Sun Helps Build Online Science Library for Iraqis

A group of U.S. scientists, with help from Sun Microsystems and U.S. government agencies, launched an online library containing more than 1 million research articles for Iraqi scientists and students.

The Iraqi Virtual Science Library (IVSL), started with US$362,000 in seed money from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Defense Threat Reduction Agency, was needed after more than 20 years of neglect during the Saddam Hussein regime and following the looting and destruction of many Iraqi libraries during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, said organizers of the online library.

"The Iraqis began with nothing," said Barret Ripin, senior science diplomacy officer for the U.S. Department of State, at a press conference Tuesday. "A lot of the holdings that they did have were destroyed in the aftermath of the war. They’re starting from scratch."

The idea for the project started with a group of current and former science and technology policy fellows working at the DoD and the State Department through an American Association for the Advancement of Science program. The group wanted to give Iraqi scientists and students better access to "top-tier" research, said D.J. Patil, IVSL cofounder and research scientist at the University of Maryland.

With the first phase of IVSL complete, the online library includes access to more than 17,000 research journals, including titles from the American Chemical Society and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers as well as journals published by SpringerLink and Thomson Scientific. Some publishers donated access to journals, and others provided access at discounts of 95 percent or more, said Susan Cumberledge, IVSL co-founder and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Massachusetts.

The library portal and articles are in English, a language commonly used in scientific research, but the library website could eventually include Arabic, organizers said.

Iraqi scientists and students can sign up for access through seven universities there, and more schools will be added, Cumberledge said. Through the IVSL site, users can search the full text of articles and find e-mail addresses of authors, Patil said.

"This is information that’s so up to date, you’re not going to be able to find it in a book," he added. Because of the support from journal publishers, the Iraqi online library will have more articles than many U.S. universities can pay for, organizers said.

Sun served as a technology consultant on the project, helping the IVSL team evaluate the Internet connectivity and infrastructure needed for the online library to work. In the next phase of the project, Sun will help Iraqi universities and government agencies create an open-source Web portal that can be managed by universities there, company officials said.

The library project is an "exciting public/private partnership," and Sun will use it as the foundation for other library projects in developing nations, said Robert Bredehoft, Sun’s vice president for global government industry.

-Grant Gross, IDG News Service

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