Research Tool for Latin Americanists Expands in Region by Giving Back

Research Tool for Latin Americanists Expands in Region by Giving Back

From left: HAPI Director and Editor Orchid Mazurkiewicz, Associate Editors Socrates Silva and Ruby Meraz Gutierrez, and Adminstrative Assistant Marcelo Jatoba. Not pictured: Programmer Paul Luigi and Editorial Assistant Peter Petro.

'HAPI: the Database of Latin American Journal Articles' has increased its subscriber base in that region by giving its online library product away in some countries and charging less for it in others. HAPI had flexibility to make the change, which shortens paths to knowledge for scholars, because of its good financial health.

"Ecotourism," "sustainable development," "LGBT people" and "men" will net relevant results.

Before November 2007, there were two. Now, 27 campuses in Latin America's 15 poorest countries have online access to the most comprehensive database of journal articles about the region, and others need only sign up to start performing searches. That's because HAPI: the Database of Latin American Journal Articles is giving its online research tools away for free in countries from Guatemala to the Dominican Republic to Paraguay. In 16 Latin American countries with higher per capita incomes, including Brazil and Mexico, the price of admission to HAPI Online has fallen by half, to a per campus annual rate of $800.

Given that most humanities and social sciences journals in the region charge nothing for their content, increasingly available online, the new arrangement is fairer than making institutions there pay the full subscription price, says Orchid Mazurkiewicz, director and editor of HAPI, a mainstay of the UCLA Latin American Institute's decades-old publications program.

"This is a part of our educational mission. They're giving to us freely to be included in the index," she says. Of the 334 journals actively indexed by HAPI, 219 are published in Latin America. Full-text links to some 60,000 articles are available at no extra charge, through online partnerships and article-scanning initiatives like one at the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México.

HAPI is one of a shrinking group of academic article databases that survives on subscriptions from budget-strapped libraries, as well as a few individuals, without being purchased or licensed exclusively through a vendor such as Elsevier or EBSCO. From the point of view of libraries, independently run article databases are attractive because their subscription rates are generally lower, explains Raym Crow of the Arlington, Va.–based consulting firm Chain Bridge Group.

Independence has allowed HAPI the flexibility it needed to make the pricing changes and, crucially, lets it put the quality of its product first, says Mazurkiewicz. The librarians who, with the help of an international network of volunteers, produce the database also retain editorial control over it.

This spring, HAPI staffers and volunteers completed a review of the subject headings that enable users to conduct powerful and precise searches of the database. They took the opportunity to update politically sensitive terms and to open burgeoning discourses up to more investigation. Once the changes are implemented, "ecotourism," "sustainable development" and "LGBT people" will net just relevant results, and a search for "men" will target articles where issues of masculinity are at stake.

Conscious of its unique role in Latin America, HAPI now features interviews with editors of regional journals on its website, asking about their fields of interest and the challenges they face.

In one Spanish-language interview, Edison Furtado, editor of the Ecuadorian social sciences journal Íconos, observes that worldwide scholarly communication operates "with quite arbitrary parameters that, in many cases, marginalize and hide production that is not from the north. For a Latin American journal to be included in the [Thompson Reuters] ISI index, for example, is still odd and unusual."

For its own part, the staff at HAPI prefers to highlight what the region thinks about itself.

"The value of HAPI is that we're providing access to scholarship about Latin America and out of Latin America," says Associate Editor Ruby Meraz Gutierrez.

Published: Friday, June 19, 2009