Editor’s Note: This post is by Anne Powell. Anne is the Programme Manager, Information Access and Publisher Liaison at INASP.
A recent post in The Scholarly Kitchen highlighted the crucial link between access and discovery, and the clear conclusion that making information available is not sufficient by itself. Discovery is a complex concept, a web made of tools, technologies, infrastructure and perhaps most importantly, relationships built on an understanding of the needs of users. At INASP we are working on each of these aspects with an ultimate goal of bringing them together on a global level.
To summarize recent events, it seems that health workers, Ministry of Health officials and researchers in Liberia had no knowledge of studies suggesting that Liberia could be considered an endemic zone for Ebola. Bernice Dahn, Chief Medical Officer of Liberia’s Ministry of Health writes in the New York Times that part of the problem is that the studies were conducted without partnership of Liberian health workers or scientists – all data was removed from the country for analysis. Findings were published in European journals inaccessible at the time of publishing, and now expensive to access. In fact, these studies should have been easily available to Liberian researchers and health workers through Research4Life, had they only known that they were there, or indeed, registered to access the program.
This revelation, along with recent reading of Roger Schonfeld’s Ithaka S+R Issue Brief on “Meeting Researchers Where they Start” and his development of that theme in the Scholarly Kitchen got me thinking about the researchers in the 1,900 developing country institutions that INASP serves. Libraries that we work with have access to up to 50,000 online journals and 20,000 e-books through our access and availability programme. They also have over 45,000 titles via Research4Life and other schemes.
Looking at this picture, it is clear that collectively we have made great strides towards increasing availability of scholarly materials for researchers in developing countries. In our own work at INASP, we continue to learn that we must go further than just making content available. Availability of content was a starting point, but, through initiatives like our own, Research4Life and an ever-increasing amount of open access content, there is a now substantial core of information available to developing country researchers (and here I’d widen the term to include health workers).
This discussion for INASP has moved on from the issue of availability onto one framed by access and discoverability. There seem to be breaking points all along the way, which, of course, are also points at which solutions can and need to be found. What are the breaking points? Very often they are where communication is not happening and where the provider (of information, materials, IT systems, platforms), whether publisher, librarian, network engineer, does not understand the user (student, researcher, health worker, librarian); their needs, knowledge limitations or experiences. At INASP we provide support across the research communication sector to increase access, production and use of information and knowledge.
At what point does the necessary effort to obtain research literature become too much, and the system lets down the researcher (and the librarian, and the publisher). In his comment on one of Roger’s Scholarly Kitchen posts, my colleague Jon Harle discusses the situation we meet sadly too often, of a researcher attempting to open an article he should have access to, finding a barrier and giving up, assuming that the content is inaccessible. These barriers are something we think of as ‘final click’ problems where the user is so close to being able to open an article, but authentication issues or even lack of the current version of Adobe may prevent it.
There is a question about how useable discovery tools are, as researchers would need to be able to get to a computer, which connects to the discovery tool, leading to an authenticating system, leading to the article; presenting potential stumbling blocks at every point.
Technology & Infrastructure
As Roger identified, mobile access is widespread and popular worldwide, but, as he also points out, this is only effective when information resources are formatted to be readable on such devices. Mobile phones may be unable to connect to systems, discovery tools may not work, they may be very slow, and, in developing countries, while mobile phones are in wide use, smartphones won’t be in the hands of every user (particularly outside of relatively wealthier capital cities). Systems librarians and engineers will need to speak to users to identify what kinds of barriers they are facing, publishers will need to think about their users when formatting content. INASP has been supporting National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) to improve network management. By bringing them together with librarians and campus technicians, we are seeing progress in areas like stable IP addresses, bandwidth management, better management of the network and consideration of library requirements.
Understanding the End User
Conversations at the recent UKSG 2015 conference showed how much effort librarians are making to understand both the subject and format needs of their users and the methods users employ to find those materials. I was particularly attuned to this at UKSG as we have been supporting the developing country librarians we work with to develop these skills, and have seen increasingly good, professional relationships between librarians and researchers.
Many of the barriers which have been identified could be tackled by the development of links and relationships. All those in the chain are working towards making research literature available, having it used and then being able to share the resultant research. While conferences often try to bring the groups together, especially publishers and librarians, I believe that solutions will only start to emerge as these groups and individuals within them pick up discussions like the present one and put them into practice.
Researchers need to have relationships with their librarians, to be able to approach them for help and be made aware that the access is available. We are working on improving these relationships through training in marketing and promotion of e-resources, facilitated discussions (between librarians, researchers and ICT technicians) and providing small grants to institutions and library consortia to promote their e-resources which have resulted in institutions focusing on making library staff accessible and approachable for researchers.
Links and Relationships
Publishers are taking steps to understand developing country conditions through visiting the consortia we work with to offer training in their products. It is often only then that they become aware of the unique needs of institutions in these regions. From the librarians’ side, these visits enable them to learn more about the publisher’s content and the ways they can market this to ensure the right researchers get to know about it.
To bring them the right content, librarians need to build connections with researchers, getting out of the library and going to where the researchers are to really understand their needs.
This is a web of users and providers – on a global scale. It is by bringing all parties together that we will see progress in moving from the supply of materials to truly valuable use of them in addressing vital, contemporary issues like Ebola.
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