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The Establishment and Growth of Bioline

By: Barbara Kirsop

As a result of international travel and scientific contacts around the world in the 1990’s, Barbara Kirsop (Electronic Publishing Trust for Development, UK) and Vanderlei Canhos (CRIA in Brazil) had become aware of strong differences in the ability of research scientists to access global research findings available in publications. Subscription costs were often impossibly high for scientists in low and middle income countries (LMICs). Moreover, their own research findings were often published in low visibility local journals, leading to a situation where much unique research findings were ‘missing’ from the global knowledge base, causing a barrier to scientific growth.

Fortuitously, the Internet was becoming available publicly, and although the WWW had not yet been finalised, there appeared a real possibility that a means of equalising access to knowledge electronically could be a future possibility. In CRIA, an IT specialist, Sidnei de Sousa, was following these developments closely and we decided to see whether he could set up a few trial journals online in such a way that they could be searched electronically. His efforts were very successful, and Barbara decided to talk to a few LMIC publishers and science institutes to find out if they would be willing to make their journals available online on an open access basis (free to al).

Initially, there was resistance as they feared losing the modest but important income they made from hard copy publication sales. But when the system was demonstrated to them, and as the spread of Internet usage grew, a few publishers agreed to make their journals available. As the system and confidence in its potential developed, it was decided in 1993 to create a UK-based Trust called Bioline International that would, while leaving all publication activities and ownership in the hands of the publishers, provide online access to all articles, with full search capabilities and statistical study.

As the system grew and more journals joined Bioline, it became clear to scientists and publishers in LMICs that their scientific capabilities and knowledge were increasingly valued globally, researchers made contacts with others working in their areas of expertise, invitations to conferences were made, and the general research environment benefitted from a significant boost in enthusiasm and progress – and this was of far greater value to the publishers and authors than the limited income from hardcopy sales.

And a few years later, contact was made with Leslie Chan at the University of Toronto in Canada and, as the UK effort was becoming more difficult due to retirement issues, his group gradually took over the work undertaken by the Electronic Publishing Trust for Development.

At a recent meeting at the University of Toronto the value of equality of access to knowledge, together with other knowledge-based work, was discussed at the virtual launch of a new project lead by Leslie Chan, to be called Knowledge Equity Lab. At this meeting the recent statistics of Bioline were presented and it was very clear that the usage had grown hugely, such that the number of full text downloads of research articles had grown from around 1000 in the year 2000 to over 1,000,000 in the first 8 months of 2020. It is felt that monitoring downloads, rather than ‘hits’ is significant and reflects the real need of scientists to acquire information for the progress of their own research. Statistical tables are provided below.

It is now clear that Bioline is providing a valuable service in attempts to equalise access to essential research findings, increase knowledge of LMIC scientific developments, and further the advance of science globally. With the growing understanding of the climate crisis and the current Corona-19 pandemic, Bioline and many other online publishing services now available, are critically important in providing equality of access to scientific knowledge. Bioline had pioneered the levelling of knowledge access among all countries, regardless of financial status, and happily the usage increases yearly to the benefit of scientific knowledge.

Average number of downloads per year (2015-2019): 15,706,471; per month: 1,308,873; per day: 43,301; per hour: 1,793; per minute: 30
Average number of visitors (2015-2019): per year 4,822,885; per month 401,907; per day 13,213; per hour 551