After years of conflict that has wreaked havoc on Iraqi higher education and research, scientists and scholars in the country appear to be slowly rebuilding Iraq's scientific enterprise. One sign, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials, is the rising number of papers published by Iraqi researchers, which went up from a miniscule 80 publications in 2005 to 250 in 2008. Another indicator is the nearly 30,000 papers being downloaded every month from the Iraq Virtual Science Library, a Web portal created in May 2006 to give Iraqi researchers and students free access to thousands of journals.
The portal has been managed by the U.S. Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF), with some $2 million in funding from the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and other agencies. A number of scientific publishers chipped in by providing discounted subscriptions to journals. This morning, the management of the portal was handed over to the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and the Ministry of Science and Technology.
The library currently has some 7000 registrants based at 36 institutions and ministries in Iraq.
"What's next we hope is a continued expansion of the library's user community," says Eric Novotny, CRDF's senior vice president. He says the virtual library may serve as a model for other countries with limited access to international scientific journal. "We've received inquiries from a number of other countries," Novotny says. "There will be a derivative legacy from the project." The portal began as an idea floated by Alex Dehgan and Susan Cumberledge when they were policy fellows of the American Association of the Advancement of Science, which publishes ScienceInsider.