Voice of Exchange

pamela sieving

Pamela Sieving

National Institutes of Health Library
Bethesda, Maryland, USA

I-Connect Workshop between Six Countries

A series of serendipitous events led to invitations to the two of us to participate in the first i-connect workshop in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India, March 15-17, 2007. The goals of the workshop, which brought together librarians from six countries on four continents, were to plan and lay the foundation for the development and maintenance of information resource centers at “community centers for ophthalmology” in India, Nepal, Tanzania, Guatemala, Egypt, and Fiji. These centers  provide support for the clinical, teaching and research functions of their institutions, through outreach, traditional library services and improved access to learning resources and management tools. Ultimately, the goal of the workshop is to participate in the reduction of blindness through improved access to learning resources and management tools, grounded in the goals of Vision 2020: The Right to Sight ( http://www.v2020.org). The workshop was also an opportunity to build a community of resource center professionals in support of community centers of ophthalmology.

The i-connect workshop was hosted by the Lions Aravind Institute of Community Ophthalmology (LAICO), Madurai, and sponsored by SEVA Foundation, the Center for Innovation in Eye Care,  with additional support by Google and the Lavelle Fund for the Blind. The core participants were the librarians from community centers for ophthalmology in India, Nepal and Tanzania; those from centers in Guatemala, Egypt and Fiji were unable to attend. Additional participants were workshop coordinator Catherine Howett, British Columbia Centre for Epidemiologic & International Ophthalmology, Vancouver, and librarians from the LV Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad, India, the International Centre for Eye Health, London; and Aravind Eye Hospital and LAICO, Madurai.

Community centers for ophthalmology provide a community-based approach to eye health in developing countries, where more than 90% of the world’s blind live. The World Health Organization estimates that, globally, 75% of all blindness is preventable or curable, and only 1% is present at birth.

An important focus of the workshop was to discuss and plan for sharing of resources among the participants. Topics included technology presentations to support decision-making regarding the development of a scaleable cataloging system. The two of us presented information on issues relating to open access and, in particular, open access vision resources. We also presented information on the Association of Vision Science Librarians (AVSL) and welcomed workshop participants as new members of the Association.

Travel to India for the workshop offered the opportunity for us to visit AVSL member librarians at other Indian vision centers. AVSL is an international organization composed of professional librarians whose collections and services include the literature of vision. We have gained several Indian members in the past decade, and this trip was an important opportunity to meet face-to-face. In Chennai (Madras) we visited with the librarians of the Elite School of Optometry and the Sankara Nethralaya Eye Hospital; in Hyderabad, we visited the librarian of the LV Prasad Eye Institute. We toured the libraries and their respective schools and medical centers, meeting administrators, researchers, clinicians and instructors.

In addition, this was a working meeting for the two of us in that we lectured to Elite School of Optometry’s third-year students on information resources for their research, and at Aravind, Sankara Nethralaya and LV Prasad to audiences of clinical and biomedical researchers and health care providers, on topics ranging from ethical aspects of medical information to open access resources for pediatric ophthalmology and genetics.

Finally, we were welcomed by the Madras Library Association (MALA) to speak on "Scholarly Communication in 2007:  Challenges and Opportunities for the Global Biomedical and Librarian Communities." The talk was co-hosted by the Sundaram Medical Foundation, which provided the facility, and the Ranganathan Centre for Information Studies. 

Observations & Challenges

Regardless of background and education levels, the librarians we met in India share with us a passion for connecting people with the information they need, and a certainty that what we do as biomedical librarians makes a difference in the lives of people. There are enormous challenges facing all of us, whether we have libraries rich in resources and technological support, or whether we work out of small facilities with few resources. They seem less formidable when shared.

Those of us in AVSL have known for years that professional networks help us expand what we are able to do as individuals. We now have the opportunity to develop this network even more widely, with members in more than 20 countries. In the 6 weeks between returning home from the workshop and writing this article, we have seen connections growing, and resources flowing in both directions. We look forward to the second workshop in spring, 2008, and the opportunity to work together with our new colleagues.

The authors:

Pamela Sieving is currently chairperson of the Association of Vision Science Librarians (AVSL)/MLA Vision Science SIG and informationist at the National Institutes of Health Library, Bethesda, MD, USA. Bette Anton is a former chairperson of the AVSL/MLA Vision Science SIG and Head Librarian, Fong Optometry & Health Sciences Library, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA.