– Dr M. Nazim Uddin is the Head and Senior Manager of the Library and Information Services Section at icddr,b, an international health research organization based in Dhaka. He gives a librarian’s perspective of the challenges of research access in Bangladesh.
What should a library look like? For me, it should have five basic components: a building, professional staff members, resources (such as furniture and print and e-literature), budgets and users. In Bangladesh, the two most difficult components for librarians to manage are budgets and resources.
Let’s consider budgets, which of course are indispensable for administering any library. If the top level of management in an institution decides to slash the library budget, as quite often happens, this makes it very difficult for librarians to manage libraries and keep them well-stocked. I believe libraries are the backbone of any research organization; when library budgets are cut, it threatens the quality of the research produced at that organization, and consequently slows the development of the entire country.
As for resources, the primary duty of a librarian is to collect, preserve, maintain and disseminate knowledge and information to the research community. With the proliferation of the internet in recent decades, e-resources have become increasingly important – but managing e-resources is a very difficult job in Bangladesh.
When it comes to accessing online research, librarians in Bangladesh face a range of challenges, including limited budgets for the library sector and the high subscription costs of many prestigious journals. Rapid technological growth has also caused problems, as many libraries in Bangladesh have limited ICT facilities and limited internet bandwidth.
Moreover, while the Research4Life programme has been a big help to some researchers in Bangladesh, there is a lack of awareness about the proper utilization of its resources by librarians. This means that many researchers are deprived of accessing major journals that are available to them and could help them in their research. This is why INASP’s programmes are so important; not only does INASP negotiate with publishers to provide researchers and libraries in Bangladesh with affordable access to important research literature, but it also helps build the digital information management skills of librarians, ICT professionals and researchers through training courses.
In my role as a librarian, working closely with publishers is crucial – there is no alternative if we want to do our jobs properly and provide researchers with the support they need to access the right information at the right time. But I believe there are several things publishers could do to make it easier for librarians to perform this vital role. These things include reducing heavy subscription costs (to take into account the per capita income of respective countries) and making it easier for librarians to get complete issues of journals for a year. They also include making subscription renewal policies more straightforward and notifying subscribers when modifying coverage in journals.
Ultimately, conducting research and sharing knowledge is vital for all aspects of human development, as it reflects the national development of any country. Librarians have a key role to play in ensuring the flow of information – and my hope is that a better understanding of the challenges faced by librarians in developing countries, like Bangladesh, will lead to fruitful discussions and the implementation of sustainable solutions.■
Dr M. Nazim Uddin has an academic background in library and information science, and he is the Head and Senior Manager of the Library and Information Services Section at icddr,b. He is one of the speakers at the forthcoming Publishers for Development conference on 11 July in Oxford, UK.