Veronika Schaeffler discusses the importance for research and development of monitoring and evaluation of e-resources for library consortia and reflects on a recent workshop in Sri Lanka
Through my work at INASP I have learned that a wider availability of digital material constitutes a huge step forward in enabling the work of researchers, lecturers and decision makers in developing countries. Libraries that INASP work with in Asia, Africa and Latin America 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. But availability is not enough, as there are diverse challenges for researchers and other users to access the resources. Librarians must be responsible for offering easy access to publications, and they must have means to assess accessibility.
Informed decision and policy making relies on access to knowledge and research, which starts in the academic library. Anne Powell from INASP points out in her guest blog on the Scholarly Kitchen “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.…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 programme.”
One of the most important, but also challenging, roles of librarians today is to support academic staff and students in trusting and using new technologies and in making the right choices from the growing number of available research publications. Mashroofa Mohamed Majeed, Senior Assistant Librarian at the South Eastern University of Sri Lanka and workshop participant, says, “Libraries in the developing world should give digital information to their users […] they are the ‘Net Generation’, we have to fulfill their information needs in the way they want.”
In addition to barriers to access such as complicated platforms, issues with bandwidth, and a failure to adapt to new technologies, budgetary constraints also often act against the librarian in support of academia. The consortium may only be able to afford and provide a selection of resources and it is important that libraries and consortia are able to analyse and assess which resources are the most valuable for their users.
Whatever sector you work in, you want to understand the value of what you are paying for, and it’s no different for universities in the South. Universities and research institutes in the South have limited budgets along with big challenges to address such as upgrading facilities, accommodating new students and training staff. So when it comes to online journals and books, they need to know what their researchers need, what they use, and what value they are getting from what they buy. How do you know if you’re buying the right things if you don’t look at your usage data?
Training to evaluate
In May 2015 I travelled to Sri Lanka to observe and co-facilitate a workshop hosted at the University of Colombo by the SCOLIS (Standing Committee on Libraries and Information Sciences) library consortium. The event was part of the series of Monitoring and Evaluation of E-Resources Use (MEERU) workshops for librarians who are members of a national library consortium.
The workshop, which was facilitated by experienced Sri Lankan university librarians, included 24 librarians from around the country.
It was designed to provide participants with the skills to collect usage data from their institution to inform the consortium in the selection and renewal of online resource subscriptions. They also learned how to use the data collected, which will feed into and help guide consortium-level decision making. This can have a positive impact on value for money when consortia are negotiating and making decisions on subscription renewals.
The three-day event helped librarians in Sri Lanka to gain the skills and knowledge for monitoring the usage of electronic resources as well as providing the opportunity of strengthening the relationships between consortium members in order to share experience and give mutual support.
At the end of the MEERU workshop, all participants agreed their own action plans. These include the preparation of regular usage reports to share with the consortium as well as the participation in a Monitoring & Evaluation working group to address challenges. The strengthening of usage monitoring and relevant skills will help universities to make better decisions on which resources to subscribe to in the future. Libraries will also gain knowledge about which resources need promotion in awareness campaigns.
The participants learnt new methods and shared their experiences on how to access usage data. The collaborative environment meant that they were able to offer advice to institutions which have had problems with receiving the required statistics in time. They now know what to expect from each publisher and how to either obtain the statistics directly or request them from publishers. The newly founded working group will endeavor to build better relationships with the publishers in order to resolve issues in access to usage reports and help to share experiences and information, narrowing the differences in skills levels and knowledge among the librarians. They will be able to share workshop materials and learning with those colleagues not represented at the workshop.
Please visit INASP’s webpage for workshop material – http://www.inasp.info/en/training-resources/courses
INASP’s work in Sri Lanka
INASP has been working with academic and research libraries in Sri Lanka since 2003, through access to information resources and training of librarians.
INASP’s approach is work with our partners to hand over INASP’s role to national bodies. In 2013, the Standing Committee on Libraries and Information Sciences (SCOLIS) was founded as the consortium of Sri Lankan university libraries. Over 60 libraries, university departments and other institutions in Sri Lanka have joined the consortium since then and have access to diverse electronic resource collections. It has been a big story of success; the consortium can currently offer access to over 3000 titles compared to the approximately 100 titles that were available for some institutions before INASP started to work in the country.
INASP also provides support to local journals – and training for their editors – through the Sri Lanka Journals Online (SLJOL) platform, which INASP established in 2008 and which is now being managed by the National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka. The SLJOL platform hosts 60 Sri Lankan journals.
INASP’s AuthorAID project supports researchers in the country through its mentorship scheme, online resource library and research writing courses. AuthorAID’s research writing course is now embedded in postgraduate training at the University of Colombo’s medical school and as part of the Sri Lanka Medical Association’s continuing professional development programme.
For more information on INASP’s work in Sri Lanka, see our country factsheet.