Can Benevolence and Technology Bridge the Divide between Developed and Developing Countries’ Libraries?
Jennifer Papin–Ramcharan and Richard A. Dawe


The resources needed for research literature in science and technology (S&T) are the same regardless of location. However, access to the needed information resources is dependent on the budget of the research library. There is therefore a very large gap between the leading information–rich libraries and those of lesser–developed countries, which are financially limited and probably have information–poor libraries. There are now a number of initiatives for correcting this divide, but all stakeholders — publishers, vendors, and libraries of developed countries — have to work to ensure that there is equitable access to information for research. We suggest that some international organisations such as the United Nations should be given a mandate to supervise a free library service to developing nations whereby these nations can have free (for them) access to many of the library facilities enjoyed by a first class industrialised nation library. The cost should not be large. Additionally, librarians in developing countries must do more to inform themselves of those initiatives that exist, and then make full use of them. This paper discusses these issues using the perspective and experiences of the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus Main Library as background. It however confines itself to S&T information resources.

A. The problem


All libraries have to deal with escalating costs, but there is a vast difference between a major research library in Europe or the United States and a library in the developing world struggling to put together a monograph collection of even limited range. Headaches of an acquisitions librarian in the West pale in comparison to those of a developing country’s librarian, where a very few international research journals, a few key indexes, and e–journals use up all the allocated budget. Access to foreign exchange is usually extremely limited, too, and the varying exchange rates make the meagre budget even more uncertain, particularly with escalating prices for the material bought. This paper examines some of the problems of the academic library and its research community, particularly in a developing nation, and then indicates possible solutions in a Utopian world so that these libraries are able to give first–class service, even if they are impoverished.

The information resources

The information resources required for research in science and technology (S&T) are not geographically dependent. Research in S&T requires the same resources whether the researcher is located in Taiwan, Tennessee, Timbuktu, Tokyo, or Trinidad. Engagement in meaningful high quality research requires the same access to the journal literature in the field of study and to abstracting and indexing services. Indeed it is normal in the developed world to search bibliographic databases such as Compendex or Scifinder Scholar, and either link to the full–text article, or easily and quickly retrieve the article through the library’s own holdings or through interlibrary loan (for payment). Users of these libraries often have full–text access to all issues of core journals, such as those published by the American Chemical Society.

It must not be forgotten that library users do not care where the resources are or who owns them; they just want to gain access to whatever is relevant to their needs. In their eyes, ‘just in time’ (access) is fine, even though the librarian may feel that ‘just in case’ (ownership) is essential for the readers to have this need satisfied. Nowadays, access is often from the office, or, more frequently, home without having to physically visit the library or even the campus (Arunachalam, 2003; Kingma, 1998; King, 2004; Moahi, 2002; Stern, 2005). The library is therefore an essential part of an institution’s research and teaching mission, particularly in S&T. It is the task of the library to ensure that researchers gain access to whatever is relevant to their needs and when it is needed. Academic libraries have the role of collecting and preserving material that can be used by both scholars and students. It is obvious that the cost of the services that libraries provide forms part of the full economic costs of running a university, particularly the costs associated with carrying out research.

Researcher needs

Good research is always challenging. Apart from the problems of facilities and funding, getting up–to–date and/or archived information is almost becoming a full–time exercise. There is an ever–increasing amount of information being published worldwide per year — more books, more newspapers, more scholarly journals and articles therein, more magazines and newsletters. Additionally, the Internet has a huge and growing volume of data. Thus, finding the relevant information when it is needed is difficult, although the search engines are becoming ever more sophisticated, so that the researcher gets some information immediately, and at costs that they (and the library) can afford. However, to the intellectually lazy the information can be mind–numbing and create the cut–and–paste problem, without thought and appreciation of copyright.

Increasingly, researchers expect to find documents delivered to them at their own workstations, more or less instantly. More knowledgeable library users have higher expectations and are less patient; they seek more control over the document supply process. However, users expect to access the resources at their own workstations, and sometimes prefer not to seek assistance from librarians or an intermediary.

Scientific journals

The journal article is considered by many as the most important type of primary document for the spread of scientific and medical information. Thus, scientific journals have a key role to play in ensuring that research takes place. The traditional approach to research is to survey the topic by reading relevant abstracts and titles and archived articles. The important role of up–to–date information in scholarly communication and research is thus paramount.

If libraries and other subscribers can no longer afford to maintain journal subscriptions, some users may be denied access to the publications they need, or at least access will become more difficult, and time is wasted ‘re–inventing the wheel’, claiming originality for what has already been discovered or making errors where corrections have been well–documented elsewhere. Additionally, papers that result from research undertaken without access to recent information are possibly unacceptable for publication in the higher rated refereed journals, because they have incomplete outdated literature revues.

Getting the titles and abstracts can be relatively easy and comparatively cheap (with Internet access), but time consuming. Even so, subscriptions are needed for at least some of these abstracting and indexing resources, such as Chemical Abstracts, Current Contents, Petroleum Abstracts, Food S&T Abstracts etc. and they are themselves expensive.

Currently there are some 10,000 S&T peer–reviewed journals published globally by learned societies, professional associations and university presses (Papin–Ramcharan and Dawe, 2006a). They range from the very small, with an output of only one journal of narrow interest, to the very large, such as the American Chemical Society. Some individuals subscribe to journals that they regularly read, but for those seeking access to an article in a journal to which they do not subscribe, the first place they would look would be their library.

Despite the high cost, researchers need access to these tools, and so librarians must find ways to facilitate this access. Access to abstracts may be free, but gaining access to the full paper is costly. Often these costs are prohibitive (it is not uncommon for a Google search to direct one to an offer to access the full paper as a pay–per–view, but this too can be relatively expensive, for payment of ‘only’ $40 US). Indeed, this limited access to full–text documents is most annoying, as one can see from the online search what one wants to review, but cannot afford access to the full paper. Then if one does get it and the full paper does not give what was hoped for, it is a waste (Tenopir, 2005; Felter, 2005). Publishers traditionally sold libraries a set number of copies of each issue of print journals as part of the terms of their subscription. All library users were able to read those print copies within the library precincts. Unfortunately, the subscriptions to only a few of these can reduce many libraries’ materials budgets to zero.

It is not surprising that most libraries in the world, most certainly in developing countries, are unable to fund subscriptions to many of the core journals needed to support research at their university, or fill significant gaps in essential runs. This has often been referred to in the literature as the ‘Serials Crisis’ (McGuigan, 2004; Rockwood, 2004). Some acquisition librarians have been unable to buy any new material because there have insufficient (or no) funds. This has a particularly deleterious effect in institutions in developing countries, since researchers there cannot afford the cost of personal subscriptions to the needed journals. These researchers rely almost solely on their libraries to access the needed information.

The problems for the librarian in a developing country

Academic libraries have the task of ensuring that researchers gain access to whatever is relevant to their needs when it is needed. They have the role of collecting and preserving material that can be used by both scholars and students. Most university and college libraries fall somewhere between the poorer institutions (developing countries) and the great research libraries. They are all trying to find the right balance between monographs, journals, indexes, and electronic publications and other demands on their budget. Every year there are more journals, books in print, CD education, videos and now great demands for Internet access to get necessary information.

Libraries can now be in contact with the wider world and not be isolated institutions. The move from print to e–reserves service is growing, particularly to satisfy readers’ needs, to satisfy space concerns, but is marred by lack of suitable knowledgeable staff and the complications created by the mire of copyright legislation. Today, the role of many academic libraries is changing, because of the advent of electronic document supply systems. Modern information and computer technology (ICT) offers enhanced and more rapid capabilities for the following (King, 2004; Bell and Krasulski, 2004; Croft, 2004):

Again, though, they all require significant pots of money (Papin–Ramcharan and Dawe, 2006a). The problems faced by librarians in a developing country (or perhaps in many or most) libraries include:

Additionally, because of increasing student numbers and changes to the composition of the student body, scholarly needs change, and researchers are becoming more vocal in their demands but are more impatient. There are changes in academic institutions’ terms of mission and objectives, governance, structure, sources of finance, etc. However, the rising prices and fluctuating exchange rates, unstable and costly electricity, inadequate air conditioning, the huge cost of telecom charges (often with poor telecommunications and antiquated telephone systems), as well as with the inevitable budgetary constraints, all create challenges.

On the other hand, good ICT helps address the challenges of long queues, unavailable (already loaned) items, restrictive loan periods, and damaged copies. Also nowadays significant staff time is spent on processing material, repairs, dealing with photocopiers, or passing the problems onto the (inadequate?) information technology department. As already indicated most, but not all of, the problems illustrated above boil down to insufficient resources. Of course, there are still the librarian’s problems such as:

Although journals are an essential tool for researchers, they are increasingly also being used for teaching purposes. Digital licensing arrangements are rarely satisfactory for the purposes of teaching and learning, so that currently many publishers ‘prohibit’, through their licensing terms, the circulation of their material to groups of students over university networks in such an intranet environment.

The librarian’s response

Libraries have responded to these forces, particularly lack of funding, for example, by:

More fundamentally, librarians have been rethinking the nature of library collections and services. There has been a shift of emphasis from ‘ownership’ to ‘access’. The debate among library managers on ‘access versus holdings’, ‘access versus ownership’, and ‘just–in–time’ versus ‘just–in–case’ continues (Papin–Ramcharan and Dawe, 2006b). Hence the rise of services which charge per article used or delivered, the emphasis on copyright, and the rise of copyright licensing agencies. Unfortunately, the publishers are still reluctant to forgo the steady income represented by subscription sales and from the sale of individual (unbundled) articles. They (and other vendors) are also now trying to sell bundled titles, e.g., print along with electronic versions of the same title, or licenses to access sets of electronic titles.

Consortia are developing library Online Public Access Catalogues (OPACs), which show not only the holdings of their own library, but also the holdings of other libraries participating in the consortium or network, and to material that can be accessed through commercial services. This is leading to a diminishing of one’s own library, rather than the group. Again, clients expect seamless access to everything their workstation exposes them to. This can lead to more integration of literature searching, verification, location and placing of orders, and also integration of copying, despatching, transmission, and receipt of documents. However, full integration is only really possible if materials are available electronically, but since a large proportion of information materials required by users is still in print or other analogue format, physical access to materials is not nearly as seamless and rapid as the bibliographic access would suggest.

A mixed system is evolving which comprises non–commercial components with a cooperative, resource–sharing ethos, and commercial components that are motivated by profit. The non–commercial components are increasingly moving towards cost–recovery and becoming more like the commercial components. The competitive ethos of ‘free market’ digitising print and other analogue material on demand can speed up document supply, but copyright laws inhibit optimal utilisation of digitised materials. Digitisation of materials now in anticipation of demand is a huge and expensive task, and ultimately may never be needed, and is also inhibited by copyright laws.

Until all of the material (or a very high proportion of it) which users require is ready and waiting in digital format, there will be a gap in the electronic document supply chain. Hybrid analogue/digital libraries are therefore likely to be around for some time. Much of the material to which users are exposed through OPACs and other systems can incur cost recovery or commercial fees. User–initiated requesting may have significant cost implications for their ‘home’ libraries and need at least monitoring, if not controlling.

B. Possible solutions

There are a number of measures that can be taken by publishers, libraries, and academics to improve the provision of scientific publications, but a world strategy is urgently needed. This paper now discusses these issues using the perspective and experiences of the University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus Main Library. It confines itself to S&T information resources.

Initiatives and commentary

Major developments have affected the service approach that academic and research libraries are adopting. First is the dramatic increase over the last 20 years or so of serial and journal subscription costs; second has been the increase in the number of available scientific and engineering journals. Libraries faced with declining budgets have found themselves unable to purchase all publications and materials that their users would generally expect to have. To compensate for this, the use of interlibrary lending, document delivery services and electronic journals has increased. The traditional service model of ‘just–in–case’, which emphasised ownership, where the library acquired materials on the basis that there might be a need for them, has had to be re–evaluated. Harsh economic reality has fostered the ‘just–in–time’ or access model. In this approach, libraries provide information to clients when they want it, whenever they want it, and only the information that they need. The cost of information and its related tools is still the greatest challenge for developing country libraries. New strategies are required if the library is to improve its capability to meet the information needs of the academic community effectively. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to access authoritative scholarly quality information at much reduced, or even no cost (Papin–Ramcharan and Dawe, 2006a).

Global initiatives to fund the acquisition of resources for developing country libraries

It is clear that countries with transitioning economies cannot fund — and will not be able to in the foreseeable future — a good up–to–date and wide ranging research library; therefore, costs to publishers, vendors, etc. in terms of lost income is negligible. However, technology can be used to assist the developing country library at little or even no cost; the systems would be Internet enabled, and security can be overcome (Davis, 2005; Rowlands and Bawden, 1999).

Possible assistance could include:

There could be a potential problem if the local librarians and administrators were not able to adapt, because of cost or inflexible attitudes. For instance, many of the lesser–endowed libraries would have an antiquated data processing department, in which the library has to retain an out–dated library system because the institution will not upgrade its main server, and the data processing people use the library’s dependence on the old server as a justification for making no change. Technology itself is changing the ways in which academic libraries operate and the relationship they have with their users. The way in which knowledge itself is ordered and accessed is changing, as are information storage and retrieval. The dominant concept of the academic library, of intellectual access dependent on highly organised indexing systems and universal bibliographic control, must co–exist with the self–referencing data systems of the World Wide Web. However, with inspiration the older local systems can be incorporated into a new universal system of information storage and access.

An individual library approach: The University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus, Trinidad

Libraries can take a number of initiatives to improve access for their researcher. A number carried out by the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus, Trinidad were discussed recently (Papin–Ramcharan and Dawe, 2006a). Here we cite a few.

The Main Library, the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad is a regional university serving the Caribbean Commonwealth countries. It comprises three campuses located in three different countries: Barbados (Cavehill Campus), Jamaica (Mona Campus), and Trinidad & Tobago (St. Augustine Campus). UWI is particularly fortunate in that the administration recognises the library and information needs, and places a reasonable portion of the UWI budget towards running its library. The Main Library’s budgetary allocation for library materials is currently around US$2 million. However, there has been a doubling of enrolment in the last decade to over 16,000 in 2008/2009, without a corresponding increase in the budget for acquiring library materials. This has resulted in a net decrease (approximately 30%) in the amount spent per student at UWI, St. Augustine (Papin–Ramcharan and Dawe, 2006b).

The library subscribes to over 4,000 journals, has over 365,000 monographs with approximately 8,000 items added annually. It has a significant audiovisual collection and hopes to make available an increasing number of electronic resources that give access to information at desktops without a physical visit to the library. Unfortunately, this sum of money is unable to satisfy all needs. At the library, undergraduate, postgraduate, and research clienteles have different needs. The UWI librarians could easily spend the entire limited library budget on just some of the needs for only one group. Thus, each clientele (UG, PG, and research) has to make do and find ways to overcome gaps in their information resource base.

Developments in electronic technologies — computers and communication technologies — have drastically affected the way in which UWI approach collection development. At the University of the West Indies Main Library, the policy has been to only subscribe to print journals. The library generally did not pay extra for online access and only had online access to its journals if this was ‘free’, i.e., included in the cost of the print subscription. This is changing so that the library can now offer users more online access through the print + online combination. The Main Library currently offers access to over 170 databases and 2,503 e–journals. These resources are ‘already paid for’ and can be used in an e–reserves service. In short, the Main Library has no choice but to seriously consider maximizing its existing resources through increased electronic delivery to better address the needs of its users.

Just in Time approaches

The Just in Time Access strategy (Kingma, 1998; Moahi, 2002) is where the library will get the researcher access to what he or she needs when it is needed but without owning it; that is, not purchasing or subscribing to it. This strategy needs to shift a significant amount of money from supporting print subscriptions to paying for the specific articles that researchers really need, when they need them. For the same money, the ‘just in time’ delivery of articles will meet more researchers’ needs than the ‘just in case’ subscriptions that have been maintained. But then the item is lost for future readers. In addition, some readers may like to ‘flick through’ the print journals on the shelf. The British Library’s Document Supply Service supplies over 1.8 million scientific articles a year, over 90 percent of which are supplied within 48 hours (British Library, 2010). At the UWI Main Library, this ‘just in time’ document delivery service is facilitated by a deposit account which enables the ordering of journal articles, chapters from books, etc. held by the British Library (BL). Articles are received from the BL by airmail, fax, e–mail or courier.

Having a physical collection means that the collection is available in the future. Just–in–time means that every time there is a demand, access to interlibrary loan or electronic sources must be repeated. But there must be space to house the paper and facilities to ensure that vermin, etc. do not degrade the material. Additionally, until one has viewed and deliberated on a paper, one does not know whether the money (and paper) has been wasted.

There is a great deal of disagreement as to whether the cost of subscribing to electronic journals works out cheaper than that of printed material, remembering that for libraries there are additional costs of journal subscription which include binding, processing and storage. These would be minimised if an electronic subscription were effected. The use of electronic text is attractive to libraries. Instead of concerning themselves with having physical copies, all they now have to deal with are the organizational and technological structures for accessing collections held elsewhere. Thus, the just–in–time service model has a potential for minimising costs associated with print journal subscriptions (Lang, 1994). This is particularly advantageous because there is evidence that most printed journal articles are never read, so the question is whether libraries should pay only for items that are actually read (Lesk, 1997). The decision to buy or lease resources should really be based on usage of the printed versions. Those that are used frequently can be bought and maintained locally. However if a subscription is not paid, then access is lost and there are no back–numbers to fall back on, unlike the paper route.

Still, the print–based reserves at St. Augustine worked fairly well until the sharp increase in student intake in 2006/07 (in 2003/04 the student population was 12,578; in 2008/09, the number stood at 16,904). The increasing enrolment numbers as a result of the UWI St. Augustine campus’s successful reaching out to wider student demography (mature students at the Evening University and Open Campus distance learners) began to place tremendous pressures on physical shelving space and equal access to the reserve collection. For Evening University and Open Campus students especially, access to a reserve collection is not easy or convenient. Also, the traditional UWI student, like their counterparts elsewhere, have grown up with the Internet, e–mail, cell phones, instant messaging, and podcasts, and have expectations of accessing “everything” online. The Internet has affected mainstream education, and at UWI the opportunity presents itself to remove limitations on access during library service hours.

Other developments and initiatives

Institutional repositories: Other developments include the setting–up of institutional repositories for the deposit of research publications produced by their own academics. But when should authors give away exclusive rights to the copyright in their research publications?

Differential pricing: There are many other examples of initiatives used by the library to bring S&T researchers, in particular, in contact with needed information. Differential or tiered pricing which allows reduced prices for smaller or lower income libraries or for academic institutions as opposed to commercial institutions has worked well (Papin–Ramcharan and Dawe, 2006a). This is a difficult issue because in general, as soon as a library stops subscribing to an electronic resource, then access also ceases. Will the publishers, the vendors, bibliographic utilities, etc. archive the materials (Stern, 2005)?

Reciprocal linkages: researchers can also benefit from UWI Campus Libraries establishing formal mutually beneficial reciprocal linkages with other local libraries, e.g., the National Library (NALIS), Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago (Petrotrin), National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago (NGC), and Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA). This type of relationship is often a result of the parent university establishing relationships with other institutions (Davis, 2005).

Free Internet resources: Libraries must keep up to date with the ever–evolving information landscape and always seek reduced costs for accessing scholarly quality information. For example, the coming of the Scirus and Google Scholar search engines, OAIster Project of OCLC, and many “Open Access” initiatives have been noted and disseminated to users. All are accessible University–wide, in offices and laboratories (Lewis, 2001; Copyright Clearance Center, 2010).

Sponsorship: another possible route for affordable access to information has been sponsorship. Some professional societies offer free, or reduced cost, access to their technical libraries. The fees may be given by the society or by a company within the organisation. Continuity is important, otherwise the research suffers when sponsorship ceases.

Indexes from other libraries and some form of interchange (but is it one sided?).

Local digital services: Many of the current services and resources offered by the Main Library at the St. Augustine campus are available in digital format. Users can access a wide range of resources both on and off campus (remote access enabled by EZ–proxy was introduced in 2006). These include the online library catalogue, an online skills tutorial, research databases (171), e–journals (2,503), e–books (these resources are ‘already paid for’ and can be used in an e–reserves service); selected Web resources (1,470), and exam papers, via the library’s home page ( The library’s 24/7 computing services, available throughout the semester, also provide convenient and continuous access, especially for those students without personal computers or Internet access. E–reserves offer numerous gains for St. Augustine in terms of flexible 24/7 access (for students), and labour/time savings (for staff). But copyright is a problem for e–reserves service. The mire of copyright legislation, including how much a student can print and disseminate, plus copyright fees for repeated or extensive use of material in large classes, complicates many decisions to expand e–resources.

Development of an electronic journal collection is expensive both in terms of the dollar cost of subscriptions and in the use of staff resources to negotiate licenses, verify URLs, and provide access via catalogue and Web page links. In developed countries, in order to acquire electronic resources expenditure for traditional print publications is being cut, but in developing countries there is insufficient funds in the first place (Papin–Ramcharan and Dawe, 2006a).

The e–learning environment, where lecturers and students communicate through electronic facilities, such as lecture notes and assignments. There are, however, significant barriers such as high electricity and Internet connectivity costs and computer maintenance. Lack of education or of confidence in the ability to learn, by academic staff and even some librarians, may also hamper growth in this mode of education. Technology is also changing so rapidly that there is no guarantee that data created today will still be accessible in the long run, as hardware and software continue to change.

Open access journals also present another opportunity for the Main Library to offer material for an e–reserves service without incurring the often punishing costs associated with the payment of copyright fees for repeated or extensive use of material in large classes. For example, the Directory of Open Access Journals ( lists 4,253 open access journals, of which 1,574 journals are searchable at article level. SciELO, the scientific electronic library online ( also gives access to a large number of journals and articles (Papin–Ramcharan and Dawe, 2006b). There are obvious concerns about copyright and access that could limit the ability of faculty to choose appropriate materials for their courses ( E–reserves have had a transformative effect on student learning. Students can access study materials anytime and anywhere, when previously restricted both by time (business hours) and place (the library) (Gregory, 2005).

C. Conclusions

The global knowledge base continues to expand, but so too does the information divide between the richer and poorer nations. Yet in order to overcome their social and economic problems, it is vital that developing countries have access to information, which in turn enables research, the generation of new knowledge, and ultimately the application of new technologies. Pressure on library journal acquisitions budgets has resulted in cancelled subscriptions and has contributed to a decline in book purchasing. This compromises the library‘s ability to provide the full range of services required by its user community.

Whilst there are a number of measures that can be taken by publishers, libraries, and academics to improve the provision of scientific publications, a world strategy is urgently needed. The start of a solution could be through inter–library lending. Initiatives to fund the acquisition of resources for developing country libraries could include:

Of course, although not emphasised in this article, there is another very important ingredient apart from finance, and that is people. Librarians and university upper management must be committed to developing and maintaining a world–class library on their campus. They have to find the space, the equipment, some funds, and be collaborative, enthusiastic, ‘on–the–ball’ for new developments, and be creative. This will overcome many of the inherent difficulties and bring success.


This paper was being prepared with Jennifer Papin–Ramcharan as principal author. Unfortunately, she was unable to prepare the final version. This paper is dedicated to her memory — an excellent librarian (and friend) in any part of the world. I thank Allison Dolland, Librarian III, UWI Main Library, Engineering & Physical Sciences Division for her careful reading of the manuscript and helpful suggestions.


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About the authors

The late Jennifer Papin–Ramcharan, Main Library, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad.

Richard A. Dawe, TTMC Chair in Petroleum Engineering, Chemical Engineering Department, Faculty of Engineering, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad.
E–mail: richard [dot] dawe [at] sta [dot] uwi[dot] edu

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