The Spirit of Giving
By Barbara Brynko
’Tis the season to indulge in the spirit of giving, and leave it to a group of forward-thinking individuals and corporations to collaborate on a project that will keep giving long into the future.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Yale University, and a host of leading science and technology publishers have created a way to bridge the scientific gap between the developed and the developing world with Online Access to Research in the Environment (OARE), a new digital Internet library. Through this program, more than 100 developing nations will be able to access one of the world’s biggest collections of scholarly environmental literature at little or no cost. The annual subscriptions to the journals in this collection have the estimated value of nearly $1 million.
Kimberly Parker, head of online collections for Yale University Library, described the project as “a grand joint effort.” The kickoff event was held Oct. 30 at the University Club in New York, where Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP; Oswald Joseph Schmitz, associate dean of academic affairs at Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Science; Robert Campbell, president of Blackwell Publishing; and Y.S. Chi, vice chairman and managing director of Elsevier, set the plan in motion.
More than 200 international scientific publishers, societies, and associations have agreed to participate. Each of the more than 1,500 institutions (both public and nonprofit) that are eligible for OARE will have access to journals ranging from environmental chemistry and botany to urban planning and geology, which will be available through a portal in English, Spanish, and French.
So far, Parker—who worked with Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative (HINARI), which was launched in 2001 by the World Health Organization for medical research in developing nations—and her team are dealing with “the usual glitches” that are inherent in the digital domain. But she said that the messages saying “This is a wonderful program” that come in with registrations are loud and clear.
“Working on such a project is both heartwarming and heartbreaking,” according to Parker, who reported that with current access in many third-world countries, it may take up to 4 hours to download a single article. “But the project trainers in the field reported that even after waiting patiently for 4 hours, the scientist at the other end was thrilled to get the paper [and] share it with his colleagues, so he could continue with his research,” said Parker.
So far, the core group of coordinators who are getting the online connections in place consists of Parker, Paul Walberg (whom Parker credits with coming up with the “germ of the idea”) and Serge Bounda (chief of the UNEP library in Nairobi, Kenya).
Better bandwidth, architecture, and computer systems will eventually make a difference in getting information more quickly to registered participants.
OARE will be coordinated by UNEP and Yale University in association with STM and the 30 participating publishing houses. Support is available through The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. OARE will be managed closely in cooperation with HINARI and Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture (AGORA), which was launched in 2003 by Cornell University and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization for research to the agricultural community. For a complete listing of participating publishers, organizations, and societies, visit http://www.oaresciences.org.