Research4Life: Access to Research in the Developing World

Tell us briefly about yourself and your role in the Research4Life (R4L) partnership?

Officially I am the Programme Manager for the HINARI programme, which has its “home base” in the World Health Organization in Geneva Switzerland.  HINARI is one of four Research4Life programmes, and there are also UN leads for each of the other three programmes.

Unofficially, I am something of an institutional memory for Research4Life, as I became involved in the programmes in 2002 when I worked for Yale University Library, the first partner of HINARI outside of the publisher community.  So I suppose I have a certain form of seniority within the group.  Having said that, Research4Life is a very organic partnership, and we work almost entirely by consensus and drawing on the skills and knowledge sets of those who enthusiastically volunteer their time or ideas.  So, I may be a “centre of gravity” for the partnership, but there are many others who can be described that way as well, and we all work together towards a common goal.

R4L currently includes 4 programmes (HINARI, AGORA, OARE and ARDI) that provide access to academic content in different areas: health, agriculture, environment and other life, physical as well as social sciences. What are the reasons for this structure?

The easy answer is the topical areas are the foci and mandates of our parent organizations (WHO, FAO, UNEP, and WIPO).  However, that obscures the fact that most large libraries, particularly in academic organizations have arranged special segmentation of their collections and the tools that are used to search through those collections.  One example is the need for precision in search.  Some words are used to mean different things in different subject disciplines.  So, if we want to avoid extraneous results, some indexing tools with subject thesauri are discipline specific.  However, there are ways to overcome such issues and many large research libraries are finding ways to do so.  It is not beyond the reach of imagination that Research4Life could in the future present a merged collection, while retaining the value and utility of subject collections within the greater whole.

You are the programme officer of HINARI that provides access to health information and that is the first and largest programme of R4L. HINARI won the MLA’S 2015 Louise M. Darling Medal for being an outstanding health science collection. What is the formula of success of HINARI?

When HINARI launched, there were any number of unanswered questions for us.  Would other publishers join the initial group of six?  (Indeed yes – we have more than 160 publishers partnering with HINARI today.)  Would HINARI still be needed after a few years of access?  (Unfortunately, yes – the challenges with information needs still exist and we see continuing and growing demand for the access in the beneficiary countries.)  Would Open Access publishing change the need for or scope of HINARI? (Open Access has not yet changed the need for HINARI, but it probably has changed the scope of the programme.  We now include a large number of open access journals, particularly from publishers in low- and middle-income countries.)

And finally was internet access in these countries robust enough to support access to online journal articles and book chapters?  This last question is particularly interesting because many of the countries and institutions served by HINARI still struggle with this network access and bandwidth question.  HINARI materials can overwhelm the network capacity in some of our institutions, and other institutions remain technologically unable to access the content.  Despite this challenge, many institutions have sought and found creative solutions to their bandwidth dilemma, and many more institutions every day are operating in a workable network environment.  I am pleased to note how this issue has and continues to evolve in a positive direction.

So, in summary, perhaps HINARI’s key to success is adjusting as needed to a changing environment, while holding tight to our core principles.  As long as institutions in the developing world need the access to the scientific literature, we will find a way to fill as much of that need as we can.

What is the partnership’s perspective on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? How does the roadmap for the next five years look like?

The partnership is still assessing where we will fit in the efforts to achieve the SDGs.  Certainly, there are a number of key SDGs and targets that Research4Life can align with and help achieve.  The obvious ones are Goals 2, 3, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17.  In the next five years, we will definitely still be needed and will likely be a larger but still organic partnership.  What the partnership will need to adjust to during those five years are mostly external factors:

What will the Web be like in 5 years?  What will journals and books be like in 5 years?  What will publishing be like in 5 years?  What will the shape of information management in low- and middle-income countries be like in 5 years?  

We can make strong assumptions about the answers, and we can project from the past, but sometime in the next 5 years, we will likely see another transformative change in this environment.  Since we can’t yet guess what it will be and when it happens, we simply need to continue fulfilling our goals and our mission to the best of our abilities and remain ready to adjust to the transformation when it comes along.