Health Information and Publications Network (HIPNET) Proposal: HIPNet Collaborative Dissemination to Libraries

Proposed Activity: Joint Cooperating Agency (CA) mailing of health information resources to health libraries and information centers in developing countries

Timing: Bi-annually, probably in March and September each year, depending on the interest of the CAs who participate

Background and Need: The majority of developing country libraries and information centers located in medical and public health schools, ministries of health and social welfare, NGOs and other agencies have limited funds to purchase new or needed health information resources. Even when these materials are provided free of charge, libraries and information centers may not have easy access to information about them or may have difficulty getting them. Yet health providers, health program managers, and administrators in developing countries rely on local libraries and information centers for access to current technical, training, and education materials in health. Furthermore, these libraries and centers serve a selective audience of future program managers and health providers—students—whose medical, nursing, or social work careers have yet to begin and who are thus in a formative and receptive stage and willing and able to apply current information and methods.

As part of their mandate, CAs produce a range of health information materials in print, on CD-ROM and on the Web with funding from USAID and disseminate them for free to developing country audiences. However, CA reach to libraries and information centers in developing countries is limited due to several factors, including the costs associated with building and maintaining a mailing list for these libraries and with packing and shipping information materials to them. The CAs participating in this collaborative activity will be able to share shipping costs and expand their field-level reach.

Qualitative research conducted with librarians attending the recent Association for Population Libraries and Information Centers (APLIC) conference in Boston revealed that librarians in developing countries are eager to receive free, up-to-date materials from USAID-funded CAs. This initiative will potentially reach 111 libraries and information centers who are APLIC members as well as more than 1,400 in Family Health International’s library database.

The types of health information materials whose distribution would be increased under this initiative include print materials (books, manuals, and periodicals) and CD-ROMs containing multiple materials. Mailings may focus on materials relating to a particular topic, such as HIV/AIDS, or represent a range of current CA materials that will be of use to health library users in developing countries. The included materials can also be provided in a range of languages, including English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, depending on audience needs. It is anticipated that HIPNet will likely implement this mailing two times per year, in September and again in March, with the first mailing to take place in September 2004.

Implementation and Costs: Family Health International, which has built and maintains an extensive mailing list of libraries and information centers in developing countries, will provide the primary mailing list for this activity. Individual CAs may contribute additional libraries and information centers from their own mailing lists. The INFO Project will manage the collection and distribution of materials for the first mailing. Other CAs may volunteer to manage future mailings. Participating CAs will send their materials to INFO, which will bundle them together with a cover letter explaining the purpose of the HIPNet initiative, listing the enclosed materials, and noting the activity’s sponsors. Contact information and forms for ordering additional copies and materials from individual CAs will be included in the mailing, along with an evaluation form.

INFO Project has secured a cost-effective rate of $3.70 per pound for shipping materials for this collaborative HIPNet activity (if package weighs 4+ pounds, $2.95 per pound). Each CA will pay a participation fee based on the weight and volume of their materials and including a small amount per item to cover handling costs. The number of materials included from any given CA may be limited, depending on the number of CAs participating and the quantity and size of the materials to be shipped. HIPNet will provide guidelines to its members on the types of materials suitable for libraries and information centers. For example, books, manuals and CD-ROMs will be encouraged, as they are easily catalogued and shelved, while job aids, pamphlets, and similar materials that are easier to lose and harder to catalogue or shelve will be discouraged.

Cost Savings to Be Realized: Because shipping costs currently incurred by individual CAs vary widely depending on location, volume, and other factors, each CA will realize different levels of savings. The INFO Project has already received a quote of $3.70 per pound including free re-mail of returns (if package weighs 4+ pounds, $2.95 per pound). Thus, even including the cost of shipping materials to a central U.S. location for packaging and mailing, some participating CAs will realize substantial savings in reaching this new audience.

Audiences to Be Reached: The library and information center database for this activity is segmented by region, country, and language. Thus, participating CAs may choose to send materials to all libraries included in the database, or to libraries and information centers in selected countries or regions (based on location or language). For example, CAs that produce materials in French can send French-language materials to libraries and information centers in French-speaking countries. The range of developing country libraries and information centers that will potentially be reached under this activity include:

  1. Members of the Association of Population/Family Planning Libraries and Information Centers-International (APLIC) (111 members in 20 countries)
  2. More than 1,400 libraries in developing countries (from FHI mailing lists) 421 libraries in Africa 264 libraries in Asia 75 libraries in Central America 731 libraries in South America and the Caribbean
  3. Other libraries with which HIPNet CAs have existing relations, including libraries or information resource centers at training organizations and professional organizations.

Evaluation: An evaluation component will be built into this activity. For example, libraries may be required to respond by mail or email to a survey before receiving the next tranche of materials. Survey questions could include estimates of the numbers of people who will be accessing the materials and utilization purposes (individual capacity building, training, reference, etc.).

Possible Expansion of This Partnership and Activity in Future: In future, this activity could be effective at building or strengthening partnerships with other organizations that are publishing materials for these same audiences who are interested in reducing the costs involved in reaching them. Possible future partners include other agencies not currently participating in HIPNet activities.

In addition, depending on future interests and needs and the success of this pilot activity, HIPNet members may decided to develop collaborative dissemination activities to other key field-level audiences, such as Ministries of Health, regional organizations, or NGO umbrella organizations.