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Professors Help Create Iraqi Virtual Science Library

A new virtual science library for universities in war-torn Iraq is up and running after more than a year of development by U.S. scientists, private companies, the U.S. federal government and Iraqi officials.

Inspired by the American biologist Alex Dehgan’s efforts to revive Iraqi science, professors Dhanurjay (DJ) Patil and Susan Cumberledge, among others, took on the challenge of creating a virtual library whose content is digitally stored and downloadable from the Internet. The library will provide Iraqi scientists, engineers, health professionals, and students access to the world’s most valuable scientific journals when current literature is non-existent in Iraqi institutions.     

Many of Iraq’s libraries and universities underwent rampant looting and vandalism after the U.S. military defeat of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003.

“The Iraqis began with nothing. A lot of the holdings that they had were destroyed in the aftermath of the war. They’re starting from scratch,” Dr. Barret Ripin, a senior science advisor at the State Department, told reporters this week at a Washington, D.C., news briefing. 

The online library is available at seven Iraqi universities, the Ministries of Higher Education, and Science and Technology. Used currently by more than 800 Iraqis with thousands more expected as the system is deployed to other campuses, the “virtual library allows access to 17,000 world-class journals and millions of articles,” Patil said.

Adam Chesler, the assistant director for sales and library relations at the Washington, D.C.-based American Chemical Society, expects that with access to 700,000 articles in the 33 ACS journals from the past 25 years, Iraqis can participate in chemistry research to the extent that its scientists pursue and publish original work in the field.

“Sixty percent of ACS articles come from authors outside the U.S.,” Chesler added.   

Patil, along with Cumberledge, Sun Microsystems executives, U.S. Department of State officials, and scientific publishing executives announced earlier this week details of the virtual science library, which was also dedicated by the National Academies of Science.

The project received $360,000 from the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency in the Department of Defense, which has paid for journal licenses, infrastructure costs, and training for the Iraqis. Technical support from Sun Microsystems, discounts from academic publishers, and other donated assistance have combined to allow free Iraqi access to what would be valued at $11 million in journal subscriptions. In addition to journals, the Iraqis have access to online courses and information about research opportunities through the ISVL.    

“This project has gotten incredible support from the government and the private sector,” said Cumberledge, an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Cumberledge and Patil, an assistant research scientist in the Institute for Physical Science and Technology at the University of Maryland, were participating in the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) fellows program when they teamed up with Dehgan and others to create the virtual library.

Dehgan had gained recognition while serving as an AAAS fellow in Iraq. His Iraq work, which included recruiting Iraqi weapons scientists to work on reconstruction efforts and working on the virtual library, won Dehgan an award from the U.S. State Department.

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