Pioneering at Makerere

Published: Wednesday 28th September 2011
Category: Blog

Research output at the Makerere University College of Health Sciences has helped raise the University’s overall ranking to 9th in Africa.

Dr. Alison Kinengyere facilitating a workshop on finding and using health information.

Library Information Science was a new course of study when Dr. Alison Annet Kinengyere was an undergraduate at Makerere University from 1993 to 1996. “We were pioneers and I decided to go with the changing times,” says Alison, now Head Librarian at Makerere University’s Albert Cook Medical Library.

After working for several years, Alison returned to Makerere in 2001 to begin graduate studies. Electronic resources were still rare, she explains, “People were doing research that was not comprehensive because they did not have access to the literature.”

The University registered with Research4Life in 2005 and Alison, by then a medical librarian at Makerere, attended a workshop organized by the Information Training and Outreach Centre for Africa (ITOCA), a capacity building organization aimed at enhancing information and communication technology skills for librarians and researchers. The workshop marked a turning point in her professional life.

“Before 2005, the medical library had difficulties accessing health information,” she recalls. “The main resource was PubMed where the majority of results are available in abstract form. With HINARI a very big problem was solved, as most of the articles could be accessed in full text.” Research4Life also radically reduced the library’s spending on costly document delivery services, since most of the articles were accessible online for free.

But even when scholarly electronic information became available, D. Kinengyere’s doctoral research indicated that was still under-utilized at Ugandan universities. To remedy the negative impact this has on learning, teaching and research, she recommended building a more powerful training infrastructure. Makerere University put that recommendation into practice.

As librarian in charge of information literacy at the College of Health Sciences, Alison leads group training and one-on-one sessions for fellow librarians, medical and graduate students, researchers, faculty, doctors and nurses. She teaches them how to use HINARI, OARE and AGORA, how to export references to a reference manager database and how to refine their literature searches.

Research4Life users need training in search strategies to help them target the most useful information for their particular research, she explains, “For some people using Research4Life there is information overload. They get too much information and fail to get the information they need.”

Research in life-threatening conditions such as cancer has increased significantly at the College of Health Sciences and contributed to the rise of the University’s ranking to 9th in Africa. The College has also developed evidence briefs for health policy on topics such as maternal and infant mortality and the integration of palliative care into the national health system. Systematic reviews of the findings were developed by the College and made available in the Cochrane Library which contains independent evidence to inform healthcare decision-making.

Health workers, faculty and students from hospitals and academic institutions across Uganda come to Makerere’s Albert Cook Medical Library to get biomedical information they cannot find at their own institutions.

Lack of access to Research4Life, insufficient search skills, and poor Internet connections are the main reasons they cannot obtain the materials at their own institutions, explains Alison, who has conducted workshops across Uganda and in Ethiopia and Tanzania. She urges academic librarians to register for Research4Life and to attend courses with a teacher who can train them in better practices.

“A physical workshop is better because it avoids so many problems with the Internet like the power going on and off,” she says.

This story is part of the “Unsung Heroes: Stories from the Library” case study collection. Read more stories from Research4Life users.