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Focus on libraries in Brazil

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Academic and specialist libraries

Academic libraries vary considerably according to whether they are in private or public institutions. The latter, particularly those attached to the larger public universities, such as Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ, www.ufrj.br/) and Universidade de São Paulo (USP, www.usp.br) are in a league of their own. (USP, incidentally, is ranked 42nd in the world and is the top university in Latin America, as well as the largest.)

Libraries must support not only teaching and learning activities, but also, and all importantly, research. Library staff must be familiar with relevant databases and research tools, so they can, in turn, train academic users. Such libraries need experienced and properly qualified librarians.

The larger libraries may be well equipped and staffed, but many Brazilian libraries share the drawbacks of all Latin American libraries: inadequate staffing levels, tight budgets, limited opportunities for librarians to develop their skills (Johnson, 2007), and poor or non-existent evaluation methods (Pacios, 2008).

UFRJ and USP both have a federated system of libraries – USP has 42 libraries and UFRJ has 43 – which are managed via an integrated system, known as Sistema Integrado de Bibliotecas. According to Paula Mello, coordinator of libraries and information systems at UFRJ, her libraries are lodged in a combination of beautiful, old and modern buildings, and adapted spaces.

In the 1960s and 1970s, when Brazilian research was starting to take off, more and more specialized libraries were created to cater for new information needs. Now, however, with the advent of multi-, interdisciplinary and even inter-institutional courses, there's more investment in collaborative services, and in fewer, better and more modern libraries.

Institutional repositories are also growing slowly; most research universities require their graduates to archive their theses and dissertations. There are also a few digitization programmes, for example, UFRJ is also digitizing some of its rare books.

Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior

There is no doubt that the organization Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES) (www.capes.gov.br) makes a huge difference to both universities and their libraries. Roughly translated, its name means "Coordination of Improvement of Higher Education Personnel", and it was set up in 1951 to monitor and ensure quality in higher education.

A government body directly linked to the Ministry of Education, its main activities are the evaluation of postgraduate courses, the encouragement and dissemination of research, training, and promotion of scientific cooperation. The first of these is critical, as the outcome of evaluation is funding through scholarships and grants.

One of the ways CAPES supports research is by providing a portal for scholarly journals. The portal, Portal Periodicos (www.periodicos.capes.gov.br/portugues/index.jsp), grew out of CAPES' desire to support research universities and ensure that they received international periodicals, the print versions of which could be subject to delays at customs.

Image: Screenshot of the Portal Periodicos home page.

The Portal Periodicos home page

Currently, the portal holds 23,059 full-text journals, which are accessed by 311 universities and research centres across Brazil. This figure includes 55 federal universities, 40 federal institutes for technological education, 30 state and city universities, 15 federal research centres, and 24 private universities.

CAPES, in a model that is unique to South America, provides the portal as a free public service to the vast majority of these institutions (the rest pay at a reduced price).

The 311 universities, although only a small proportion of the total 2,000 higher education institutions in Brazil, constitute the whole of the country's postgraduate education sector, and almost the entire research base. Although a promotional video shows researchers in the Amazon rainforest accessing the portal, even geographical distribution remains challenging due to problems of creating a network over a vast area (the Ministry of Telecommunications is working on a more complete broadband access).

There is no doubt that the portal is the lifeblood of Brazilian research. Paula Mello sees CAPES as being of fundamental importance to research in her university, not only because the collection is so comprehensive, but because its funding is sustained:

"The resources for sustaining the portal are well defended by CAPES in the Government, and they have a budget not only to maintain, but also to grow."

And research has demonstrably benefited. Research in Brazil has grown stronger over the last decade, with more people being awarded PhDs, and more papers being accepted by international journals. Many factors contribute to this success, but it is notable that use of the portal has also increased in a similar fashion, as the graphs below demonstrate.

Image: Graph showing the CAPES' Portal de Periodicos - 2001-2008.

Image: Graph showing the number of Brazilian MA and PhD postgraduates.


Image: Graph showing Brazilian papers' particpation in world science production by percentage - 2000-2008 (source National Science Indication).

Graphs showing increases in doctoral degrees, research papers and use of the Portal

Imitation is flattery, and CAPES has become an admired model throughout Latin America, with other organizations seeking to copy it. The latter are also envious of CAPES' negotiating power and ability to attract good content at a low price. From time to time, there are discussions about the possibility of a continent-wide consortium; for now, however, many consortia are very small, and need to become stronger and more structured before they can form a network.