Virtual Library Gives Iraqi Scientists Access to Valuable Knowledge
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 4, 2006 In an effort to give Iraqi scientists access to academic knowledge they have long been without, the Iraqi Virtual Science Library was publicly launched here yesterday.
"This knowledge is essential to the rebuilding of Iraq's scientific and university communities, which were devastated by three wars and the regime of Saddam Hussein," Paula J. Dobriansky, undersecretary of state for global affairs, said at the National Academy of Sciences.
The online library will provide Iraqi scientists, engineers, physicians, researchers, and students the ability to access more than 17,000 academic journals and millions of scientific articles. The free library contains the same cutting-edge scientific content available at any top-tier university in the United States, NAS officials said.
Dobriansky said Iraq's science curriculum is about 20 years behind the international norm, which is particularly unfortunate because Iraq "is in the land which is home to a rich history of mathematic and scientific advances in fields such as algebra, geometry and medicine."
The venture is a public-private partnership that includes several U.S. government agencies, 13 publishers of scientific journals, private American technology companies, and the Civilian Research and Development Foundation, NAS officials said.
Academic fellows at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing science around the world, first came up with the idea for the online library. They then recruited U.S. government agencies. The departments of Defense and State contributed resources, DoD's Defense Technical Information Center built the Web site, and NAS arranged journal access privileges with the publishers. The IVSL will eventually be fully owned and operated by the Iraqi government.
The virtual library is an essential tool in stopping the "brain drain" in Iraq, which will, in turn, help rebuild the country's infrastructure and integrate it into the global economy, defense officials said.
"Retaining the intellectual capacity of Iraqi scientists and engineers in productive pursuits within Iraq is essential to building a peaceful, democratic and free nation," Kenneth J. Krieg, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said at the IVSL launch ceremony.
Under Saddam's regime, Iraq's scientists were denied the opportunity to participate in the global scientific community and denied access to a multitude of life-saving scientific advancements, which took an immense toll on the Iraqi people, Krieg said. "Today we look to change the course set forth in the past and put Iraq's scientists on the same path as the rest of the world," he said.
Dobriansky added that the project would contribute to the U.S. achieving its foreign policy objectives, as well as fostering a prosperous Iraq.
"This initiative is truly important to our foreign policy goals," she said. "The Iraqi Virtual Science Library is an investment in the future of Iraq and the Iraqi people. Iraqis are now preparing a generation of leaders who will transform Iraq and guide it through the coming decades."
She said scientific knowledge is vital to enabling Iraqi leaders to deal with local, regional and global issues. "The world needs Iraq's great minds as we collectively address global and regional challenges involving health, water, energy and climate change, among other issues," she said. "This library will nurture critical thinkers for public service as well as careers in science."
Also speaking at the ceremony was Iraq's Ambassador to the United States, Samir Shakir Mahmud Al-Sumaydi, who spoke humorously about Iraq's past scientific accomplishments. "The Iraqi people have a rich and proud legacy of great scientific and engineering achievement," he said. "I suppose that started around the time we invented the wheel."
The ambassador reiterated the fact that Iraqi scientists had been cut off from the international scientific community for many years, but said they were now finally on their way toward integration.
"The Iraqi scientific community has been isolated for decades. Now, in the last few years, they have come out into the world," he said. "The Iraqi Virtual Science Library provides an important step toward rebuilding our scientific community."