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Life sciences collection policy

History of the Collection

The oldest and first of the McGill University Libraries is the Medical Library, which was established in 1823 holding 5 medical journal titles and several English and French medical textbooks. Over the next 170 years as the medical literature and academic programmes broadened so the collection grew both in scope and in volumes. Noteworthy are the long German periodical runs, the Dr. Casey Wood ophthalmology collection added in 1912, the world-renowned collection of Sir William Osler in 1929 (which was kept separately and formed the nucleus of today's Osler Library) the dentistry collection (1987), the human communication disorders collection (1988), the nursing collection (1991), and the Wendy Patrick Health Information collection (1991). To better reflect its expanded collections, the name "Medical Library" was changed in 1988 to "Health Sciences Library" and, in 2005, to the "Life Sciences Library" with the merging in of the Blacker-Wood Biology Library collection and services. While in the beginning the library served only members of the Montreal Medical Institution, it has gradually extended its services to all McGill students, faculty and staff as well as to the Teaching and Affiliated Hospitals, and other health professionals locally, nationally and internationally.

Current Collection Development

The aim is to purchase current library materials in relevant areas of scientific progress and to keep abreast of the expanding literature in life sciences, both basic and clinical; to support current teaching and research in the life sciences at McGill University and to support current clinical concerns. Emphasis is given to providing access to electronic resources whenever possible.

The Asclepian Library is a part of the Asclepius Project established in 2004 by McGill medical student, Adam Hofmann, and is named after the Greek God of healing. It is a collection of books and videos on "whole person medicine". The material added will focus on the personal as well as the physical aspects of illness, patient care and advocacy, professionalism and compassionate medicine. A small number of titles are added annually to this collection.

General Collection Guidelines

Format: In general, when both electronic and print versions of a life sciences journal are available, the electronic version will be acquired. The print version of some titles will be considered for cancellation while maintaining the online version, ensuring that the electronic version is complete and provides the same content as the print. Ongoing access to archival coverage of the journal must be available also. Some monographs are being acquired in electronic format, but preference is still being given to the print.

Languages: English is the primary language of the collection; some works, particularly Quebec and Canadian government publications are acquired in French if the English version is unavailable.

Chronological coverage: from 1914 until present. Material published before 1850 is in the Osler Library of the History of Medicine.

Geographical coverage: Preference is given to material from Canadian, United States and United Kingdom publishers. Some publications from Western Europe, Australia and India are also purchased provided they are published in English.

Date of publication: Emphasis is on current material i.e. published within the last three years. Donations and retrospective acquisitions are used to upgrade specific areas of the collection and to replace important books or journals which have deteriorated or disappeared.

Selection Criteria

Circulation history of previous edition; Currency of the content Intellectual level; Number of current titles already held on that subject; Other McGill locations; Physical format and quality; Price Reputation of author, editor or publisher; Reserve needs; Reviews.

Tools used for the selection of library material include: User recommendations; Requests made by primary users for inter-library loans; Core lists (Brandon/Hill, a Library for Internist, Nursing Outlook, etc.); Publishers' catalogues, flyers; Reviews from selected life sciences publications; Acquisition lists from selected libraries, associations. In addition, specific criteria for journal selection are listed as follows: Titles are indexed, abstracted; Titles are peer reviewed; Citation impact factor as indicated by the Science Citation Index; Inter-library loan demand by primary patrons.

Types of Material

Annual Reports: Only a few are ordered, provided they contain unique information. Annual reports of the McGill Teaching and Affiliated Hospitals are retained, as are the reports of the Library and the University.

Audiovisuals: Audiovisual material is only purchased upon faculty request and to support particular course needs. The School of Nursing acquires and maintains its own A/V material.

Bibliographies: Bibliographies are selectively obtained. In general, bibliographies which are available online are not purchased.

CD-ROM: Compact disc databases are purchased as the need arises.

Examination questions and study guides: Books on practice examination questions are not obtained. The actual examination questions for the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Corporation des médecins, the National Board of Dental Examiners are acquired and kept for several years. Study guides are purchased if the content is mainly textual and the practice questions form only a small part.

Government Documents: Government documents are obtained. While the emphasis is on Quebec and Canada, documents from other Canadian provinces, the U.S. and U.K. are also obtained. However, documents from the various U.S. states are not acquired. The Library has a blanket order for all World Health Organization publications (Geneva, Copenhagen and Washington Offices).

Laboratory manuals: Laboratory manuals are acquired only in exceptional circumstances.

Loose leaf publications: Loose leaf publications are avoided as much as possible as they are difficult to keep complete and up-to-date.

Microforms: Microforms and microfilms are acquired very rarely now.

Newsletters: Very few newsletters are ordered and usually not retained beyond the current year.

Online publications: Journals or monographs in electronic format are made accessible whenever possible and preference is given to providing the online version over the print for the journals.

Programmed texts: Programmed texts are generally not acquired.

Reprints: Reprints are generally not acquired. Exceptions are reprinted monographs if they are established classics not held at McGill. Reprints of journal articles are not acquired.

Searching tools: Searching tools are purchased on the recommendations of library staff. Older editions are normally not retained.

Technical reports: Technical reports are acquired only if specifically requested.

Theses: Occasionally theses published by a commercial publisher are acquired. McGill theses are deposited in the Rare Books Department and are not added to the Life Sciences Library.

Gifts: The library welcomes gifts of books and journals which fall within its collection scope. Material is only accepted if the gift is "unrestricted". Tax receipts will be issued on request only. Gifts are evaluated by the Collections Librarian using a "formula" unless the value of the gift is enhanced by its comprehensive nature (a collection of material on ...). Evaluations of $1000 or more must be done by an independent appraiser to ensure there is no conflict of interest and the donor is usually asked to pay for the appraisal. The appraised value of a gift can only be receipted if the item is added to the collection.


All journals being retained are bound.

Some heavily used reference tools are plasticized or bound, at the discretion of the Public Services Librarian, even though they may be superseded by annual volumes.

Pamphlets acquired for the general collection are placed in covers or are plasticized, at the discretion of the Collections Librarian.

Pamphlets catalogued for the reference collection are usually not put into pamphlet covers but items being transferred to the stacks are normally either put into covers or plasticized.


Volumes requiring repair are detected by circulation or shelving staff and are sent to the Collections Librarian. The Collections Librarian is responsible for deciding on the need to repair, rebind, replace or discard. The decision is made by balancing the current usefulness and uniqueness of the item and the cost and difficulty of preservation. Attention is also paid to the historic value of the item and the likelihood of another copy being received as a gift. Material in the remote storage is seldom sent for repair/rebinding as the library lacks the financial resources to systematically maintain this collection.

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