EIFL: Knowledge Without Boundaries

by Iris Yingnan Hu

Digital technology has revolutionised education and created new opportunities to share information, to communicate and to learn.

However, billions of people around the world are still unable to reap the benefits due to factors such as the high subscription costs of electronic scholarly content and legal barriers to accessing, using and sharing information, or because they do not have access to technology.

Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL), founded in 1999, is a non-profit organization aiming to help people in developing and transition countries to access information for education, learning, research and sustainable community development.   

To improve access to knowledge, EIFL partners with libraries and library consortia. There are some statistics to demonstrate EIFL’s  reach in developing and transition countries: over the last 14 years, library consortia in 49 countries in Africa, Asia Pacific and Europe, representing more than 3,000 libraries, have joined the EIFL network. In 2013, EIFL reached more than 14,000,000 people.

In addition to cooperation with libraries, EIFL also runs four programmes to enable access to knowledge for education, learning, research and sustainable community development. The programmes cover Licensing, Copyright and Libraries, Open Access, and Public Library Innovation.

Licensing Programme

The high cost of e-resources is a major barrier to access for libraries in developing and transition countries. Thus, important contributions to research, education and development are slowed down.

The Licensing Programme (EIFL-Licensing) negotiates affordable access to e-resources and ensures widespread adoption and usage of licensed e-resources.

Through central negotiation with publishers, over 50 high-quality commercial e-resources from more than 20 vendors are available through the EIFL Licensing Programme. EIFL works with high-quality academic publishers e.g. Oxford University Press, Edward Elgar Publishing, JSTOR etc. who are dedicated to helping libraries in developing countries access academic e-resources for free or at an affordable price.

Research shows that often researchers, students and academics are not aware that their libraries have access to high-quality e-resources. To support libraries in maximizing access to e-resources, the EIFL Licensing Programme works closely with partner library consortia to raise awareness and increase participation and usage of e-resources. As a result, there were more than 3.7 million full-text downloads from EIFL-licensed resources.

Copyright and Libraries Programme

Copyright matters to libraries. It affects issues that are central to library activities and services, such as the availability and price of books, the right to purchase books from abroad, the right to lend books and other materials.

The Copyright and Libraries  (EIFL-IP) programme devotes itself to proposing global copyright rules to benefit libraries and to campaigning for national copyright law reform. In addition, the programme builds capacity among librarians in EIFL partner countries by providing resources and training in copyright issues. The capacity building programme aims empower librarians to become advocates for access to knowledge for all.

In 2013, 14,700 librarians, students and faculty members across the EIFL network were trained in copyright by EIFL partner consortia.

Open Access Programme

“At our faculty researchers publish a number of publications. But we do not have access to them. Sometimes it is even hard to find out that they actually exist. ” –  Ewa Majdecka, student at Warsaw University

Open access (OA) is the immediate, online, free and unrestricted availability of peer-reviewed research literature. It is a powerful new model that is increasing opportunities for researchers in developing and transition countries to contribute to the global research community.

The Open Access Programme (EIFL-OA)  EIFL advocates for the adoption of open access policies and mandates, to ensure that research is made freely available for all.

To help spread awareness, the programme organizes national and institutional OA awareness raising and advocacy campaigns. EIFL also plays a leading role advocating for OA internationally.

Public Library Innovation Programme

“We realized that there is a lot of information packaged, but still in the air.” –  Sylvester Mapoze, Library director in Uganda

The Internet has transformed how we seek and share information, yet billions of people living in developing and transition economy countries still do not have access to the internet. Public libraries – trusted institutions, staffed by skilled information professionals – are uniquely placed to overcome this challenge by providing public access to information and communication technology (ICT) and training people to use it.

The Public Library Innovation Programme (EIFL-PLIP) aims to change perceptions of public libraries and  support public libraries to use information and communication technology (ICT) in services that benefit communities. In addition, EIFL rewards libraries that are offering innovative services.

Improving access to knowledge

There are more than 230,000 public libraries in developing countries. They are uniquely positioned to change lives and build strong communities; but this opportunity remains untapped, because in developing and transition economy countries public libraries are still mostly viewed as quiet spaces for books and study, and are not equipped with technology and the computers and the internet. The programme helps address this challenge through advocacy to change perceptions of public libraries.

EIFL-PLIP helps to build the capacity of librarians so that they can introduce technology, manage new services, build non-traditional partnerships and engage with communities in new and different ways.

EIFL benefits people in developing and transition countries who are struggling to study, work and progress in life because they lack access to knowledge and information. EIFL believes access knowledge and information is fundamental to sustainable development – and that lack of knowledge and information means millions of people are left behind.

EIFL also raises awareness about controversial issues such as copyright for libraries and open access. In the era of Internet, information is easy to obtain, there are still many people who do not have access to it. What EIFL does is help to make the process of accessing information much faster and easier.

To learn more about EIFL visit http://www.eifl.net.

Iris Yingnan Hu

Assistant Editor, QMJIP