What you don’t know about Research4Life

Research4Life champions reveal the formula for this thriving partnership and its far-reaching impact

A workshop at the 2019 Research4Life General Partners Meeting at the central library of the University Of Yangon in Myanmar. (Photo © Research4Life)

Research4Life provides lower-income countries with free or low-cost access to academic and professional peer-reviewed content online. In this way, the organization has been enhanceing the scholarship, teaching and research of thousands of students, faculty and scientists in the developing world.

The public-private partnership was formed 18 years ago as a collaboration between the World Health Organization and six publishers, with Elsevier among its founders. Now, the partnership is as diverse and thriving as ever: more than 200 partners have joined, along with the Yale and Cornell university libraries and four UN agencies (FAO, WIPO, UNEP and ILO) – working together towards the common goal of providing access to research in 120 developing countries.

So what’s the recipe for such an ever-growing and wide-ranging partnership?

1. Take 200+ international publishers

Andrea Powell, the STM’s Outreach Director and Publisher Coordinator for Research4Life, focuses on bringing new partners onboard. And with the evolution of the industry, it is not only traditional publishers who have joined but technology partners that provide platforms and research management products.

Andrea Powell“I think it's very important that Research4Life reflects the needs of research scientists, not just in providing barrier-free access to content, but also to the tools and workflow products which help them do their job on a daily basis,” Andrea noted. “The inclusion of secondary databases, reference management products and other data products is critical, and I've been focusing on increasing the availability of some of these resources through Research4Life.”

A strong believer that the research ecosystem can only thrive if it’s as egalitarian and diverse as possible, Andrea also gets involved in conferences and speaking opportunities where she can highlight Research4Life’s work. Recently, she ran a workshop at the Researcher to Reader Conference on "Leveling the Playing Field for Researchers in the Global South."

What kind of resources would she like to see added to Research4Life’s offering? “We hear a lot from our users that they have skills gaps in areas like resource discovery, or preparing a paper for publication,” she said, “so I'd like to see our training materials extended to cover more of these topics.”

2. Add more than 100,000 academic resources …

Earlier this year, Research4Life celebrated the milestone of offering up to 100,000 resources between peer-reviewed journals, books and databases – a huge increase considering that 10 years ago, a researcher could browse just 10,000 titles. And what really makes these resources of vital importance is the impact they have on medical practitioners, researchers and librarian around the world.

Ylann Schemm“Research4Life has impressive numbers, whether you’re talking about the number of resources available or countries involved, publishers contributing or institutions registered,” said Elsevier Foundation Director Ylann Schemm, who has been working with Research4Life since 2008 and has now taken on the role of Vice-Chair. “But the numbers only say so much and must be translated into real action, access and research.

As an example, she mentioned  the latest Research4Life access campaign: Stories of Change – a collection that highlights how a librarian in Myanmar is using Research4Life to teach users how to effectively work with information resources and how an hospital in Bangladesh is accessing the latest scientific papers to improve its activities in the fight again cholera.

Asked what makes Research4Life unique, Ylann said the partnership “not only achieves great things on a shoestring , but it has built lasting bridges across incredibly diverse groups such as publishers, UN agencies, universities and nonprofits – all while making real strides in providing access to research for scientists and doctors in developing countries.”

3. Deliver to more than 9,000 institutions …

Delegates from around the world met at the Research4Life General Partners meeting in Geneva July 18. (Photo by Emmanuel Berrod © WIPO)

Dr. Edda Tandi Lwoga is Associate Professor and Deputy Rector for Academic, Research and Consultancy at the College of Business Education in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. During the annual Research4Life General Partners Meeting on July 18 in Geneva, she was elected User Representative – a 3-year role with the ambitious task of giving voice to a worldwide community that now includes users from 9,000 institutions.

Prof. Edda Tandi Lwoga, PhDEdda has been working with R4L since 2002, getting involved with AGORA (the database for agricultural research managed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN) first and then, as a librarian and lecturer in different institutions in Tanzania, expanding her advocacy to the broader scope of Research4Life and its five programs.

Edda pointed out that when a developing country institution has to use its resources to cover the costs of its basic infrastructure, funds for accessing individual databases are not prioritized, and often prohibitive. “In this scenario, Research4Life is a key tool for so many of us,” she said.

Asked what she would like to achieve during her term as User Representative, her answer is clear: grow the number of users, forming a strong, vibrant community that can help the partnership expand its reach and impact. “If we want to really advance the UN SDGs, capacity building is the most important thing we can focus on,” she said. “And training librarians on how to effectively administer their resources is at the heart of it.”

4. Mix in more than 70 face-to-face workshops

Delivering a workshop is a fine art – one that Dr. Lenny Rhine, Coordinator of the Elsevier Foundation-funded Librarians Without Borders program, has been perfecting since 2007. In this capacity, he has conducted more than 70 Research4Life workshops, writes training material and coordinates the annual R4L training grants distributed through the Medical Library Association.

Lenny Rhine, PhDThe train-the-trainer workshops Lenny runs focus first on helping participants gain the skills to use R4L resources efficiently and effectively. They also teach how to advocate for more library resources (using for example the recently published “Advocating for Change” toolkit) and navigate the broader publishing world.

For the instructor, Lenny says, the key to a successful workshop is to be inclusive and supportive – and to be able to work in sometimes challenging conditions where electricity and WIFI might not be a possibility.

What can dramatically improve the outcome of a workshop, he said, is having a senior colleague participating: this sets a different tone, he explained, because the participants realize they have senior management support and what they are learning is valuable not only for themselves but for the development of their institution:

The most rewarding result is when I get to see researchers finally being able to find information they have been interested in for years: many times, they just stop doing the workshop exercises and start to immediately read the article.

“Interacting with the participants is the best part of my job,” he added, “but is also very intense – after a workshop, I definitely crash!”

Elsevier’s contribution to Research4Life

As a founding partner, Elsevier contributes over a quarter of the over 100,000 peer-reviewed resources in Research4Life, encompassing ScienceDirect and Scopus, including over 3,000 Elsevier journals and 20,000 eBooks. We also provide technical and communications expertise to advance Research4Life and have committed to the program through 2025. In addition, Elsevier leads a communications taskforce to boost the visibility of Research4Life, and colleagues are involved in Research4Life taskforces on access, authentication, metrics and training.

Through the Elsevier Foundation, Elsevier contributes to two programs that reinforce Research4Life’s efforts:

  • Librarians without Borders, a collaboration with MLA, supports Research4Life trainers, promotes strong health sciences information capacity and assists librarians through technological infrastructure and access to quality information.
  • Research4Life Online Training, in partnership with the FAO, aims to contribute to the development of skills and competencies in access to scientific resources for low-income countries by developing and delivering e-learning MOOCs.



Written by

Domiziana Francescon

Written by

Domiziana Francescon

Domiziana Francescon serves as the Elsevier Foundation’s Program Officer and is a strong supporter of the company’s Corporate Responsibility program. Domiziana obtained a master’s degree in Book and Digital Media Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, with a specialization in Publishing Studies. She grew up in Italy.


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