Tag Archives: research libraries

Lessons from the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Global Innovation Index 2020

Last week the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) released the 13th edition of its Global Innovation Index (GII). This looks to bring together different indicators that can help governments and others understand how different countries are doing in promoting innovation, which is taken to be a key source of growth and progress towards wider development goals.

The index takes a wide perspective on innovation – not just specific activities such as patenting, but also evaluations of the innovation environment (institutions governing innovation, human capital, infrastructures, sources of finance and opportunities to sell innovative products, and businesses’ own behaviour), and a wider range of measures of outputs and their dissemination and use, including online.

The report as a whole – and the measures that underpin it – are worth exploring for anyone interested in how something as broad as innovation can be defined and measured. This is particularly true for the library field, given the role of our institutions in supporting and promoting basic research in particular, through their work with faculty in universities and other research centres.

It is also, clearly, a crucial moment to think about the way that innovation is encouraged and managed, given the impacts of COVID-19 on economies. The report includes various perspectives on funding, as well as insightful commentary on what the pandemic may mean more broadly.

This blog, as a starter, identifies five key points made in the GII 2020, which may be of particular relevance.


Spending on research and development is likely to fall – we will need to ensure what money is there is spent effectively: the most prominent graph in the report highlights that the first three months of 2019 have already seen a drop in spending on research and innovation, likely as companies became aware of the potential costs of the pandemic. Governments too are likely to look to reduce spending also in the coming months – and indeed, the latest proposal for the European Union’s Multi-year Financial Framework already (mistakenly, in the view of libraries) plans to do this.

Clearly, any decision to cut spending on innovation cannot be taken lightly. But where this is the case, it will be necessary to think hard about how to maximise efficiency. A clear way of doing this is through promoting openness in science, which has the potential to make research both faster and fairer. A wider analysis of the way research is shared can also help identify where money is being removed from the system unnecessarily, reducing that actually spent on creating and applying new ideas.


There is a positive trend towards international cooperation between researchers which should be encouraged: the report notes that despite the many stories of countries failing to coordinate around border controls or purchases of vaccines, the scientific community has proven itself readier to work across borders in order to share ideas, data and results. It underlines how much of a positive this is, echoing existing findings by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development that cross-border collaborations tend to lead to higher impact research.

Support for research cooperation is a key focus for many academic libraries. Clearly encouraging openness (not only of publications, but also of science in general) will help with this by reducing (or removing) copyright-related barriers to collaboration. So too will progress towards an international legal instrument on copyright limitations and exceptions at the World Intellectual Property Organization. Yet libraries are also, through work around linked data and developing and updating standards, facilitating the sharing and use of information across borders to advance innovation.


Steps to remove red-tape have been welcome and can continue to contribute to supporting innovation: another positive underlined by the report is the effort made by many governments to simplify processes around innovation. These have focused in particular on financing, as well as on some rules around testing. Clearly it will be important in the longer term to assess which of these changes should be made permanent – rules are usually there for a reason – but this will allow for a re-evaluation.

Once again, the value of simplifying rules and processes around innovation will be positive for libraries. For example, in discussions around the copyright rules that should apply to text and data mining, it is clear that research is facilitated when there is no need to seek additional permissions, or buy additional licences in order to carry out mining – the right to read should be the right to mine. Similarly, the complexity that libraries face in giving access to digital resources, each subject to their own set of contract terms, could be easily removed by simply underlining that such terms should not be enforceable when they override copyright limitations and exceptions.


Countries with more flexible copyright regimes tend to top the tables for their regions: Once again, it is countries with flexible rules around copyright – namely fair use or fair dealing – which top the tables in five out of the seven regions highlighted by WIPO. The United States in North America, India in Southern and Central Asia, Singapore in South-East and Eastern Asia and Oceania, Israel in North Africa and Western Asia, and South Africa in Sub-Saharan Africa all have such rules.

The only exceptions are in Europe (Switzerland) and Latin America and the Caribbean (Chile). Nonetheless, both have recently updated their copyright laws to favour access to information in support of innovation. This provides a helpful argument in favour of greater flexibility as a means of supporting more innovation.


Innovation will be essential for the recovery from COVID-19: an overall point – and one that could be expected from a report with this title – is that innovation is likely to be essential for any future recovery from COVID-19. This was already the case before of course, with limits on the world’s resources meaning that ‘doing better’ has to replace ‘doing more’ as a driver of growth. Faced with COVID-19, we need to innovate both in order to find ways of carrying on with lives and services, and to create new opportunities for work and earning.

As a key part of the innovation infrastructure of any country – in particular the basic research that makes major breakthroughs possible – libraries will certainly be able to agree with the importance of a focus on encouraging the development and spread of new ideas. It is only to be hoped that governments, when taking decisions about the future, will do the same.

Library Stat of the Week #28: On average, there are 305 students and 20 researchers per academic library worker

In recent weeks, we have looked at how numbers of academic libraries and library workers stand around the world, and what correlations there are between these, in relation to total populations, and indicators of innovation such as publishing and patenting.

Another angle worth exploring is the relationship between numbers of academic library workers, and those who benefit most directly from their services – students in tertiary education and people working in the research sector.

We can start to explore this by looking at data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics on numbers of people working in research, and OECD data on the number of people registered in tertiary education, combined with data from IFLA’s Library Map of the World.

In each case, there is not data available for every country. In particular, OECD data is focused on its own members, with a few additional countries, meaning that averages offered are only relative to a part of the world.

Graph 1: Number of Students per Academic and Research Library Worker

Graph 1 looks at students. Students can benefit strongly from well-supported academic libraries, in order to help them benefit from well-designed collections, find resources effectively, and develop key skills.

The data available indicates that on average, each full-time academic library worker serves 207.7 students. The smallest number of students per librarian was in Germany – 157.6, with eight countries in total coming below the global average, of which seven are European, and the other is Canada.

Among other regions for which data is available, Colombia had the smallest number of students per librarian in Latin America and the Caribbean, and Japan in Asia-Oceania. There are some very high figures for numbers of students in some countries, which may be due to under-counting.

Graph 2a: Number of Researchers per Academic and Research Library Worker


Graph 2b: Number of Researchers per Academic and Research Library Worker

Graphs 2a and 2b look at research personnel (to note different scales on the vertical axis). As has been underlined in previous posts, libraries are a key part of the research infrastructure for any country, not only ensuring that researchers can access knowledge and ideas from elsewhere, but also increasing helping to ensure effective dissemination and management of data.

Globally, the data indicates that there are on average 20 research workers for every worker in an academic or research library.

The smallest number of academic and research library workers per researcher was in Colombia, with 0.6. Eight countries in total have fewer than five researchers per academic and research library worker – as well as Colombia, Panama, Kazakhstan, Honduras, Zimbabwe, Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico and Mauritius.

Meanwhile, a number of countries had figures of more than 100 researchers per academic or research librarian, although this may be down to under-reporting of numbers of librarians.


Clearly the profile of academic libraries themselves varies strongly, depending on institutions themselves. Some will focus much more on educating undergraduates, others much more on supporting more advanced research work.

As a result, a low number of researchers per librarian can be an indicator as much of a large number of librarians (because of strong investment in research libraries) as of a small number of researchers (because a institutions has relatively little focus on research, and more on teaching in general).

A similar reflection can apply to numbers of students. A system more focused on research may therefore employ more research librarians, raising the ratio of library workers to students, but so too could a smaller number of students.

We will explore these issues further next week.


Find out more on the Library Map of the World, where you can download key library data in order to carry out your own analysis! See our other Library Stats of the Week! We are happy to share the data that supported this analysis on request.

Available, affordable? An interview with Johanna Anderson about eBooks in Academic Libraries

Much of the discussion about eBooks in libraries focuses on the situation for public libraries. With scholarly publishing having switched to digital formats relatively early, it can be easy to assume that all is well. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing academic libraries to close their doors, it has become clear that this is not the case.

To find out more about the situation, we interviewed Johanna Anderson, an academic librarian and public library advocate from the United Kingdom, to find out more. You can follow Johanna on Twitter.


1. How have you and colleagues experienced the closure of your buildings to the public?
Lectures and teaching were moved online over a week before our libraries were closed. We were not closed until the end of the Tuesday after the government’s instructions to close campuses, and before this saw a bit of a dash to the library by students to get books, laptops etc.

Since then we have been working to try to get alternative ebook titles of key texts not available in electronic format as we can’t get onto campus to do scanning, and have spent hours trawling provider platforms for affordable eBooks. We have also been doing literature search tutorials with students online, and have also compiled a list of additional resources made temporarily available by publishers.

This has taken quite a lot of work as they tend to be on unfamiliar platforms to us and the students. Students already find literature searching complicated so all of these additional platforms and the inherent difference in access limits has added to that complication. We are doing what we can to help students navigate them.

The most difficult thing is making students aware of the resources in the first place as they are pretty swamped with trying to adjust to the changes in circumstances already and they are pretty stressed – not ideal for processing new information

2. How much use was being made of academic eBooks before the crisis? What lay behind this?

It’s hard to get exact figures at the moment due to circumstances but students tend to prefer hardcopy books and our hardcopy stock circulation statistics are very high. This is partly due to the nature of the text heavy courses we deliver, e.g. social sciences and humanities.

Nonetheless, there is demand – where we do have eBooks available they are heavily used. Therefore, for ANY title we have on reading lists we will ALWAYS buy eBooks where possible rather than hardcopy. However, we did do an audit of one of our schools and for our computing courses only 17% of titles on the reading lists were available in electronic format. The figure is far lower on humanity courses.

3. To what extent are eBook versions of texts available for you to buy for the library?

This kind of ties into the above. We are about on par with the figures in the report prepared by UK Copyright Literacy on the value of the Copyright Licencing Agency (CLA)’s licence to UK Higher Education.

This noted, in particular, that “in an audit of most frequently scanned books, of the 904, 902 were recognised by the ProQuest database, and 94 (10%) were identified as ISBNs with an electronic alternative. This chimes with other estimates that only around 10% of current academic titles are available as eBooks.” (pg 24).

The table on page 26 is very useful in illustrating the issues we have with licencing models as it shows that single user licence eBooks dominated scan requests and were also the most available licence when ebook purchasing. The average costs are also pretty depressing.

There is a danger in seeing the CLA licence used to provide key chapters of  books to a large cohort of students, and equating that as a viable alternative to resourcing a library with complete books.

This issue is skimmed over in the report, but for me, this is just not a sensible collection management approach. We do currently make the best use of the CLA licence that we can, but it is not enough.

Of course, eBook versions of texts may be available through publishers’ own platforms, but this is not a realistic option given that we need to offer readers a range of books, from many different publishers. We simply cannot afford to buy into every platform going, so we have to rely on aggregate vendors who are currently not in a position to negotiate reasonable prices that libraries can afford.

4. To what extent have you come across contractual barriers, such as limitations on where copies can be accessed?

Previous to the COVID-19 crisis, eBook purchasing was a nightmare. We have had cases of vendors selling us licences which publishers have then restricted access to or withdrawn, which quite frankly, is disgusting.

A lot of the key texts e.g. research methods ones are not available in ebook format at all as discussed above. Many books, as CLA points out, are single user only books… which are often ten times the price of a hardcopy. Students will not use them if, when they click on a book title, they are told they cannot read it at that time.

Students, and indeed most academics, do not understand the restrictions – it is no surprise as this is so complicated. They think “e” = available to them anytime and anywhere.  We do not have the budgets to buy eBooks whatever the cost, so librarians spend HOURS trawling through complicated licences on different platforms.

Furthermore, the price of eBooks varies wildly with no obvious rhyme or reason.  More recently Taylor and Francis/Routledge have increased the price of their eBooks up to sometimes as much as 10x the original price (as I’ve highlighted on my Twitter feed) and some are starting to introduce “expiry dates” so the licence to a purchased eBook expires after a year. This is perverse!

Moreover, we cannot collectively complain because contract terms prevent us from sharing this sort of information. Who knows what they are charging other universities!

5. To what extent are they affordable? How do they compare to physical versions of the same books

As set out above and in the report about the CLA licence, it is not easy to answer because there is so much variation, not just by publisher but also by discipline.

For example, Sage doesn’t tend to publish things in electronic format (which is very annoying, given that their materials are heavily needed by teaching students etc who spend most of their time on placement). When they do, they tend to be single user licences only, but are a similar price to the hardcopy.

Then you get publishers like Taylor and Francis who will sell a hardcopy book for £30-40, but charge are £400 + for a single user ebook. Incidentally, these same titles were approximately £120-£180 before Christmas, which was already high. Nonetheless, as I said at the beginning, prices vary so much that it is difficult to give a straightforward answer to this one.

6. What reasons have you been given for the high prices?

Publishers say that promoting eBook formats leads to a reduction in their income because multiple hardcopies are no longer purchased, although this seems hard to square with the regular high profits that many of them continue to enjoy. It also makes no sense as we cannot afford these prices even if we wanted to, so I am not buying from them at all! I’m not sure how this will help their bottom line! I am told that much of the process of producing a book is often outsourced in order to reduce costs, so I can’t see how they cost more than hardcopy books.

If there was a single user eBook at the same price as a hardcopy I would buy a couple of licences, and I know that JISC have had some communications with T&F about this

7. Do these make much sense in the current circumstances? 

It doesn’t make sense in any circumstances. This has just magnified the issue! I have been complaining for months. People are only taking note now as it is making a difficult situation worse. Taylor and Francis announced to much fanfare that they are going to allow libraries to buy their single user eBooks with temporary unlimited access. This is no help at all as we still can’t afford them! I also have no intention of being stuck with single user ebooks I had to pay hundreds for after all of this. It just isn’t practical.

8. What impact does this have on you in your job, and on your budgets?

It has been very frustrating and stressful… things are tricky enough already! Students panicked and rushed to the library to get hardcopy texts before we shut down, which is absolutely what should not have had to happen in the current circumstances. As I have already said, I have spent hours and hours trying to find alternative eBooks, often to no avail. Taylor and Francis have not made their pricing more reasonable so I can see eBooks are there but I cannot buy them. It’s so frustrating!

There is a myth, particularly among university management, that everything is available in electronic format. This is often used as a reason for the reduction of physical space in libraries, but it really is not the reality. When things ARE available in electronic format the publishers can change the terms or withdraw items and there isn’t anything we can do about it. Currently, we simply do not have the negotiating power to change this.