Yesterday I attended a fascinating lecture on eIFL which is an independent consortium for library consortia. Basically what it does is help libraries in the developing world access online journals and other material by pooling their resources (eIFL doesn’t work with individual libraries) and in this way be able to effectively negotiate with publishers and vendors to make their products available at deeply discounted prices, i.e the consortia model.

eIFL began in 1999 as an initiative from the Open Society Institute, which in the 1990s was working in Central and Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union to promote library development and modernization. A large absence was notices when it came to electronic resources, mostly due to the high costs of these. This is eIFL realm, and they are successful while negotiating with these vendors, because although they are asking for huge discounts on their material, in return they will deliver access to future markets and a strong library community. Some of the countries working with eIFL began with very little clout in their own countries, yet over the years have been able to receive more funding from their local governments, and thus are able to purchase more electronic subscriptions and pay some money for them.

eIFL is addressing issues of access, not only by working with vendors and publishers, but also by being active participants with organizations such as the World Intellectual Property Organization, and the A2K (the global Access to Knowledge campaign), since they are equally interested in changing our perceptions of copyright laws, and how making information freely available will benefit us all.

This organization also promote the use of opensource software which has allowed numerable libraries with financial difficulties make use of old computers for which they could no longer afford licensing. Such was the case when the helped Birzeit University in Palestine make a number of old computers, usable once more. They also are also developing “Library -in-a-Box” project, which helps libraries create digital libraries with little or no programming.

Other issues that are gradually being address are the lack of library training in certain countries, poor connectivity and bandwidth, lack of coordination from donors, and finding resources to enable some of the librarians in developing countries to travel to the various international library associations meetings to personally voice their case.

Currently eIFL works in 50 countries in three continents, although there is a big absence in all of the Americas. This is partially due because they want follow through with the commitments they already have, before making new ones. Yet in the mean time they are trying to encourage mentor relationships between the countries already participating in the program, and those who want to become new members.

Note: The eIFL website is currently under constructions, so you might want to look at their old website.