Research (information) for life (sciences)

The name Research4Life sounds to me like a funding agency programme, with a twist of textspeak thrown in to make it cool. In fact it is simply a rebranding exercise for HINARI, AGORA and OARE. On balance I think I prefer Research4Life to that unwieldy bunch of acronyms – OARE especially is hard to pronounce without making it sound like a piratical utterance!
These three schemes provide free access, for researchers at institutions in some of the world’s poorest countries, to over 7,000 journals provided by many of the world’s leading scholarly publishers.
The rebranding took place a few weeks back but I only caught up with it at the WCSJ and a news story that claimed a massive increase in research output by scientists in the developing world since 2002, when HINARI was launched. That’s a nice correlation.
It’s easy for those of a cynical bent (and I admit I am one of those) to imagine that these initiatives are really a fig-leaf for publishers to defend themselves against the charge that their journals are unaffordable to researchers in the developing world. I suspect that may indeed be the reason that publishers have signed up to these schemes, plus the realisation that providing free access to someone who couldn’t afford to subscribe anyway is not eroding your business model. But the original impetus came from NGOs working to provide health information to developing countries. I used to dabble in that area and went to a number of meetings in 2000/2001 where HINARI was discussed.
HINARI was the first of the three schemes, covering health and biomedical sciences. It grew out of the United Nations Millennium Action Plan as a way to provide a public health portal on the Internet for developing countries. This was called Health Internetwork. I recall discussions in 2000 about it, but I’m a bit hazy on the detail now. Somewhere along the way the WHO became involved and it became Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative (HINARI).
The popularity of HINARI led to the development of AGORA (for agricultural and food journals) and OARE (for environmental journals). I wonder whether the scheme under its new brand may expand further to cover other subject areas like engineering, economics and education.
I was interested to learn that some countries have “graduated” out of eligibility for HINARI etc. I was told that publishers work with local consortia in those cases to try and put suitable deals in place to provide continued access on a subscription basis.

About Frank Norman

I am a librarian in a biomedical research institute. I've been around a few years, long enough to know that exciting new things fall into the same familiar patterns. I'm interested in navigating a path for libraries as we slip from print through to electronic information resources.
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