Tuesday, 16 April 2013

'Towards an 'open' approach for discovery

In this breakout session Kamran Naim from USAID (the US Agency for International Development) provided an overview of work funded by the organisation related to research discovery specific for Africa, but also has a potential global application.

Kamran started by talking about the need to support the global research system. Global research depends on information and collaboration between the developing world and others. Good research depends on good access to information and information sharing.

The USAID Bureau of Science and Technology was established in 2012 to help support research services in Africa. There is limited access to research in Africa, so they are not participating in global scientific conversation. This is a lost opportunity for African researchers. There are 27,000 papers from Africa per year - less than the Netherlands. In Sub-Saharan Africa research output is falling. However, there are positive trends in Kenya. During 2000-2010 research output has gone up. The rate of growth has grown slower for just Kenyan authors, who are dependent on collaborative programmes. There are no citations from research from Kenyan and collaborative researchers. There is also a need to improve the visibility of African research.

Availability of research is not such a big problem. There are a number of access programmes, e.g. the UN's Research4Life, and other local initiatives. Out of the top 20 journals representing 22 core disciplines 80% of journals are available - not unlike in Europe. Kenya has its own consortia and it has about 75% of the top journals. Access to law articles is the biggest problem, as most research is US-based and not much relevance to African law. Maths and geology research is also a problem, but it is getting better.

Accessibility is an issue. Internet infrastructure in Africa is improving. The KENET network covers 90+ institutions in Kenya.There are still some constraints. There are still not many computers on campus. Demand outstrips supply.

Usability, i.e. locating and downloading, is a particular issue. Library resources are more complex. Poor usability comes from poor understanding of use of resources.
One example is Jkuat Library, which has a list of electronic resources. There are a number of silos by category. Separate websites, e.g. Gora, Oare and Hinari, ebook resources, research gateways, OA resources, institutional OPACs, databases involve separate log-ins and passwords at institutional level. There are severe penalties if the password is abused. This makes it a big issue as librarians are very protective of the password. There are very little interoperability between these silos. People are frustrated when the library doesn't have access to a journal.

When looking for resources convenience wins. People go first to Google and library resources go unused. Gateway services are the brokers of access. User expectations: full-text delivery; customisation; easy to use. The ACARDIA study was undertaken in 2010. It showed that there was a low level of awareness and understanding of information resources. Only 40% of respondents had high or good awareness.

A project was set up to address the issue of poor usability, through consolidation of resources and provision of remote access to resources. The aim was to enhance usage, engage researchers and students more and support access programmes. Multiple means of authentication and issues of scale (250 institutions in 4 countries (Malawi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania)) had to be addressed.

The solution was to try and achieve web-scale 'open discovery', making Research4Life, DOAJ, Citeseer, Archiv, institutional repositories and other free content available, thereby increasing the visibility of African as well as international research. This was achieved by building an open index based on what institutions could access. LibHub was chosen as the discovery system. There is a single search box and the system authenticates students when they click onto it. It is fully searchable and can be integrated within the OPAC and library website, via APIs. It is a resource management system which gives complete control to librarians. In Kenya the collection includes 17,765 journals, over 200 publishers, 35,219 books, searchable using one single search interface.

Case study
Iraq Virtual Science Library (IVSL) was launched in 2005. At the beginning the website had a very poor interface. This was then updated in 2009 when LibHub was implemented. IVSL usage was 70,000 article downloads per month. Now it is 90,000. There have been dramatic results with one interface. Also, Iraqi research output in general has increased. Hopefully, IVSL has had a part to play in this.

Some Problems
Work needs to be done on the following:
  • Exorbitant prices for publisher metadata.
  • Competing interests - aggregators policies.
  • Sustainability - local management.
  • Local hosting - improved, high-speed searching.
  • Authentication - for remote access.
  • Mobile delivery - making resources available on smart phones across Africa.
Discussions are taking place to extend access to the system. There has also been work done on using VIVO, which is a networking tool for scientists. This collaboration enables research cooperation and communication. Technical training is also needed, with the building of MOOCs which promotes greater research capacity.

How to participate
  • Advocate for open communication.
  • Libraries - review metadata provision policies. You shouldn't have to pay for it.
  • Publishers - participate in access programmes and global networks; reach out to African scientists.

I really enjoyed this very interesting breakout session. It was great to hear what steps have been taken to successfully improve accessibility and usability of information resources. Much can be learnt from the work done in Africa.

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