4.3 Sources of materials

A wide range of sources can be used to find out what materials are available. The main sources are:

  • producers and distributors
  • bibliographic sources
  • local information sources
  • the Internet.

TIP: Developing contacts
It is a good idea to develop contacts with local, national and international organisations that produce or disseminate information that may be of use to users. Book fairs and exhibitions are a good place to develop contacts. Details of organisations should be kept on file. Organisations should be contacted, asking to be put on their mailing list to receive regular information about new materials.

4.3.1 Producers and distributors

Producers and distributors include:

  • specialist suppliers
  • commercial publishers
  • United Nations agencies
  • government departments
  • non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
  • professional associations
  • training institutions
  • subscription agents.

Specialist suppliers, such as the African Books Collective, Hesperian Foundation, IT Publications, PACT, Tropical Health Technology and Teaching-aids at Low Cost (TALC), supply materials to developing countries, usually at lower prices than commercial publishers. Suppliers' catalogues are available free on request.

Examples of publications available from specialist suppliers

Commercial publishers are organisations that produce materials for profit. Commercial publishers that produce materials on health and development include Butterworth-Heinemann, Macmillan, Oxford University Press (OUP) and Zed Books. Some of the larger publishers, such as Macmillan and OUP, have offices in developing countries, which support local production and distribution of materials. Publishers’ catalogues are available free on request.

Most United Nations agencies, such as UNESCO, UNICEF, UNDP, WHO and the World Bank, and NGOs, such as AMREF, Healthlink Worldwide, INTRAC, International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), Oxfam, Save the Children (SCF) and Women INK, produce materials, often free or at low cost. Most produce catalogues or publications lists that are available free on request. Government documents from ministries such as the Ministry of Health include important policy documents, guidelines and training manuals.

Professional associations of, for example, doctors, nurses or librarians, produce materials including books, guidelines and newsletters.

Training institutions may produce training materials, including distance education materials.

Subscription agents, such as Swets Blackwell, organise subscriptions to periodicals.

Details of key producers and distributors of materials are given in Section 4.9.

4.3.2 Bibliographic sources

Bibliographic sources include:

  • resource lists and bibliographies
  • bibliographic databases
  • acquisitions bulletins
  • book reviews and summaries
  • sources of information for articles
  • Blue Trunk Library lists.

Some publications are a combination of different types of material providing bibliographic source information.

Resource lists are publications that contain details of materials, usually on a specific subject such as diarrhoeal diseases, disability issues, or reproductive and sexual health. They usually include a brief description of each material, the price, and details of how to obtain the material.

Bibliographies are similar to resource lists, but do not necessarily include information on how to obtain materials. Resource lists and bibliographies are usually available in print or electronic format.

Bibliographic databases contain bibliographic information on computer about publications or aticles in periodicals, including author, title, publisher and price. They use keywords (selected words or phrases) to describe the content. Some include abstracts (summaries of contents). Others include the full text of articles. Many bibliographic databases containing details of materials on health and development include African HealthLine, African Index Medicus, CAB Health, Extramed, Source, Medline and POPLINE.

Example of a bibliographic database record

Acquisitions bulletins are regular publications that contain details of materials added to a resource centre collection during a particular period. They can be used to find out what has been acquired by other resource centres, and to help identify materials for the collection. The resource centre can either subscribe to an acquisitions bulletin or, if it produces one, it can arrange to receive others in exchange.

Book reviews and abstracts (summaries) in newsletters, magazines and journals can help to assess whether a material will be useful. They often comment on the material, as well as describing the contents. It can be useful to photocopy and file reviews to help select materials. Reviews can also be circulated to users.

Sources of information for articles in newsletters, magazines and journals are often listed at the end of the article. They can be used to identify materials for the collection. However, the materials listed are usually not new, and are more useful for building up a collection in a new subject area than updating an existing subject area.

Blue Trunk Libraries list, produced by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Library and Information Networks for Knowledge Programme, lists about 150 publications selected for their Blue Trunk Libraries project. The materials are divided into 14 categories: General medicine and nursing, Community health, Primary healthcare, Health management and epidemiology, Maternal health and family planning, Child heath, Diarrhoeal diseases, Nutrition and nutritional disorders, Essential drugs, Communicable diseases and vaccination, Parasitic diseases and vector control, Sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS, Surgery, anaesthesia and hospitals, and Medical and laboratory technology. 

4.3.3 Local information sources

Local sources of information include:

  • colleagues in the same organisation
  • resource centre users
  • other organisations
  • research and development projects
  • training programmes
  • book fairs, exhibitions and conferences.

Colleagues and users of the resource centre are useful sources of information about materials for the collection. They can be asked to suggest materials. For example, they might recommend a manual that they have used during a training workshop, or that has been recommended by another colleague. Members of the resource centre advisory committee (see Section 2.2) should be involved in deciding what to collect, and it is worth encouraging them to suggest ideas.

Other organisations working in similar areas can also be useful sources of information. Resource centre staff may be in touch with staff of other resource centres, or with staff of organisations working in a similar subject area.

Research and development projects, being carried out either within the same organisation as the resource centre or elsewhere, are a source of information on new developments and findings.

Training programmes usually provide participants with handouts, photocopies of sections of materials and reading lists. These materials may themselves be useful additions to the collection, or they may help to identify useful materials. It is therefore good to encourage people to share such materials with resource centre staff.

Book fairs, exhibitions and conferences include displays by publishers and booksellers of new materials.

4.3.4 The Internet

If the resource centre has a computer connected to the Internet, information sources such as electronic conferences or discussion groups and on-line databases will also be accessible. Full-text documents on the Internet can be obtained by resource centres with only e-mail access. They are often advertised on newsletters or through electronic discussion lists. See Section 6.5 for information about Internet services.