The long game: how to
get a library into the
RECKITT Benckiser (RB) is the UK’s twelfth largest listed company with a £41 billion market capitalisation. Founded in Hull in 1840, its brands range from Nurofen to Durex to Dettol, and include many other household names.
As a fast-moving consumer goods company, RB has innovative pipelines of new products across its brands that must be supported by the R&D (research and development) teams. This research is increasingly gravitating towards the company’s library, says Arwen Caddy, RB’s senior librarian. It’s one of a number of big shifts ushered in by the library’s gradual rise in status and profile. Proof of this is a complete rethinking of the library’s historic relationship with the company. “Originally the library was an outsourced service,” Arwen says. “The company contracted an archive team to help manage vital clinical trial documentation, and library staff were originally tagged to that deal.”
That was until last year when RB decided to separate the contract and bring the library team in-house. It was not an off-the-cuff change.
The long game
Arwen says: “This is my tag line for everything I do at the library: ‘The long game’. When we go to conferences and listen to speakers we hear about making an impact and quick wins, but we’ve spent seven years quietly plodding away getting ourselves in the right place for the right time. That means picking our battles and slowly building a reputation from the ground up.”
The result has been that the library has quietly but significantly increased its workload. In relation to its core service: document delivery. Arwen says: “In 2011 we had 900 orders and in 2018 we had 9,000. In 2019 we topped 15,000.” It means the library can now take advantage of favourable conditions. “There’s a right-place, right-time element,” she says, “But it’s now possible to take advantage of factors beyond our control because there has been a very steady build in reputation over the years. Someone could come into the business now and look at the library and say ‘Why aren’t we doing more with this?’ In 2011 they would never have noticed. In 2018, senior management did see the potential – from what we’d achieved and the increase in demand, they could see how much more effective we could become.”
This gradual rise in profile was mirrored by improved relations with the company’s scientists. “When I started we were the classic copyright police,” Arwen says. “Historically, copyright policy was not well understood. This resulted in operational difficulties in obtaining appropriate copyright permissions from a corporate perspective, which sometimes resulted in the library having to govern and prevent copyright infringement.”
One factor is that articles cited in dossiers for regulatory authorities, such as the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), require indefinite storage rights, because once a document has been included in a dossier, removing it would constitute a breach of EU regulations. “We always erred on the side of caution,” Arwen says. “It was very black and white. Even if someone only wanted to read an article, I would ask the publisher to approve full regulatory copyright with indefinite storage and if the publisher’s response was “no”, then we would tell the user they couldn’t have the article.
To complicate matters further, RB’s own published research could fall foul of this approach. “Departments operated unilaterally, including making their own publishing deals, and this sometimes led to situations where the publisher would refuse a copyright request for what was essentially our own publication.”
Today, Arwen has more of a risk-based attitude and a more flexible process, giving colleagues multiple options for ordering documents with the original full regulatory copyright option still there alongside research and sharing options. “We initiated a large internal training programme on copyright. The more people understood the process, the more we could make use of more complex copyright agreements, which has opened up a much broader research landscape for the R&D teams.”
The library is now well positioned to help resolve some big legacy issues targeted by Neil Fawkes, RB’s Clinical Research Physician, and Arwen’s manager. Arwen says, “When Neil joined the company, he saw the potential for a major process development – a robust publications process – with which we’re hoping to kill a lot of birds with one stone.”
Some of these include:
Identifying publishers whose licenses do not cater for commercial organisations and advising our scientists against publishing in their journals
Improving RB’s success rate for publications by providing guidance and training to potential authors
Creating a more reliable process for complex search strategies
Increasing internal awareness
The internal awareness strand will involve a new project for Arwen: “Although we have a number of collections that include our publications, we don’t at present have a dedicated repository for them. Creating this collection, and developing the right metadata, could bring enormous benefits to the company’s corporate memory. This is just the sort of added value that the library can bring to RB.”
Pay as you go
Another reason for the central role of the library is technical. “We do things differently to most other pharma, law, and university libraries. They have a lot of subscriptions to publications and services. At RB we use a pay-as-you-go model. There are pros and cons to both, but we think this gives us a lot of advantages.” These advantages include highly tailored collections and the ability to sustain sophisticated metadata to in-house classification standards, which wouldn’t be possible with a broader, less-relevant database. It also means that RB scientists receive high-level training on research skills, such as search strategies, referencing, and copyright. As everything is pretty much at the point of use, it puts live copyright checks front and centre.
“The staff of institutions that rely on subscriptions working in the background don’t always have the level of appreciation for copyright legislation as ours do; we force our users to consider copyright. Our oversight also gives us lots of KPIs and metrics, but the biggest advantage is how much money we save every year by only paying for what we want and cutting duplicated costs.”
Arwen’s team has done so much work to consolidate and digitise legacy collections that for the first time in 2017, over half of all journal articles used by the business were filled from internal repositories. “So, we saved 50 per cent of the total cost of reusing articles in our dossiers!”
One of the difficult areas for Arwen is the clash between corporate and academic worlds in the Open Access (OA) debate. “As OA has become more widespread and variations in licence terms have increased, quite a few have a blanket prohibition on commercial use. The trouble is that ‘commercial’ often isn’t defined, and publishers rarely delineate between for-profit activities and research undertaken by a commercial employee. We wouldn’t expect to get the former for free – but I don’t think we should be banned from doing the latter. As we’re commercial, however, there is less sympathy for our needs.”
She says: “As a librarian, I know the drive towards OA is done for the right reasons, but in terms of working in a commercial organisation it’s a nightmare.”
Last year a big publisher withdrew from their licensing agreement with the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC), the US licensing agency. Because RB can’t use their non-commercial OA model and can’t purchase the appropriate permissions through their CCC licence, Arwen finds herself falling through a gap.
“OA is academic sector-facing, and that makes sense, but there is a problem in the industry if others are completely shut-out of the model. I’d like to be an advocate, that ‘voice in the room’, reminding publishers and rightsholders that commercial companies need access to high-quality information too.”
This willingness to take to the stage has generated interest back at the office. Arwen spoke at the International Clinical Librarian’s Conference (ICLC) in October and reported back to her internal stakeholders. One director in the business commented ‘I didn’t know librarians did that’.
“For years we’ve been building our reputation from the ground-up – rather than trying to get top-down support,” says Arwen. “When I joined RB in 2012, the library just didn’t have the profile to speak to senior management – we just weren’t important enough to be on the radar.”
Now however, the library is being invited to sit on projects and boards, and is expected to be visionary in its own right. “I have big plans,” laughs Arwen. “We used to talk about ‘next year’s battle’ as a joke – ‘next year’ being a fictional future place where we might achieve a change.”
However, at the beginning of 2020, Arwen’s team really are planning the direction that they want the RB Library to go in. Roll-out of the new publication process is top of the list, along with further work on a training programme for literature searching. As for Arwen, 2020 marks her eighth year at RB.
“When I first started as assistant librarian, the agency that RB contracted the library service to told me this was a two-year job. They didn’t believe that the library could ever become significant to the business. They were clearly wrong! It was an underestimation of what can be achieved by dedicated librarians, but also, crucially, it showed a lack of understanding of RB’s vision for medical and scientific excellence across the business. We saw that and believed in it, and now our library helps to underpin it. When the library and its team were brought in-house, that was RB clearly telling us that we were important to the business’s future, that we had done well, and that they wanted us to do more.”
So how long is Arwen planning to stay at RB? “Maybe for as long as they want me,” she replies, “Definitely for as long as they challenge me!”