ALGERIA: Maghreb union gets digital science library

In a bid to strengthen higher education science and technology programmes in the five-member Arab Maghreb Union, Algeria's higher education and scientific research ministry, in cooperation with a US research and development foundation, launched the Maghreb Virtual Science Library in Algiers in January.

Algeria's Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, or MHESR, received US$1.5 million from the US Civilian Research and Development Foundation, or CRDF, to launch the Maghreb Virtual Science Library - MVSL - to support innovation in science and technology in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Mauritania.

MVSL has been established under a two-year US initiative, Global Innovation through Science and Technology, or GIST. This is one of a number of primary science and technology initiatives to be implemented following President Barack Obama's historic address, A new beginning, delivered at the University of Cairo in June 2009.

As reported on the MHESR website, the virtual library initiative "is part of the Algerian effort to support development in science and technology by increasing the access to digitised scientific data and research, and encouraging partnership and networking."

The library will contribute to strengthening science and technology in higher education by implementing capacity-building activities (such as international conferences) and innovation and entrepreneurship programmes in Algeria. It will also develop and implement training for faculty, students, researchers, IT staff and ministry staff on aspects of effective usage, operation and development of digital library systems, the MHESR website indicated.

In addition the digital library will support the "establishment and operation of a quality-controlled, peer-reviewed, open-source electronic research journal (and web-based platform) for publishing Algerian research and making it visible internationally via the world wide web," the MHESR website pointed out.

According to a White Paper titled Maghreb Virtual Science Library: Solving national challenges to meet regional needs, presented at a workshop in Washington DC, in January, the Virtual Science Library (VSL) programme used by CRDF Global to establish the Maghreb library is "unique and proven".

The White Paper indicated the key point for establishing the library is "the development of centralised research portals for each country, through which the researchers are able to access the wealth of information available to them through the subscribed resources, partner programmes, as well as Open Access Journals and Repositories."

"Each national VSL website will provide mechanisms for researchers to connect to colleagues in other Maghreb countries for joint research and collaboration, and each will support and stimulate collaborations throughout the global science community," it stated.

According to the White Paper, a 'gaps' analysis conduced by CRDF indicated the countries of the Maghreb are missing a significant number of the most prominent journals in applied research fields relevant to technological development and national problem solving.

For example, Algeria and Morocco have no access to 60% of the top 25 journals in seven fields of applied research and basic sciences critical to their development objectives.

CRDF Global is now expanding the VSL programme to Afghanistan and Armenia, the White Paper indicated. This is in addition to helping to establish an Iraqi VSL, which has led to a three-fold increase in access to research publications by Iraqis, with a doubling of usage every year (with 50% growth in 2010 alone). The Iraqi system has been fully sustained through government funding since handover in March 2010.

Sadallah Boubaker-Khaled, a professor of mathematics at École Normale Supérieure in Algiers, welcomed the MVSL initiative, which he sees as an "excellent service" for researchers at universities and associated science and technology centres.

"MVSL has already started and was tried for three months before its official opening," Boubaker-Khaled told University World News.

In his opinion the only drawback is that some important databases are still missing.