Passing on the knowledge

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Lenny Rhine teaches researchers in developing countries how to use the wealth of free resources made available through the Research4Life programmes. Sian Harris found out about some of his latest activities

Lenny Rhine is a well-travelled man. Since taking early retirement from his position as a medical librarian at the University of Florida he has visited countries on most continents and met many librarians, medical professionals and researchers.

Rhine’s purpose in these travels is to train people in developing countries to be able to make the best use of the materials available to them through the Research4Life (R4L) programmes – HINARI for health information, AGORA for agriculture and OARE for environmental resources. Through these programmes, publishers make subscription resources available for free or at low cost to researchers in the world’s poorest countries.

Rhine started doing training workshops in the developing world in 1997, alongside his day job. He was initially training about health information on the internet but this evolved into Research4Life training as the first of these programmes, HINARI, was launched in 2002. His work is funded by a grant from Elsevier via the Medical Libraries Association’s ‘Libraries Without Borders’ programme.

Since that time he has also been developing and updating training materials to help Research4Life programme users to navigate unfamiliar publisher websites. This is no small task. There are around 150 publishers involved in the three programmes – providing online access to more than 8,000 peer-reviewed scientific journals, books, and databases. In addition, there is a wealth of open-access journals and other free resources available online. Publishers frequently redesign their web interfaces and constantly add new content.

Much of Rhine’s time is spent in monitoring publishers’ sites and updating training material accordingly. The main training material is updated three times a year. Rhine also hears about changes between updates. For example, he described one time that PubMed told him it was planning to change its interface. ‘I got a heads-up on this when I was in a hotel in Mongolia so I did the training course saying “it doesn’t look like this now but it will do next week”.’ The training materials are available in several languages so all updates are translated.

Encouraging use

Promotion of what’s available in the programmes is another vital part of what Rhine does. ‘One of my key frustrations is that I don’t think the training materials are used enough. We also found that a lot of material other than journals is underused, for example resources like the Cochrane library,’ he said. ‘Increasingly publishers are opening up e-books to HINARI and there are now many open-access e-books.’

The availability of such resources – and therefore training to make people aware that they are available – is important. ‘When I’m in the field people say that journals are great but that they really need text books and evidence-based materials,’ Rhine explained.

He and others have also recently begun doing training courses in industrialised countries to reach people in those countries from R4L-eligible institutions. The aim is to train people who will then go back to their own countries and train others and also to encourage their institutions to make better use of the programmes.

One example of this was at a course on emerging pathogens, held recently at the University of Florida. Many of the course attendees were from institutions that were eligible for R4L access, so Rhine did the HINARI short course as part of the meeting and said that the response was very positive.


Above (clockwise): Training information professionals in Guyana, Nepal, Fiji, and Vietnam, and, opposite, a training session in Ethiopia

Rhine has also been working closely with KIT in the Netherlands and the Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine in Belgium to do similar training. ‘I get a very positive reception from people who are not eligible for HINARI too,’ he said, recalling delivering the course to veterinary and medical professors who realised they had collaborators and students that they could encourage to use these resources.

To help reach a wider audience, the train the trainer course is also now available on the Medical Libraries Association Moodle. ‘Every so often librarians go to other countries and take the training course with them,’ said Rhine. He added that the training course is deliberately made up of tiny PDF files so that it is easy to download even where availability of bandwidth is a challenge.

Technology barriers

Bandwidth still is a challenge in many parts of the world, although the situation is improving. ‘It is hard to generalise as some regions of the world have better internet access than others,’ noted Rhine. ‘Several cables have been run to coastal regions of Africa and slowly these cables are being run to the interior so users are becoming less reliant on satellites. Most of the half-decent internet access is still in the big cities though.’

He noted an increasing trend for WiFi access too. ‘I was in Nepal doing a training course and everyone came in with a laptop. Once you have that, you can do the training a little differently. For example, people can bookmark things and save them to their hard drives,’ he said.

In his experience, however, access to scholarly information via smartphones is still not widespread in the developing world. ‘I’ve not seen sufficient bandwidth in developing countries to access information on smartphones as we might want it,’ he said, although he added that he may not have seen it as the training he does is in rooms with desktops and laptops.

Technology restrictions also currently prevent the obvious extension to the idea of training librarians around the world, delivering training online. ‘We have discussed this with ITOCA [Information Training and Outreach Centre for Africa, which aims to enhance ICT skills for librarians, information specialists, scientists, researchers and students in sub-Saharan Africa]. The bandwidth is not there yet but it may become more possible,’ said Rhine.

Another goal is to get more formats like e-books included in the three programmes and to offer more interactive content as bandwidth increases.

So what is next for Rhine? ‘I’ll do this as long as I can,’ he said. ‘The key is the 2015 big review of R4L. We want to make sure that publishers continue to commit to the programmes.’