How Do You Build an International University From Scratch? (Part 1)Culture & Education | November 1, 2012
Many scholars have argued with reason that higher-education institutions around...
People in developing countries are faced with numerous challenges in their uphill battle to stay atop the latest scientific advances. All too often, top scholars in these nations are forced to rely on underfunded or out-of-date journal collections.
Without access to current versions of influential and scholarly publications, scientists, scholars, and researchers are often left struggling to address challenges for which solutions have already been found. Too often, researchers who studied in Europe or North America return to their home countries to discover that they no longer have access to journals they once relied on. Over the last two decades, however, an innovative program – The Essential Electronic Agricultural Library – has been working to empower scholars in developing nations by providing up-to-date agricultural journal information.
The idea for TEEAL was born in the late 1980s. Wallace Olsen, former senior research associate, and Jan Olsen, former director of Cornell University’s Mann Library, noticed a lack of readily available, current journal collections during their travels to developing countries.
In response to this need, the Olsens, along with Mary Anderson Ochs (Deputy Director of the TEEAL project at Cornell) and other staff at the Mann Library, spent the next decade consulting librarians, conducting market research, forming partnerships with leading publishers, scanning pages upon pages of documents, and obtaining funding for what would prove to be a massive – and groundbreaking – project that would make up-to-date scientific journals available to individuals in developing countries.
TEEAL was conceptualized as a database of citations, linking to articles from some of the leading agricultural journals. The journals used were selected for reputation and variety, and included topics on crops, animal science, veterinary science, soils, environmental management, human nutrition and diet, food science, genetics, and more. For researchers, the database provides three main objectives:
After market research and input by some of the most widely regarded scientists in the field, a list of the most influential journals was selected for inclusion in the system. The publishers of the major scientific journals—including Elsevier, Academic, Kluwer, and Springer – agreed to provide free copies of their journals that were selected for inclusion in the system.
It was decided that the journals would be compiled on CD-ROM, which was identified as an ideal media, since CDs are easily shipped, use technology that’s readily available, and are easy to maintain in less-than-ideal environmental conditions where TEEAL is used.
Finally, after more than 10 years in development and thanks to seed funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, the TEEAL project sold its first “Library in a Box” in 1999 to the University of Zimbabwe. The final tally? One hundred and thirty journals with 600,000 pages of articles stored on 100 CDs.
Today, the TEEAL project encompasses 140 journals from 60 publishers and has evolved to an online program, Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture, developed by Ochs in 2003.
In Africa—where most regions are eligible for TEEAL – many journal collections in libraries had not been updated in decades. Others had been destroyed by war, political unrest, or economic havoc. In response to these particularly unique challenges, a TEEAL office was established in Zimbabwe in 1999, specifically to introduce African institutions to the program.
Under the direction of Executive Director Gracian Chimwaza, TEEAL Africa has helped place TEEAL sets in libraries throughout Africa and trained more than 800 librarians, information specialists, and researchers. “The idea was really revolutionary at the time,” Chimwaza says. “I mean, with the click of a button you had access to so much cutting-edge research.”
TEEAL Africa soon found itself doing more than marketing and training for TEEAL. It began organizing training workshops for other programs. To reflect this shift in mandate, the office reformed in 2005 as the Information, Training and Outreach Centre for Africa. ITOCA has made impressive strides in its mission to build capacity among the research and education communities by offering the latest education tools and advocating for the adoption of new technologies that drive development in Africa. It currently runs four major programs in sub-Saharan Africa: TEEAL, AGORA, Health Internetwork Access Research Initiative (launched by WHO and Yale University) and Online Access to Research in the Environment. In 2006, it moved its main office to South Africa and registered as an international nonprofit organization. To better serve the continent, it now has offices in Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe.
“ITOCA began as a one-man-band in 1999,” reflects Chimwaza. “Now we’ve got 12 full-time staff as well as support staff. We’ve got PhD guys, Masters types, and BAs in IT.”
That staff has trained more than 2,500 information professionals, faculty, researchers and students in information literacy courses focusing on the use of electronic information resources in roughly 30 sub-Saharan countries in the last 11 years. The course design and curricula offer student-centered learning approaches, hands-on exercises, and building facilitation skills. For Chimwaza, it’s truly a life passion: “I really love it, and I’ve seen it grow from what it was to where it is today,” he says.
TEEAL itself has proven to have a positive impact on developing countries worldwide. A 2004 TEEAL user study conducted by Mann Library indicated that TEEAL is successfully meeting its objectives and that students, educators, and researchers alike consider TEEAL a critical piece of their work that effectively enhances quality and productivity.
And the best part? TEEAL is self sustaining. Most journals continue to grant TEEAL access to their publications pro bono, and Cornell provides IT support. Chimwaza says that while subscriptions are not widely commercial, TEEAL manages to break even. And since the institutions are investing in the program, they “value it more – they’re part of the effort.”
ITOCA has continued to blossom. In 2010, it launched its Continuing Education and Professional Development courses, aimed at delivering a suite of courses tailored for information workers, faculty, and researchers in the region. Its international advisory board of directors helps formulate strategy in order to help it continue its work.
The program doesn’t stop at the institutional level, however. While TEEAL is distributed to research institutions and universities through ITOCA, the know-how trickles down to the grassroots well. So benefits are being seen on a broad scope, throughout the country – and the impact is benefitting everyone, from the smallest family farms to the largest research institutions.
If there’s just one thing to say about Gracian Chimwaza’s efforts, it’s that no matter how effective ITOCA is, no matter how great of an impact it is currently making, he’s always looking for ways to grow the program. He says that he hopes to address other aspects in the next stages; to expand the content to make much more information available to institutions.
“Our future goal: More content that is local content, coming from the regions themselves,” Chimwaza says. “More … ‘south to north’ communication so it’s not only coming one way. The back and forth helps a lot in coming up with relevant solutions.”
TEEAL and ITOCA exemplify what can happen when a group of determined individuals take a vision and rise to a challenge: A need identified. Ten years of research, scanning, and studies by a small group of scholars. A program that evolved to answer technological needs of an entire continent. A director and a team dedicated to progress and education.
What IT or scientific challenges do you see for developing countries? How do you think TEEAL, ITOCA, and other programs can evolve to continue to impact the lives of researchers, scientists, and individuals in developing countries?
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