Vision librarians tackle avoidable blindness

With Innovative Libraries grant, program provides access to ophthalmic research for Vision 2020 initiative

The first Solution in Sight workshop to include all eight resource centers took place in March at the LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, India. This video captures some of the mentoring and training activities with librarians from around the world.


Globally, 285 million people are blind or visually impaired , two-thirds of them women and 90% live in developing countries. Poverty and blindness are often linked: people who are blind are less likely to go to school or to work. Often, they need other family members to care for them.

Cataracts remain the leading cause of blindness despite the fact that a simple 15-minute surgical procedure can restore sight immediately. Refractive error is the leading cause of visual impairment. Poor quality of service and the high cost of treatment and transportation to distant facilities prevent the majority of the world's blind and visually impaired people from receiving care.

The Vision 2020 initiative

In 1994, the World Health Organization (WHO) and many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) formed a joint task force to address the increasing problem of blindness around the world.

In 2003, the World Health Assembly unanimously passed a resolution urging member states to commit themselves to "supporting the Global Initiative for the Elimination of Avoidable Blindness by setting up, not later than 2005, a national Vision 2020 plan, in partnership with WHO and in collaboration with nongovernmental organizations and the private sector."  All 193 member states of the UN have committed to investing in eye care.

As a result of Vision 2020 programs, 15 million fewer people are blind today than in 1999. However, many challenges remain. Institutions collaborating with Vision 2020 have critical programmatic needs: eye care services, training, research, mentoring and administration.

A major challenge is access to ophthalmic information. All institutions need both information resources and staff skilled at providing access to information and training others to use these resources. Thus, resource centers and their librarians are key players in the effort to meet the goals of Vision 2020.

There are also many barriers to finding and using eye care information resources in developing countries. Among them are the cost of resources, connectivity and training; lack of awareness of available resources and the skills to use them; difficulty retaining skilled librarians; and librarians who are unable to use their knowledge and skills.

'Solution in Sight' is helping resource centers expand access to ophthalmic information

To address these information challenges, the Seva Foundation, in partnership with the Association of Vision Science Librarians (AVSL), has received grant funding for three years (2012-14) from the Elsevier Foundation's Innovative Libraries in Developing Countries program.

The purpose of the grant is to expand the already well-functioning vision library network, acting at the local, regional and global levels. By improving the adequacy and effectiveness of staff and enhancing resources and services in each of eight resource centers, the organizations hope to advance the goals of Vision 2020.

Activities focus on South-South and South-North, cooperation. During the first 18 months, each Resource Center completed assessments and developed three-year work plans. The process of developing work plans involved a teleconference with each Resource Center librarian and institutional administrators. A regional workshop was held at the Aravind Eye Institute in November 2012, and an all-center workshop was held at LV Prasad Eye Institute in March 2013. Expertise and resources are shared via email almost daily.

There have been many opportunities to publicize these activities and the grant at conferences of the American Library Association, the Medical Library Association, the American Public Health Association and the NIH-sponsored Science of Eliminating Health Disparities conference. Ylann Schemm (@ylannschemm), who manages the Elsevier Foundation innovative libraries program, said: "A Solution in Sight is such an impressive project, marshaling resources in a creative way for maximum impact. Above all, it really empowers the vision librarian in the fight against avoidable blindness."

The goals for the final 18 months of the grant are to establish an active mentoring program between AVSL and resource center librarians, to provide tailored training for each resource center librarian, and to improve collections, cataloging and search capacity at each center.


Elsevier Foundation Innovative Libraries Grants

Grant funding comes through the Elsevier Foundation Innovative Libraries in Developing Countries program, which offers one-, two- and three-year grants. This program supports the efforts of libraries to enhance the quality of life in developing countries through infrastructure building, information literacy training, preservation of unique material and more. The deadline for the 2013 call for proposals is June 24. Read more


Seva Foundation

Seva, which means "selfless service" in Sanskrit, is the name of a nonprofit organization dedicated to the alleviation of suffering. For 35 years, the Seva Foundation has worked with partners to perfect a model of high-quality, self-sustaining community-based eye care programs that serve the poor. The Global Sight Initiative, a network of eye hospitals around the world dedicated to creating innovative approaches to eliminating preventable blindness, coordinates efforts to disseminate this mode, scaling up the capacity of eye care facilities to meet global needs. The Seva Foundation manages the grant.

Association of Vision Science Librarians

The Association of Vision Science Librarians (AVSL) is composed of more than 150 members in 26 countries around the world. Members provide expertise in vision-related information resources. Founded in 1965, its membership is made up of professionals who work in schools and departments of ophthalmology and optometry, are hospital- and corporate-based, or work in professional societies. AVSL members share information and resources, mentor new members, and advocate for increased access to information.

Global Sight Initiative

Under the umbrella of Vision 2020 and the Seva Foundation, the Global Sight Initiative is made up of eight mentor eye hospitals, sharing intervention strategies and systematic improvement processes with more than 50 client eye hospitals. Each of these mentor and client hospitals has a Resource Center, responsible for providing information to the clinicians and researchers at their respective institutions.

The eight mentor eye institutions are: Aravind Eye Care System, LV Prasad Eye Institute, Sadguru Netra Chikitsalaya and Vivekananda Mission Asram Netra Niramay Niketan (India); Visualiza Eye Care System (Guatemala); Lumbini Eye Institute (Nepal); Al Noor Magrabi Foundation (Egypt); and Kilimanjaro Centre for Community Ophthalmology (Tanzania).

The goal of GSI is to have 100 client hospitals performing 1 million more surgeries annually by 2018 through:

1. Developing eye care workforce and leadership, especially with women. The Network is training more than 500 eye doctors and 2,000 highly skilled ophthalmic nurses, with a special emphasis on making these jobs available to women.

2. Transforming 100+ community eye hospitals through business development. The Initiative teaches 100 hospitals how to implement operational systems and business models that enable them to quickly become financially self-supporting.

3. Building smart technology and applying innovative research. Information and communications technologies have been put in place so the entire Initiative can access medical libraries and conduct key activities such as web-based benchmarking, telemedicine, and distance learning. [divider]

Solution in Sight project team

Pamela C. Sieving, MA, MS, AHIP, Biomedical Librarian/Informationist, National Institutes of Health Library Pamela-Sieving-MA-MS-AHIP

Pamela Sieving was the first informationist hired at the National Institutes of Health Library, which serves the NIH staff in Bethesda, Maryland. Drawing on her background as director of library services at the University of Michigan Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, she established informationist services for the National Eye Institute in 2001; she currently also serves as informationist to the NIH Clinical Center's Tracheotomy Care team and the National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities. She has been a member of the Association of Vision Science Librarians since 1986, serving as chairperson from 2006-2008 and in 2009. She is active in the American Library Association and the Medical Library Association. Since 2002 she has worked with the US Cochrane Center and is a member of the steering committee for the CEVG@US project. She is currently a member of the editorial boards of both JAMA Ophthalmology (formerly Archives of Ophthalmology and Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness), and a member of the executive committee of the Cogan Ophthalmic History Society.

Bette Anton, MLS, Head Librarian, Pamela & Kenneth Fong Optometry & Health Sciences Library, University of California, Berkeley


Bette Anton is the Head of the University of California, Berkeley, Fong Optometry & Health Sciences Library, which serves students, faculty, clinicians and researchers of the professional school of optometry and the vision science program, and the UC Berkeley-UC San Francisco Joint Medical Program (JMP). She has been an active member of the Association of Vision Science Librarians since 1980 and served as Chair in 1988-89 and 2000-2001. She is a member of the Medical Library Association (MLA) and the MLA International Cooperation Section. Her recent career has focused on a strong interest in bioethical issues relating to access to information, which she believes to be a human right. She works to make health information available to all who need it and to promote the goals of Vision 2020.

Suzanne S. Gilbert, PhD, MPH, Director, Center for Innovation in Eye Care, Seva Foundation, Berkeley, California


Dr. Suzanne Gilberthas helped to develop some of the world's leading programs which reach all strata of society with quality sight-saving services on a sustainable basis. She coordinates the Global Sight Initiative, which works with 100 eye hospitals around the world to offer an additional 1million cataract surgeries annually on a sustainable basis. Gilbert is Coordinator of the VISION 2020 Human Resource Program Committee, Consultant to the American Academy of Ophthalmology Global Outreach Committee, and a reviewer for several leading epidemiology and ophthalmology journals. A long-time proponent of developing local capacity for research and publication within Seva Foundation partner programs, she helped to initiate Solution in Sight to strengthen eye hospital libraries around the world.

Katie Judson, Program Coordinator, Center for Innovation in Eye Care, Seva Foundation,Berkeley, California


Katie Judson is the program coordinator for the Seva Foundation's Center for Innovation in Eye Care. The Center provides a platform for innovation in all spheres of eye health work from biotechnology to best practices in hospital management worldwide. She believes that access to basic health care is a human right and is proud to work for an organization "that is finding sustainable ways to make this right a reality."


Related resources

SEVA Foundation:

Association of Vision Science Librarians (AVLS):

Vision 2020:

Elsevier Foundation:

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