Young Nigerian university ranks up thanks to Research4Life

Published: Monday 25th April 2022
Category: News

This interview was conducted by Emmanuel Come Mugisha

The University of Medical Sciences (Unimed) became Nigeria’s first accredited specialized medical university. Born in 2016 in Ondo state, Unimed now boasts nationwide recognition with its library as a flagship. Biliamin Oladele Popoola, one of the founding librarians, says Research4Life was the key to that prominence.

“Through Research4Life, my library is now recognized as a gateway to literature to support teaching, learning and research activities.”

Biliamin Oladele Popoola, Systems, Scholarly Communications, and Evidence-Based Medicine Librarian at Unimed.

For any higher learning institution, accreditation plays the most vital role for its continued existence. In Nigeria, Biliamin says, if the university’s programs are not accredited, the institution is “as good as dead.” The library, he adds, is one of the paramount components in the accreditation exercise.

The accreditation process assesses the quantity, access and quality of library resources. Unimed has worked with close to 30 different teams of accreditators since its inauguration and the library has not scored below 70%, sometimes going as high as 95%. Biliamin confides that the university community feels his library is doing magic.

“There’s no magic. When you, as an accreditor, come around and I launch PubMed for you from Research4Life, you’d be overwhelmed with the number of resources we are able to access in their full text.”

Overcoming obstacles with digital solution

Financial constraints were inevitable for Unimed as a burgeoning university and Biliamin, who oversees its electronic resources, could not subscribe to big databases found in well-established institutions. Relying on open access resources alone, his “library was blank” and scored low during accreditation.

Having come across Research4Life during an internship, Biliamin dedicated his first days at Unimed to exploring the platform. In early 2017, he introduced the university to Reseach4Life and has since then used it for research and literature support services, information literacy and scholarly communications training. Research4Life has also been embedded in a few university courses to enrich students’ research skills.

“As a librarian, one thing that has given me recognition in my institution is the notion that Mr. Popoola can find you any literature among our researchers and faculties. Research4Life is the secret.”

To him, Research4Life has become a “research lifeline” by bridging the financial gap that often handicaps most young universities in developing nations.

“Research4Life is like the low-hanging fruit considering finances, for my library to be able to offer literature and research support to the university community. It’s sort of a gold mine… People still run around looking for what they already have – they complain about access, when they actually have the key.”

Without Research4Life, a financially limited researcher, says Biliamin, is like “a physician without a stethoscope” — they would be incapacitated. Yet, in the face of skyrocketing subscription fees to commercial databases, Research4Life opens a gateway to free and low-cost access to academic and professional peer-reviewed literature.

Additionally, since a significant chunk of global knowledge now exists digitally, Biliamin finds a solution in Research4Life for researchers, faculties and students in his institution: “There is a need for a tool to access this electronic information beyond what open access has to offer.”

Community training

Participants at a 3-day course for health sciences librarians that Biliamin organized as part of his Librarians without Borders grant. The course focused on Hinari, Research4Life and delivering literature support.

In 2020, Biliamin won a Research4Life grant coordinated by the US Medical Library Association’s Librarians without Borders program and the Elsevier Foundation. Through that, he organized a three-phased workshop for librarians across Nigeria. The sessions covered, among others, skills on Research4Life navigation and, Biliamin says, were applauded countrywide. As a result, he was invited by several institutions to train their personnel on information literacy.

The first phase brought together 12 librarians from Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones for a five-day inhouse train-the-trainer session. The second phase gathered more than 80 medical librarians in a webinar, whereas the third phase was a two-day session for 50 Unimed researchers and faculty members. Biliamin is currently putting together a paper on the impact of the workshops.

Concern on sustainability

In spite of the resources Research4Life has to offer, a concern shared by Biliamin and other users is the platform’s sustainability. “A number of times when I use Research4Life I think about when the publishers may decide to pull the plug and say ‘we are not offering this again’. That would be a big blow to research in the developing world. Some time ago, I was at a forum in the US. We had a discussion on Research4Life, and I could tell that a number of librarians outside the eligible countries felt jealous of what Research4Life can offer us.”

Wishing that more could be done in terms of access disparity between different countries, Biliamin feels it is a disservice to the users if an eligible library decides not to join Research4Life.

“Research4Life has brought my library recognition across the country and makes us feel relevant and professional within and outside my institution. It is the only research platform Unimed’s library pays subscription for. With that, you can understand what it means for us.”

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