Research in the Developing World

A medical librarian in Kenya shows why her job has become “very addictive”

A glimpse into the life of Nasra Gathoni, Medical Librarian at the Aga Kahn University Library

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Medical Librarian Nasra Gathoni (seated) works with a doctor at Aga Khan University Hospital in Kenya.Nasra Gathoni wasn't sure she would make a career in Library Sciences when she began her undergraduate studies 15 years ago. With few electronic information resources available in Kenya at that time, she worried that "traditional librarianship would be boring." An internship as a hospital librarian with access to online health and biomedical journals through Research4Life transformed her view of the profession.

"Doctors would ask me to search for the latest evidence-based information to improve or save the life of a patient," she explained. "I could get hundreds of online journal articles for free with the click of a finger. The excitement was amazing."

Nasra has been librarian at Aga Khan University Hospital since 2005 and recently completed her second term as President of the Association for Health information and Libraries in Africa (AHILA). She describes herself as a "multitasker" whose duties include resource acquisition, information literacy training, facilitating access to Research4Life resources and conducting literature searches for a variety of library users. "As much as we know that some have problems using the resources, we notice that they don't automatically apply for the training sessions," she explained. "We are always looking for more innovative ways to get more people to come for training."

The university's undergraduate nursing students, postgraduate medical students, doctors, researchers and faculty know they can count on Nasra's electronic resource knowledge and skills. She also promotes Research4Life awareness and training for health information professionals outside the university. She participated in training about 60 of the nation's most senior nurses during workshops organized by the National Nursing Association of Kenya and the Kenya Chapter of AHILA.

"Quite a number of the nurses had not even heard about HINARI, and I felt very honored to tell them about such a useful resource," Nasra said. "We urged them to register their institutions for the Research4Life programs when they returned to their communities."

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The university's undergraduate nursing students, postgraduate medical students, doctors, researchers and faculty know they can count on Nasra's electronic resource knowledge and skills. She also promotes Research4Life awareness and training for health information professionals outside the university. She participated in training about 60 of the nation's most senior nurses during workshops organized by the National Nursing Association of Kenya and the Kenya Chapter of AHILA.

"Quite a number of the nurses had not even heard about HINARI, and I felt very honored to tell them about such a useful resource," Nasra said. "We urged them to register their institutions for the Research4Life programs when they returned to their communities."

She explained that these efforts support AHILA's goal of improving the health of the society through enhanced access to and use of electronic resources.

Statistics confirm a significant increase in the use of Research4Life programs linked to continuous training at the university. Students rely on Research4Life to write papers and prepare for exams. The faculty depends on Research4Life to plan lectures and develop projects. Doctors use it to treat patients and conduct research. 

More evidence of the importance of Research4Life to the university community is their reaction when they experience a problem with access. A technical glitch during migration of the Research4Life portal to a new server put the programs temporarily offline.

"Within 10 minutes people began calling and calling," Nasra said. "So many calls is a good indication that people find it useful, they like it and they want it there all the time."

The new recognition of the indispensable role of librarians as information technology experts has elevated their status in the academic community. For academic librarians, the question is not merely how to access information but how to help healthcare workers locate the latest information to help in their practice, Nasra said:

I get calls from doctors saying, 'they have a patient with this very rare case and they are not sure how to handle it. I can't do what the doctors are doing but they also can't do what I am doing. We need to work together for the good of the patient.

Booklet_ThumbnailUnsung Heroes: Stories from the Library

Nasra's story is part of collection of Research4Life case studies from librarians in developing countries highlighting their indispensable role. From information literacy training to building infrastructure and outreach, librarians are critical to building a healthy research culture in the developing world and they are often the "unsung heroes" in the research ecosystem. Every day, these librarians train, assist and empower faculty, students, doctors and staff in accessing and using vital information available through Research4Life and other resources, impacting not just the individuals work, but the extended community around them.      

Research4Life and Elsevier

Elsevier is a founding publisher of Research4Life, a public-private partnership to bridge the digital research divide. Since 2001, it has grown to include four UN agencies, Microsoft and over 200 publishers and provides free and low-cost scientific research to scientists and doctors in more than 100 developing countries. 

Research4LifeElsevier contributes over a quarter of the nearly 50,000 peer-reviewed resources in Research4Life, including over 3,100 Elsevier journals and 13,000 books and Scopus. In 2014, there were over 3.9 million Research4Life article downloads from ScienceDirect. We also provide funding for training through the Elsevier Foundation's Innovative Libraries in Developing Countries Program along with technical and communications expertise to boost usage and awareness. 

Read more ElsevierConnect stories on Research4Life

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Elsevier Connect Contributor

Ylann SchemmYlann Schemm (@ylannschemm) heads Elsevier's corporate responsibility program, which focuses on advancing women in science and developing research access in the developing world. She serves as the Program Director of the Elsevier Foundation's New Scholars program, which supports projects to expand the participation of women in STEM, and the Innovative Libraries in Developing Countries program, which supports capacity-building projects in science, technology and medicine. Ylann works closely with the Research4Life partnership, chairing the communications and marketing team, which seeks to raise awareness and usage of the programs.

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