Crime in Special Collections

Peter Robinson Archive image
Peter Robinson Archive, page from notebook for ‘Dry Bones that Dream’ (BC MS 20c Robinson/02/08).  Image credit Leeds University Library.

Literary Archivist, Sarah Prescott, talks about the growth of our Crime Fiction Collection.

Special Collections has recently started to collect the archives of writers of Crime Fiction. Our fascinating collection includes the papers of 3 writers who have made significant impacts on crime writing.  All have varying connections to Leeds.

Peter Robinson a Leeds alumni who now lives in Canada, Robinson is known for his crime novels set in Yorkshire featuring Inspector Alan Banks. His latest novel ‘Sleeping in the Ground’, the 24th Banks novel, was published in July.

Sophie Hannah  now lives in Cambridge but lived in West Yorkshire whilst her husband worked at the University of Leeds. Hannah is a poet and internationally bestselling writer of crime fiction. She has twice been commissioned by the Agatha Christie estate to write an original story featuring Hercule Poirot.

Frances Brody  is a Leeds native.  Brody (who also writes as Frances McNeil) has written extensively for theatre and radio. She is best known for a series of crime novels set in 1920s Yorkshire featuring Kate Shackleton.

It is interesting to compare these archives with each other. The archives show a wide variety of writing practices, from rough notes scrawled on the back of dental appointment cards, to notebooks carefully filled with research on a particular subject.

The collections all show the care and attention each writer pays to developing and keeping track of plots. This is particularly relevant to crime writing, where ensuring that alibis are believable, using red herrings and planting subtle clues are key to a successful work.

These 3 literary archives were catalogued over the summer by staff in Special Collections and are now available for use in the Reading Room.

REF2021: towards Open Research

With the funding bodies’ Initial decisions on the Research Excellence Framework 2021 published at the beginning of September including a paragraph on ‘open research’ we consider what this might mean as the REF takes shape.

29. The revised template will also include a section on ‘open research’, detailing the submitting unit’s open access strategy, including where this goes above and beyond the REF open access policy requirements, and wider activity to encourage the effective sharing and management of research data. The panels will set out further guidance on this in the panel criteria. 

Initial decisions on the Research Excellence Framework 2021 (pg 9)

While still some way from full Open Access in the UK we are getting closer, largely thanks to HEFCE’s “Policy for open access in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework” which came into effect in 2016, on April Fools’ day in fact. Nevertheless it has been taken very seriously. REF is no laughing matter!

The REF has sometimes been maligned as an expensive bureaucratic exercise ill-fitted for purpose, yet the goal of promoting the value and impact of publicly funded research is surely worthwhile and as advocates for all things ‘open’, it at least provides a stick on which to dangle our carrots.

In lieu of the further guidance promised, can we pre-empt some of the activity and initiatives that might contribute to ‘open research’ above and beyond the REF open access policy requirements?

N.B See the updated HEFCE FAQ, specifically:

7.1. What aspects of OA should submitting unit’s include in the environment statement section titled ‘open research’?

Research Data

It is good to see this referred to explicitly at this early stage, following on from the Concordat on Open Research Data published in July 2016 focused on ensuring that research data is made openly available wherever possible.

In actual fact research data was already an eligible output for REF in 2014 and the exercise in 2021 will continue to assess “all types of research and forms of research output”. Nevertheless infrastructure and best practice around RDM are still developing. At Leeds the RDL team based in the Library provide support and advice throughout the research lifecycle. We run an institutional data repository providing long term, secure storage and associating data with a Digital Object Identifier (DOI), a persistent identifier that will facilitate formal citation. Alternatively use the Registry of Research Data Repositories (r3data) to identify a suitable discipline specific repository.

Other useful organisations include Jisc and the Digital Curation Centre.

Potential questions for REF2021:

  • Is the data underpinning your submitted outputs safely stored according to best practice?
  • Is that data openly available (if appropriate) or is it clear how it can be accessed (i.e. does the paper include a suitable data statement)?
  • Has your data been reused by other researchers / initiated collaboration?
  • Do you have established protocols for data management planning that is followed for all research projects?


ORCID is an open, non-profit, community-based initiative that provides a unique identifier to reliably differentiate individual authors and enables connections between systems. Linking your ORCID to Symplectic, for example, will provide an additional method for the system to reliably identify your published work and add it to your Symplectic profile, your ORCID will also be passed over to the White Rose Research Repository (WRRO) when you deposit a manuscript.

ORCID increasingly underpins an open scholarly infrastructure, nationally and internationally and is also supported by Jisc.

Related post: So you’ve got an ORCiD…what next?

Potential questions for REF2021:

  • Do all of your submitted authors have an ORCID?
  • Are they using their ORCID profile effectively?
  • Are you actively using ORCID to integrate systems and improve workflows?


Another area that is discussed in the document which identifies “an explicit focus on the submitting unit’s approach to supporting collaboration with organisations beyond higher education” (pg 6, para 18).

The benefits of open research to collaboration opportunities with such organisations are obvious, whether the NHS or SMEs who may not otherwise be able to find or access the research and data they need to further their own mission. Perhaps there is also a question here of targeted dissemination, via social media for example – making research available online doesn’t mean the right people will simply stumble across it.

Potential questions for REF2021:

  • Have you adopted open research practices that are conducive to collaboration?
  • To what extent have these been successful?
  • Are you proactively building and monitoring a network around your research (e.g. by leveraging alternative metrics)?


The document  acknowledges that work is required to align definitions of ‘academic impact’ and ‘wider impact’ which relate respectively to the assessment of outputs and the impact element of the REF. Notably the weighting for impact has increased from 20% to 25% – as was in fact originally proposed for the 2014 exercise.

There will be additional guidance on the criteria for both ‘reach and significance’ and impact arising from public engagement – it is not hard to anticipate how an open research agenda will feed into each of these. There is evidence that OA increases traditional citations for example while developments in alternative or “altmetrics” are enabling online social activity around research to be recorded and measured. 

Repository downloads also provide a valuable article level metric, indeed we might expect correlation with traditional citations, even causation. The IRUS-UK* service provides COUNTER compliant download statistics for the majority of UK based repositories which means that downloads are standardised and filter out automated downloads by search engine robots for example.

* With 3,766,192 downloads since October 2013, and as might be expected for a consortium of 3 research intensive Universities, IRUS-UK reveals that the White Rose Research Repository is one of the most highly downloaded in the UK. Leeds accounts for 1,773,744 of those downloads.

Potential questions for REF2021:

  • To what extent are you engaging with audiences beyond academia?
  • Do you produce plain language precis of your research?
  • Are you exploiting social media to engage with academic and lay audiences (e.g. Twitter, blogs, Wikipedia)?
  • Are you analysing quantitative data from these sources?

Related post: Wikipedia, information literacy and open access

The Research Support team based on Level 13 of the Edward Boyle Library will continue to review REF guidelines as they are released and associated developments across the sector. You can get in touch by email or on Twitter.

In the meantime, you must ensure your research outputs meet the new REF open access requirements by depositing your author accepted manuscript via Symplectic as soon as possible after acceptance



Cooking up a feast with Cooks and their Books

On 5 September we celebrated our new Treasures of the Brotherton exhibition Cooks and Their Books: Collecting Cookery Books in Leeds with some wonderful food inspired by the historic cook books on display.

TG_Cook and their Books_Launch_20170905
Image credit Leeds University Library

The University of Leeds Cookery Collection was established in 1939 by a donation from Blanche Legat Leigh. The exhibition explores how recipes have been compiled and collected and how attitudes to food have changed over time. In books spanning an incredible seven centuries you can see a first edition of Beeton’s Book of Household Management, wonderfully illustrated Renaissance texts, and warnings on the ‘Spontaneous Combustion of Drunkards’.

Professor Viv Jones, Head of the University of Leeds Cultural Institute opened the evening. We found out about the fantastic events and opportunities facilitated by the Institute who work with staff, students and cultural partners. Eileen White, a co-curator of the exhibition, delighted the audience with some snippets of strange and usual recipes. Flamingo tongue anyone? 

University House Chefs Phil Tostevin and Robert Hargreaves prepared a mini banquet inspired by some of the recipes on display. A French onion soup, hearty beef stew and lemon posset were all enjoyed by our hungry guests. Guests then crowded around the display cases eager to find their own inspiration!

We have lots of tasty tidbits exploring culinary traditions to accompany the exhibition. Please visit the Treasures of the Brotherton events webpage for more information.

Cooks and their Books: Collecting Cookery Books in Leeds is open until 31 January 2018.

Action Stations

Karen Mee and Remi Turner from our Reading Room team give an update on Special Collections’ annual Action Week.

The end of August saw the completion of another successful Action Week. Teams from Special Collections, Customer Services and enthusiastic volunteers work to conserve and care for, sort and label, reorganise and re-shelve the valuable collections housed in the library’s stacks and storage areas.

The reading room and conservation studio were bases for volunteers and staff to clean and repackage. In total staff cleaned and rehoused 38  Liddle museum objects and textiles including an armoured vest and a flag so large it took 3 people to hold, as well as 16 boxes from the Philips of Hitchin antique dealers archive.

Staff removed oversized maps in the Yorkshire Archaeological and Historical Society archive to the reading room and unrolled them fully so they could log information such as weight, dimensions and fragility before relabelling. Some maps are wrapped in a protective material called Tyvek and all are reshelved with up-to-date location data, much to the reading room team’s delight.

The stacks were a hive of activity with a lot of re-organising and shelf pitching. The Whitaker map collection was removed from shelves, the shelves cleaned and items with loose or damaged bindings tied with conservation tape. The maps were re-sequenced and re-shelved to make retrievals easier and safer for staff. Very large and heavy atlases were stored on lower shelves and smaller items higher up. This reconfiguration also gained 11 shelves of space – always a good outcome in a library.

Re-shelving activities
Re-shelving the Quaker Collection

The Quaker collection comprises bound and boxed items and was rearranged to ensure it was stored together in a clearer sequence, requiring lots of shelf repitching and box passing.

In the processing room a constant stream of helpers sorted, tidied, relabelled and re-shelved the Freemantle music collection.  This was a large project that took all week to complete. Lots of different tasks were going on in the Brotherton Room, including  sorting through a scientific archive, reordering books in the cabinets and replacing book ties on items in the Herbert Read library. The Feminist Archive North sorted through some of their collections too.

Work going on in our offices included checking and relabelling the Coin Collection, a welcome break from the physical demands of clearing and re-shelving books and boxes. Interest in this collection has increased so it is important to make it more accessible to staff and researchers. Photographs of the collection are available on our website.

Action Week is very thirsty and hungry work and everyone involved is sustained by the treats brought in to share at communal break times. One of the highlights among this year’s selection has to be a most impressive batch of home-made doughnuts. After all the hard work is done and everything is tidied away ready for re-opening after the Bank Holiday, the team celebrate on Friday with a traditional visit to the pub.

team photo
The team relaxes with well earned drinks at the end of Action Week

This year was also a celebration of our colleague John Smurthwaite’s last action week and retirement. For some of us it is also the time to start planning next year’s action week.

Open Access publishing credits available for Leeds postgraduate research students and staff

Are you planning to publish in a Taylor & Francis Open Select  journal? We might be able to help cover publication costs.

The Library has a limited number of credits to pay for Open Access in Open Select Taylor & Francis journals.

Credits cover the full cost of Taylor & Francis article processing charges (APCs) and are available on a first come first served basis to both Leeds staff and postgraduate research students, regardless of funder.

If you are planning to publish in a Taylor & Francis Open Select journal, please email the Library at to check if we can pay the article processing charges on your behalf.

Unlocking the Winchester Cabinet

Coin cabinet
The Winchester coin cabinet

Third year history student Emma Herbert-Davies writes about her Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship project: cataloguing one of the University’s coin collections.

The Winchester Cabinet is a collection of over 3000 coins, medals and tokens dating from Ancient Greece to the eighteenth century. It was compiled by a barrister named William Eyre who bequeathed the cabinet to Winchester Cathedral on his death in 1764. The collection remained in the Cathedral for almost two hundred years until it was purchased by the University of Leeds in 1954. It is impressive in both the variety and quality of its coins and is a rare example of a complete eighteenth-century collection. Last year I was awarded a research scholarship and my project brief was to catalogue the contents of the cabinet and create a digital exhibition.

Beginning the project initially felt quite daunting as I had no experience of numismatics (the study of coins) and so I knew that it was going to be a steep learning curve. Each coin has to be identified, weighed, measured and both sides photographed. Identification can take time, especially if the coin is worn. I have spent many hours surrounded by volumes of reference books, peering through a jeweler’s loupe at part of an elbow or beard on a coin trying to identify it correctly. Challenging, but a great feeling when I finally pinpoint the coin! The details are then entered onto a database so that all the information can be made available as a digital catalogue.

What surprised me most about my project was learning just how valuable coins are as primary sources. As I worked my way through the cabinet, from two-thousand-year-old Roman denarii to the siege pieces of the seventeenth century, I realised that the artwork on ancient coins reflected changes in history and culture. Each one was designed to pass on a particular message or construct a carefully designed image of a ruler. I was particularly struck how the portraits on coins could be compared today’s use of social media such as ‘selfies’. In an era without any form of mass communication, coins were ideal for spreading information as currency was something that most people used. Not only was I learning numismatics, I was discovering new ways of interpreting the past.

To share my research I created a Twitter account for the Winchester Cabinet that has been quite successful. It has enabled me to make connections with numismatists, curators and students worldwide and I have been asked to give talks on the collection. With the help of the Special Collections team I am designing virtual and physical exhibitions for this autumn. Perhaps the most lasting legacy of the project for me is the discovery of numismatics – a subject that I hadn’t even known existed – but which has developed into what will probably become a lifelong passion. The Winchester Cabinet forms only one small part of the University’s substantial coin collection, but unlocking its contents has opened many doors for me.

Twitter and Scholarly Communication: do you pass the Turing test?

Robinson-Garcia, N., Costas, R., Isett, K., Melkers, J. and Hicks, D. (2017). The unbearable emptiness of tweeting—About journal articles. PLOS ONE, 12(8), p.e0183551.

Underlying data to the study

This recent paper from Robinson-Garcia et al, part of a project looking at dissemination channels for dentistry in the US, has (ironically enough) gained considerable traction on Twitter:

As a low-barrier platform to interact with a broad audience Twitter has proved popular with social-media savvy academics as a channel to disseminate their research outputs. It’s also infested with automated accounts, the dreaded Twitter bot, spewing links into the ether, everything from pornography to cutting edge research.

Robot image from Research Data Leeds dataset
Robot image from Research Data Leeds dataset

It’s so easy to tweet a link to an article, in fact, by clicking a button on a journal or repository for example, that many real people are indistinguishable from robots and the paper finds that, at least in the field of dentistry, less than 10% of tweets exemplify “an ideal of curating and informing about the literature”.

“The bulk of tweets about dental papers were sent by accounts seemingly run by people but whose dental journal article tweeting could be easily automated”

It’s an interesting and valuable paper. However, the value of Twitter as a tool for disseminating research is not as badly undermined as the provocative title might suggest. No disrespect to the authors who clearly know a thing or two about promoting their work (as of 1pm on Friday 1st September it has a very healthy altmetric score of 448 – including 659 tweets from 606 users, with an upper bound of 1,316,619 followers).

To see the live score see

Metrics have a lot to answer for and the paper is about counting tweets as a potential indicator of reach and impact. What it’s NOT really about is tweeting about your research, which can be valuable if you do it properly, spend time developing your network and interacting with them and with your research in a meaningful way.

This is the type of interaction we hope to encourage via the Open Research Leeds Twitter account @OpenResLeeds, which rather than that 90% of noise, we aim to be amongst the (nearly) 10% of valuable dissemination channels and a node in various academic networks across the University of Leeds and beyond.

One initiative is to leverage altmetrics to disseminate research when the ‘green’ self-archived version of the manuscript is released from embargo from the White Rose repository. The colour coded altmetric ‘score’ that is embedded in all WRRO and Symplectic records can be used to identify how and where journal articles have been disseminated and Twitter can be used to amplify the impact of research outputs, by retweeting a Leeds based author, for example, or linking to an open version of a paper from a mainstream news article discussing the research. The actual score doesn’t really matter, it’s simply a convenient method to visualise the network.

We are keen to develop synergies with other Leeds based accounts, through reciprocal retweets for example, and have curated a list of nearly 700 accounts associated with the University of Leeds – lists are a feature of twitter that offer a great way of limiting ‘noise’ by focusing on a specific subset of users such as a research community. ‘Hashtags’ can also be employed to emphasise specific types of content, #openaccess, for instance or #JiscRDM which is a powerful method of building community and attracting subscribers to your network.

(#JiscRDM is promulgated by Jisc to foster a community around Research Data Management and is used at community events such as the Research Data Network –

So tweeting your research need not be unbearably empty, just don’t be a robot.

Further reading:

To Tweet or Not To Tweet –  an Academic Questions [blog] (by Dr Ben Britton)

What happens when you tweet an Open Access Paper [blog] (by Melissa Terras)

Network effects: on alternative metrics [blog] (by @ukcorr)

Social Media for Academics [book] (by Mark Carrigan)