" Claims of wonder drugs and miracle cures all of which can lead to disillusionment and issues of trust with Science. The public still, on the whole, trusts GPs and non-profit making academics and it is possible that there may also be a role here for librarians, who are often regarded as trustworthy.


The Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is an independent research funding charity that has an interest in the role of science in society. It aims, among other things, to:

  • Inform public attitudes
  • Cover the ethical, social and political aspects of science in schools
  • Connect science and art through, for example, SciArt
  • Connect science and drama through projects such as Science Centre Stage


The Library

The Wellcome Library includes historical as well as contemporary material. It collects information on biomedical ethics, science policy and Public Engagement in Science and Technology (PEST) to research level, as well as popular science and the Consumer Health Collection aimed at a more general readership. There is also a press cuttings and current awareness collection.


The Library is open to members of the public and the catalogues can be searched online. There is also an outreach officer to promote the Trust’s services through displays, exhibitions and workshops. Academic courses are run and there is liaison with local schools and colleges.



Louise then went on to describe psci-com ( – an Internet resource for science communicators. This acts as a gateway to high quality web resources in collaboration with BIOME and RDN. It covers practical resources and exemplar websites in the field of science as well as providing a discussion forum hosted by Jiscmail. Psci-com also has a monthly bibliography compiled by the Wellcome Trust Information Service and a selection of abstracts from journals, newspapers, books and reports. A calendar of events lists both events for a professional audience and, in a separate listing, a wide range of events aimed at engaging a public audience.


Developments for the future include increasing the size of the database at a rate of 30-40 new records a month, and further development of psci-comlit – a searchable database of journal and newspaper articles. Louise concluded that Science in Society information needs to be both practical and academic based to reach a diverse audience and she invited people to Email her with suggestions for additions to the lists of websites or events.




Moyra Forrest
Research Centre for Social Sciences, Edinburgh University
What can librarians do by way of outreach to the public?


Moyra talked about librarians already having the skills and attributes to help promote an understanding of science. We know how to find information, we have good organisational skills, we are reliable and we have curiosity.


We heard how, in Edinburgh, there is a science festival each year where science is found to be fun. It engages people of all ages and from many countries; hands on activities have no language barrier. In other areas of the UK there are events which can foster scientific enthusiasm such as Café Scientifique meetings and activities in local museums.


The librarian's role is not necessarily to put on events, but to be aware of what is happening and to direct people to appropriate activities for their level of interest and understanding to be a facilitator. The growth of interest in science can be seen throughout the media:-

  • Many more popular science titles being published
  • Discussion of these titles at book groups in public libraries
  • Theatre productions such as Michael Frayn’s ‘Copenhagen'
  • Special science pages in many newspapers
  • Popular science programmes on TV


Moyra concluded by urging us to visit and to just GET INVOLVED!!




Mike Hannant
Key Account Manager, Royal Society of Chemistry


The Royal Society of Chemistry

Mike started by giving us a bit of background to the history of the Society and its functions as a publisher, a guardian of a journal archive and a promoter of chemical information. It has 45,000 members, making it one of the largest Royal Societies, with 36,000 based in the UK and 9,000 overseas with a large number based in the Commonwealth. It has 260 employees with the majority being based at the Cambridge site. The object of the Society, which dates back to 1848 for which the Society is constituted, is 'the general advancement of chemical science and its application.’


The Society achieves this through

  • Education of both students and teachers, in particular by a poster campaign entitled ‘Not all chemists wear white coats’ and in provision of online games for 11-14 year olds.
  • Communication with and advice for Parliament with a full time member of RSC staff who is often at Parliament. In the Scottish Parliament there is the Scottish Science Advisory Council
  • Interest groups within the Society (Analytical Division, Chemical Biology Forum and Fast Reactions in Solutions Interest Group.)
  • In the news and media by raising the profile and providing topical comment

Mike gave some colourful examples of involvement in recent discussions and aims to promote Chemistry, such as ‘

How to make the perfect cup of tea’ (Dr. Andrew Stapley Loughborough University) and ‘Can we create a love potion such as that in a Midsummer Night’s Dream?’ (Charles Sell, a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.) Both of which received widespread media attention.


The Library

The Library comes under the publishing section and it is the biggest devoted to Chemistry in Europe. It has both serials and books and a foreign language section, that is often used by the British Library. It also has a unique image collection (around eight thousand of which two thousand have been digitised.)



Forty to fifty books a year are published by the RSC in diverse areas of Chemistry with topics such as forensic science being very popular, as well as reviews and handbooks. A number of databases and databanks are produced including:

  • Analytical Abstracts
  • Catalysts & Catalysed Reactions
  • Methods in Organic Synthesis
  • Natural Product Updates
  • Hazards (Laboratory/Industrial)


Sixteen primary journals are published; five of which are joint ventures with other societies or organisations.  These include:

  • Mendeleev Communications
  • New Journal of Chemistry
  • Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences
  • Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics
  • Russian Chemical Reviews


Mike gave the background to electronic publishing. With all the journals being available online from 1997 with a rolling period of three years that are available for freeand e-referencing, . Other electronic innovations that are planned include e-submissions reference linking and citation tracking.


RSC Journals Archive Project

Mike then mentioned the RSC Journals Archive Project and the digitisation of the all the RSC's journals– a job, which was contracted out to be done in India. This will include all RSC Journal material 1841 - 1996. This amounts to 1.2 million pages or 200 gigabytes of electronic material. He outlined some of the specific challenges in dealing with ‘difficult’ material such as spinning discs and other items with moving parts. It is planned to become live in January 2004.