Making your research accessible

Is the only good knowledge, new knowledge?

By 22 September 2011

“Many of the answers to major development challenges are already known,” states DFID in its Working Paper on Research Communication, “but the information is inaccessible, unusable, or unavailable.” With the largest collection of economic and social development materials in Europe presented on over four miles of shelving, the British Library for Development Studies (BLDS) at the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex is a tangible reminder of the wealth of existing research available to those interested in learning from the past. But hard copy monographs, discussion papers and other printed materials are frequently overlooked in favour of the newer digital publications that can be found in a quick search on Google.

Over half of the BLDS collection originates from developing countries, and much of it is unavailable in other European or US libraries. But developing country publications, particularly those from the last century, are hard to find online and less able to compete with research from Western academic institutions. Until now, much of the BLDS physical collection has only been available to visitors to the library or users of its Document Delivery service but its new Digital Library seeks to make developing country research more accessible and visible online.

The new service, funded by DFID through the Mobilising Knowledge for Development programme, has been created to help decades of research from developing country institutions enjoy a wider global readership. BLDS is working with partner research institutes in Africa and Asia, to digitise their printed publications and host them online so they can be easily found through search engines. Nearly 600 papers have been digitised so far from Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and India, with more to be added in coming months as BLDS continues building partnerships. The publications in the BLDS Digital Library are being made available through a Creative Commons licence which enables future sharing and dissemination of this content by others.

Meet the young Joseph Stiglitz

The BLDS Digital Library is being launched at the 2011 EADI/DSA General Conference and with publications dating back to the 1960s, the new service will be a unique resource for development studies students and others interested in the history of development. The collection will continue to grow in the coming months as more partners are involved, but already a browse among the hundreds of publications added so far reveals some intriguing items.

What did the 30 year old Joseph Stiglitz have to say about wage determination and unemployment in 1973?

What were the challenges for doing research in Zimbabwe in the 1980s?

How accurate were the population growth projections for Kenya and the estimates of their implications, made in 1965?

BLDS is keen to work with more partners on this project. If you would like to discuss the BLDS Digital Library, contact Henry Rowsell.

  • We all know knowledge comes in different forms, and it all has its place. Its striking how much research is done, is poorly disseminated, and gets forgotten about. A great deal of new knowledge is re-constructed from previous studies (most in some cases), and it always important to know where research has come from; how older research contributes or even frames current discourse; while also reflecting on how when this research was put into practice, things did not quite work out how they should! My tip is to always start with what has gone before and look at if and why thinking has changed. It might not always be because the research was wrong it may just not have captured the politcal mood of the day (for instance).