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University of Washington Health Sciences Library

Health Information Resources for Developing Countries: Building a Library

Information about providing health related resources to support clinical, research or educational programs in developing countries or resource-poor settings. Audience: University of Washington faculty, staff and students.

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Tips: Print Materials/Media

Sources of Print Materials/Media

Sources of Online Resources

Interlibrary Loan


Collection Development

  • Policy needed to guide acquistions & discards
  • More is not always better; it takes money and staff to acquire, process and maintain a collection


  •    Print: books, journals, pamphlets and other grey literature
  •    Media: CDs, DVDs, computer programs, archival materials
  •    Electronic resources

Ways to obtain materials

  •    Purchase
  •    Gifts
  •    Downloading to storage device or photocopying: must conform to copyright & licensing agreements
  •    Online resources: requires access to functional computers and reliable internet access
  •    Interlibrary loan

Accessioning and cataloging

  • Librarians or trained library technicians need to be involved in this process

Tips: Print Materials/Media

Hard copies of materials are very needed but difficult to obtain in developing countries because of inadequate budgets and complex procedures for ordering items and obtaining shipments. If your project or program wants to help supply materials, talk to librarians at the institution to which you want to donate funds or materials so that you understand the needs and channels of acquiring materials for that setting.

Often projecct members try to look for sources of "free" books or journals.  Be aware that it takes time to find sources of free and useful health sciences materials: because of the processing expenses, many academic libraries in the US no longer accept gifts.  Shipping is expensive.  Out of date or out of scope materials become a burden to the recipient.  An excellent article on this topic is: Library Aid to Developing Countries in Times of Globalization: a Literature Review.  Curry A, et al.  World Libraries, Fall 2002 

Sometimes UW project participants bring resources with them.  When they do, they should work with the librarians in the local institution to be sure they are made available to the intended audiences.

Consider what to donate.  Some suggestions:

  • Read the collection development policy of the resource center or the mission statement of the library or institution
  • Consult with librarians, faculty and clinicians who work with the community you wish to support
  • Consult with UW faculty who know the region or topic
  • Refer to the online catalogs of libraries in similar settings or look at bibliographies, e.g. the content of the WHO Blue Trunk Libraries, or a commercial product, Doody's Core Titles in the Health Sciences
  • Consult with your UW Health Sciences Liaison Librarian

Donors should also consider donating:

  • money (the Blue Trunk Library, developed for Africa, costs $2000 and is available in English, French, Portuguese and Arablic/English)
  • a few current books with accompanying CDs
  • materials on CDs

(Donating CDs obviously assumes functioning computers.)

Sources of Print Materials/Media

  • State University of New York at Buffalo  lists organizations that collect / ship books.
  • Humanitarian Information for All creates and distributes CD-ROMs.  Some of the content can be viewed online.
  • Operation Medical Libraries collects and distributes current medical textbooks and journals to war-torn countries through a partnership with American medical schools, hospitals, and physicians and the United States military.
  • TALC (Teaching Aids at Low Cost) produces a range of CD-ROMS related to health in lower-income countries. These are available either at low cost or free of charge.

Sources of Online Resources

Research4Life: The major program supporting current health related information to developing countries ( as defined by GNI); available as long as the publisher does not have a significant market in the country.  Includes:

  • Hinari (Access to Research in Health Programme): WHO-sponsored program enables developing countries to gain access to a large collection of health-related literature. Journals, several indexes and books are available to health institutions in 108 countries, areas and territories. Major interface is PubMed.
  • AGORA (Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)-sponsored program provides access to over 1200 international journals covering agriculture, fisheries, food, nutrition, veterinary science and related biological, environmental and social sciences. Includes several important databases and indexes. Search journal database via CAB Abstracts.
  • OARE (Online Access to Research in the Environment) managed by the United Nations Environment Programme.  Includes topics such as water contamination.  Searched via a number of abstracting and indexing databases.

Electronic Journals

Selected eBooks available to all

Additional Electronic Resources


Interlibrary Loan

Many libraries serving the programs or institutions in the developing country with which you are working may already belong to networks for sharing materials.  There may be costs associated with this service.

The University of Washington document delivery service serves users throughout the world for a fee

Some subsidized services exist:

Global Development Network Document Delivery Service  Researchers at member institutions can request copies items from the BLDS collection, which covers all aspects of development. The scanned materials will be sent either by email or regular post, free of charge.

INASP offers document delivery through the British Library; fee but well discounted

Popline (K4Health) provides free full-text copies of documents cited in its database to individuals and organizations in developing countries only

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