Systemic library development aid: INASP and Lubuto annual reports

For those of us interested in LIS development in the countries of the South, two annual reports were published this week that are worth looking at: INASP’s 2017/18 digital annual review, entitled Building equitable knowledge ecosystems, and Lubuto Library Partners’ 2018 annual report, entitled Libraries breaking barriers.  They are quite different organizations, but they share something I appreciate, namely a systemic, approach to library and information development in the developing world.

INASP, originally the International Network for Access to Scientific Publications, is an Oxford-based non-governmental organization which has been involved in the development of libraries, information access, scholarly publishing and scientific research in the developing world for some twenty-five years. Its focus has evolved over the years. Initially it became known to librarians as one of the main players involved in promoting access to knowledge (A2K), mitigating intellectual property restrictions by means of negotiated journal access schemes for developing countries. In such schemes development agencies help libraries in developing countries to provide access to the world’s scholarly journals – largely unaffordable to libraries in less affluent countries – by negotiating with publishers to provide access at significantly reduced rates. INASP’s journal access programme was known as the Programme for the Enhancement of Research Information (PERI), the later phase two of this programme being named PERii.  Other organizations and initiatives in this field include Electronic Information For Libraries (EIFL) and The Essential Electronic Agricultural Library (TEEAL). For more on the A2K context of these schemes, see Chapter 8, Section 8.3 of my book.

INASP did not stop here. When it was found that scholars in some developing countries were not making as much use of their free or low-cost journal access as had been hoped, INASP developed programmes to train library users and to improve the expertise of university library personnel so as to better serve their users. Programmes were also developed to help university IT departments to manage their limited bandwidth more efficiently. In a number of countries INASP helped the country’s librarians to set up national library purchasing consortia to negotiate directly with publishers for more favourable subscription costs, allowing the earlier journal access schemes (PERI and PERii) to be phased out.

In order to remedy the imbalance between the North-South flow of scholarly information and the very limited South-North and South-South flows, INASP embarked on projects to provide electronic access to journals published in the South. The first of these was African Journals Online (AJOL), which today hosts 524 journals from 32 African countries, including 261 open access journals. AJOL was subsequently spun off to a non-profit organization in South Africa. In partnership with Canadian-based Public Knowledge Project (PKP), similar schemes were set up in Central America and a number of Asian countries, such as Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines. Programmes were launched to develop the skills of the developing countries’ authors and journal editors. A Handbook for journal editors was published, and training workshops were held.

In recent years INASP has shifted its focus increasingly to support scholars and scholarship in the developing countries.  This is reflected in the focus of this most recent annual report, which refers to INASP’s mission “to increase the visibility, capacity and involvement” of these scholars, and which focusses on themes such as “employability for social change”, “evidence-informed public policy”, the assessment of journal quality in developing countries, and the building of “global platforms to support strong and equitable research and knowledge”. Equity is a key theme this year, as “inequities within and between research and knowledge systems prevent the full potential of Southern talent from being brought to bear on local and global challenges”. In line with this, gender inequity in particular is being addressed, and a number of dialogues and partnerships were initiated to improve the gender balance in higher education and research.

These activities fit into a development approach which is referred to in the literature as “transformational aid” (Riddell 2014), and which in our context of LIS  I prefer to call systemic aid (Lor 2019, sec. 12.7). This involves interventions aimed at improving the overall functioning of a larger system, in this case the system of communication in science and scholarship, rather than addressing an isolated problem area. In a following blog I’ll expand on this notion, while also looking at the annual report of the Lubuto Library Partners.


Lor, Peter Johan. 2019. International and Comparative Librarianship: Concepts and Methods for Global Studies. Global Studies in Libraries and Information 4. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter/Saur.

Riddell, Roger C. 2014. ‘Does Foreign Aid Really Work? Background Paper to Keynote Address’. Conference paper presented at the Australasian Aid and International Development Workshop, Canberra, February 13.


About Peter Lor

Peter Johan Lor is a Netherlands-born South African librarian and academic. In retirement he continues to pursue scholarly interests as a research fellow in the Department of Information Science at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.
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