Newswise — University of Maryland scientist D.J. Patil and a small group of colleagues have built a new, scientific library for strife-torn Iraq that is making some 17,422 journal titles available to Iraqi scientists and engineers who are decades behind in non-military science and technology. Though many Iraqi libraries are hopelessly out of date or have been looted, the new library is safe from such problems because it is virtual, with digital documents accessed via the Web. "If Iraqi scientists and engineers are going to be able help rebuild and stabilize their country as a peaceful democracy, they have be able to access current knowledge in their fields," said Patil, a mathematician and scientist with the university's Institute for Physical Science and Technology. "Physically building such a library in Iraq would be prohibitively expensive, take a long time, and even if you could build it, scientists would not be able to access it easily or safely. We realized that building a digital library would avoid these difficulties, and we recognized that such a digital library could also serve as a model for other developing countries," he said.
The Iraqi Virtual Science Library (IVSL) provides Iraqi engineers, medical personnel, scientists and students with access to full-text technical, online training and educational material, and funding opportunities. The library has been made available to 7 Iraqi universities, one research institution and the Ministries of Higher Education and Science & Technology . Some 80 percent of Iraq's scientists and students have access to full text technical articles, training, and online courses through the library. These resources are very similar to those available at a university in the United States. Patil explained that the goal is to transfer the project to the Iraqis as soon as it is feasible to do so.
Seed funding for the IVSL of about $360,000 comes from the Department of Defense, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, to secure journal licenses, build the infrastructure and provide training to the Iraqis. "And through the generous contributions of the publishers, we have been able to provide access to more than 17,000 journal titles, a value of $11 million in full price subscription fees," Patil said.
He explained that the idea was sparked by the experiences of Dr. Alex Dehgan, an ecologist working in Iraq to rebuild the Museum of Natual History for U.S. Department of State as a Science and Technology Policy Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). His experiences with the Iraqi scientists revealed their tremendous need to access to updated scientific literature. Dehgan; Susan Cumberledge, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a AAAS Fellow who was working in the Department of Defense (DOD); and Bill McCluskey, Director of the International Technology Policy Office (DOD), began to enlist the help of other AAAS Fellows to develop the concept of an Iraqi Virtual Science Library. Patil, a AAAS Fellow in the Defense Threat Reduction Agency of the DOD was quickly enlisted and spearheaded the design, implementation and funding of the digital library.
Ultimately an interagency working group of current and former fellows was established to implement the IVSL via their respective agencies. The founding members included: Dehgan; Cumberledge; Patil; Barrie Ripin, Senior Science Diplomacy Officer, State Department; Ranjiv Kush, (Aquaya Institute) AAAS Fellow, State Department, Ben Perman, AAAS fellow, Threat Reduction Support Center, SAIC; and Kwabena Boakye-Yiadom, AAAS Fellow, DOD.
The AAAS fellows used their professional contacts to engage a large number of collaborators to develop public-private partnerships to support the the library. Partners include the Department of Defense and the Department of State, other U.S. agencies (Agriculture, DOE, NOAA, Army Corps of Engineers), the Iraq International Center for Science and Industry, private scientific publishers, Sun Microsystems, the University of Maryland, Cornell University, Yale University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Springer, the National Academy of Sciences and others. The AAAS fellows continue to remain actively involved with the development and implementation of this unique broad-based public-private partnership.
Patil and Cumberledge will represent the AAAS fellows when the library gets its "official" rollout on Wednesday, May 3 from 1 to 2 p.m. at the National Academies building, 2100 C Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. Other speakers include Under Secretary of Defense Ken Krieg, Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky, Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences and the Iraqi Ambassador to the United States.