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Handbook 2001 for the Development of the Virtual Health Library

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Preliminary Version

BIREME/PAHO/WHO, april 2001



The purpose of this handbook is to guide the implementation of the Virtual Health Library (VHL) in Latin American and Caribbean countries and Spain, as well as in specific thematic areas. The guidelines aim to strengthen and expand the operational capability of the VHL and should thus be evaluated, adopted, and implemented according to specific local conditions in each country and in each thematic area.

The handbook's contents draw on previous work in VHL development, particularly "Handbook 1999 for the Development of the Virtual Health Library" - http://www.bireme.br/bvs/reuniao/doc/guia1999_3.htm.

The handbook aims to reflect the experience and progress achieved thus far in designing the VHL as a common space for producers, intermediaries, and users of scientific and technical information in health, as well as in the definition of policies and procedures for VHL implementation, and more specifically in the methodologies for creating and handling information sources.


1. The VHL in perspective

The VHL operates under the Internet information and communications paradigm.

Internet users have and demand direct online contact with networks of information sources and with other users, in a dynamic context transcending the limits of geographic space, time, size, and extension that have characterized access to information products and services operated within the physical constraints of traditional libraries and documentation centers.

Internet provides users with the unique power to radically increase their individual and collective decision-making capacity based on up-to-date information. Meanwhile, information producers and intermediaries are under pressure to offer new, more efficient, and more attractive options for dissemination, interaction, integration, mediation, and navigation with a wide variety of information in order to respond to the growing demand for information from the broadest possible range of user communities in diverse contexts. Health in particular is one of the most frequent themes that Internet users work with and search.

In the VHL, the convergence of producers, intermediaries, and users of scientific and technical information is expressed in practice as a dynamic information network, created and operated through a cooperative and decentralized approach with explicit quality controls.

The Internet information and communications paradigm is universal, in that it applies to all areas of knowledge and all countries in their different stages of social and economic development. The Internet has provided the first real possibility of universal and equitable dissemination of up-to-date scientific knowledge. However, progress in Internet coverage requires targeted public policies and especially significant investments in information and communications technology infrastructure and in the creation and operation of networks for provision and access to local, regional, and international contents. Major segments of the population, particularly the developing countries, are excluded from Internet access and contents. In other words, their decision-making capability based on up-to-date information is reduced as compared to the Internet-using portion of the population. Overcoming this phenomenon, known as digital exclusion or the digital divide, is crucial for social development and especially for health. The VHL helps overcome the digital divide in the health field.

The VHL is thus an integral part of the flow of scientific and technical health information in the Latin American and Caribbean countries and Spain, continuously helping expand and strengthen this flow with the goal of equitable and universal access to relevant sources of information for health development. To overcome the digital divide it is not enough to provide access to international information sources. Digital inclusion means enjoying the local capability to operate information sources based on local contexts and which are linked to the mainstream international flow.

The basis of VHL lies in the fact that access to scientific and technical information is a determinant and essential factor, indispensable to social development.

Health-related decisions have their efficiency increased and their uncertainty decreased when based on the best evidence provided by current scientific knowledge, applicable to specific contexts. Consequently, to promote health development it is indispensable that scientific information in different media, packages, and languages permeate health-related activities, including decision-making in health planning, management, research, education, services, and care. The VHL will contribute to the creation, consolidation, and functioning of scenarios in which health decisions are increasingly based on scientific and technical information.

The VHL is both an evolution and legacy of more than 3 decades of cooperative work to expand and strengthen the flow of scientific and technical health information in Latin America and the Caribbean under the leadership of PAHO, through BIREME. From the beginning, this cooperative work has been renewed continuously based on new models for managing, organizing, and handling information.

The VHL proposal was presented by BIREME at the 6th Meeting of the Latin American and Caribbean Health Sciences Information System held in San José, Costa Rica, during the 4th Pan American Congress on Health Sciences Information on March 23-28, 1998. The proposal was approved unanimously by System members, together with the San José Declaration Towards the Virtual Health Library - http://www.bireme.br/crics4w/frconcl.htm

The 1st Regional Coordinating Meeting of the VHL was held from November 30 to December 3,1999, at the PAHO headquarters - http://www.bireme.br/bvs/reuniao/doci/recomend_eng.htm At this meeting, BIREME presented the original Spanish-language version of Handbook 1999 for the Development of the Virtual Health Library as a document with the basic guidelines for implementing the VHL. Recommendations agreed upon for developing the VHL are based on the following principles:

  • The pursuit of equitable access to health information
  • Promoting alliances and consortia for maximizing resource-sharing
  • Promoting cooperative work and exchange of experiences
  • Decentralized development and operations at all levels
  • Development based on local conditions
  • Establishing and applying integrated mechanisms for evaluation and quality control

In July 2000, BIREME organized a meeting to evaluate the VHL in London, during the 8th International Congress on Medical Librarianship (ICML), when progress in both the member countries and specialized areas was presented to a major international forum.

This Handbook is being launched during the 2nd Regional Coordinating Meeting of the VHL in Havana, Cuba, on April 23-24, 2001, prior to the 5th Regional Conference on Health Sciences Information (CRICS), once again promoting a regional exchange of ideas, experiences, and evaluation of the difficulties and progress with VHL in the preceding year.

It has thus been 3 years since the VHL proposal was launched. During this time, the cooperative VHL model has spread to virtually all countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, the majority of which have already begun activities to implement the VHL. As of early 2001, at least 5 countries have made significant progress in implementing the VHL model. There have also been noteworthy developments in specialized health areas within the VHL. In the Region as a whole, the VHL has been consolidated as a PAHO strategy for technical cooperation in scientific and technical health information. In the technological field, progress has been made in producing methodologies and tools. Specifically, all of BIREME activities are now aligned to promoted and develop the VHL. The adoption of the VHL by Spain under the leadership of Instituto Carlos III has meant a major recognition of the initiative by that country and has expanded the flow of information in Latin America and the Caribbean, especially in the Spanish language. This consolidation of the VHL is essential for promoting the convergence of national, regional, and international initiatives on health information issues. Such convergence is crucial to the rational use of resources, avoiding duplication of efforts and different initiatives for the same purpose.

Planning and implementation of the VHL considers 3 major periods or scenarios:

  • During the first period (1998-2001), what has prevailed has been the scenario called "setting the VHL in motion", basically involving the dissemination and adoption of the VHL paradigm, linking and coordinating collaboration among information producers, intermediaries, and users with the objective of launching the cooperative operation of information sources, highlighting the realignment of existing information products and services for operation within the VHL context. Setting the VHL in motion has occurred simultaneously at the geographic level and in thematic areas. During this period, promotion and training have characterized the technical cooperation activities.
  • From 2001 to 2003, what will predominate will be the scenario known as "the VHL gaining its own momentum", whose main characteristics are to strengthen and expand the decentralized nodes in the network of information sources and the emergence of the virtual space of the VHL. This period is expected to witness significant growth in the number of new institutions and/or information sources independently incorporated into the VHL, both at the geographic level and in the thematic areas. Integrated operation of the network of information sources and the promotion and networking of new initiatives and players should characterize the activities in technical cooperation.
  • Finally, beginning in 2003 the prevailing scenario will be the VHL constituting a (self) reference for scientific and technical health information in the Region. The fundamental characteristic of this ideal scenario will be the consolidation of VHL as a common virtual space for the task of health information producers, intermediaries, and users. During this period, technical cooperation in scientific and technical health information will acquire its own dynamics which will coincide with the very operation of the VHL.

Building the VHL and the decentralized operation of information sources and their integration as a network is performed at the geographic and thematic levels:

  • At both the national and regional geographic levels, the VHL foresees and requires participation by all countries in the compatible operation of their information sources, in a network with other member countries. The priority is to create more advanced and efficient forms of coordination and organization to foster broad, active participation by the institutions that produce, intermediate, and use information in the VHL, establishing and operating National Coordinating Committees for the coordination of the VHL as well as drafting, implementing, and monitoring national plans to set the VHL in motion. Projects and programs should be implemented for technical cooperation among the countries, with the goal of making full use of the synergetic strengths of the countries as a group.
  • At the thematic level, VHL evolution makes use of the potentialities, strengths, capacities, resources, and initiatives characterizing the information structures in thematic health areas and which favor the creation, development, and operation of specialized information source networks. PAHO's Regional Programs and Specialized Centers play a fundamental role in the promotion, implementation, and operation of thematic areas in the VHL at the regional and subregional levels. Thus, for example, the Pan American Center for Sanitary Engineering and Environmental Sciences (CEPIS) plays the leadership role in technical cooperation for the development of the health and environment area, the Pan American Institute for Food Protection and Zoonoses (INPPAZ) in food protection and zoonoses, the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama (INCAP) in nutrition, and the Latin American Center for Perinatology and Human Development (CLAP) in maternal and perinatal health, etc. Other regional institutions related directly or indirectly to health are invited to participate in the VHL. At the national level, the development of specialized areas within the VHL will have the active participation of government institutions, especially health promotion programs, research centers, scientific and professional societies, nongovernmental organizations, etc. Operation of thematic areas in the VHL is also assisted by Advisory Committees consisting of representatives of institutions that produce, intermediate, and/or use scientific and technical health information.

The VHL is developed at the geographic and thematic levels using a complementary approach.
Overall, the VHL is shaped as an integrated virtual space. A crucial aspect in the VHL implementation strategy is to steadily increase its political, administrative, and technological sustainability. Thus the need for decentralization, development of local capabilities, and shared use of economic resources and infrastructure.

The adoption and implementation of the VHL definitely poses a huge challenge for institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean. First, operating a network of data sources using an electronic format in the VHL demands an increasing command over advanced information methodologies and technologies. Second, the VHL requires expansion of the range of alliances to promote convergence among information producers and intermediaries in a common space for operating the flow of scientific and technical health information. Meanwhile, there is a radical process of de-intermediation. On the one hand, what predominates is the user's initiative in direct interaction with information sources, and on the other, the demand for information sources whose contents, structure, accessibility, and presentation add value to the user's time.

As a result, there is a predominance of managed access to electronic information sources in the VHL and on the Internet in general as compared to the traditional model of local ownership of collections on paper.

Overcoming such challenges is an intrinsic part of the VHL. Part of building the VHL is to develop capabilities in the command over new information and communications technologies by all players in the information flow.

It is extremely important that there is no turning back on the change introduced by the Internet in general and the VHL in particular! Institutions that produce and intermediate information and fail to promote this change in their modus operandi will fail to serve their users efficiently and will see their leadership and survival threatened. Resistance to change in defense of outmoded operational models can penalize the user community by restricting its access to information sources in the Region, running against the international trend.

Adopting and implementing the VHL at the geographic and thematic levels has shown that it is possible to evolve towards the new paradigm. In general this process has taken the following path:

  1. Linking and establishing an agreement among the institutions that produce, intermediate, and use health sciences information by adopting the VHL model. In general, one or more institutions take the leading role in the networking process.
  2. Establishing a VHL Advisory Committee aimed at coordinating the cooperative work, defining and orienting the quality criteria for information sources in the VHL, setting priorities, establishing the division of responsibilities in the cooperative operation of information sources, monitoring and evaluating the VHL's overall performance and that of each of the information sources, etc. The Advisory Committee represents and provides authority to the VHL as a space for scientific and technical information. It acts as a VHL editorial board. An operational coordinating body or executive secretariat should be established, in general represented by an institution with the capability (in political, institutional, and economic terms, as well as that of human resources and information technology) to take the leadership in operating the VHL. It is up to the coordinating body or executive secretariat to foster the effective functioning of Advisory Committee, organizing regular meetings and performing the VHL coordination and promotional functions as agreed upon by the Committee. Whenever necessary and or convenient, the Advisory Committee may decide to share the coordination tasks and to rotate for a period of time among the different institutions. The Committee also plays an advisory role and coordinates the cooperative work.
  3. Drafting a plan for development of the VHL. The plan orients the cooperative work and defines the specific objectives, expected results, and institutions responsible for each of the information sources operated in the VHL. The plan should describe the specific projects for one or more information sources in detail so as to facilitate their decentralized implementation. The plan may include a matrix for sharing responsibilities, indicating the coordinating and member institutions of each information source.
  4. Creating and operating a VHL page serving as a portal or site for the coordination and integration of the specific network of information sources, whether at the national, regional, or thematic level. The VHL page should be operated by the institution or institutions in charge of the operational coordination and under the assistance of the Advisory Committee. The page should follow the standard VHL model, which is promoted by BIREME, to ensure its integrated functioning within the VHL sphere. For example, its sections should include a description of the VHL, the Advisory Committee, and minutes of the Committee meetings, in addition to identifying and integrating specific information sources, etc. The standard model for the VHL portals or coordination sites will evolve with experience and with technological advances. At any rate, each country should have a national page in the VHL including all the country's information sources. The same applies to the VHL thematic areas both at the national and regional levels. Conceptually, each of these portals can and should operate progressively as a portal for all or part of the VHL. In other words, as a common space, the entries or portals to the VHL are infinite.
  5. Decentralized operation of the network of information sources at the national or regional level. Each information source is operated by one or more institutions, in all cases with a specific institution in charge, which should report periodically to the Advisory Committee on its development. The network is dynamic, so that new modalities of information sources appear regularly.

This VHL modus operandi stimulates cooperative, democratic, and decentralized development. The individual information sources constitute nodes that integrate and intertwine to form the VHL network of information sources.
The VHL architecture organizes and structures the information sources based on their characteristic types. The architecture facilitates the identification and operation of information sources and facilitates cooperation both in the division of labor and its integrated operation, including retrieval of decentralized sources and dynamic links among them. The architecture also promotes Internet transition of traditional sources originally produced on paper or in isolated electronic format. Finally, the architecture creates a common language, including methodologies and tools for the decentralized operation of information sources.

Under the VHL architecture, an information source is any resource that responds to a demand for information by users, including information products and services, persons or networks of persons, computer programs, etc. The architecture is currently organized in 6 types of information sources:

  1. secondary sources, including all indexes, databases, and directories whose records make reference to health-related primary sources, organizations, and events. Also included are information services associated with these sources. In broad terms this set is reminiscent of the reference units in the traditional library;
  2. primary sources, including the fulltexts according to the classical types of scientific literature (journals, monographs, theses and dissertations, etc.), as well as other and new original sources of hypertext and numerical data;
  3. tertiary sources, generated with added value based on primary and secondary sources and having didactic and support objectives for decision-making in different user communities;
  4. selective dissemination of information which updates users based on specific profiles of interest. This source of information is also a mechanism for providing VHL information to user communities that lack or have constraints on communication via the Internet;
  5. news and communications among persons, including discussion lists, forums, and virtual communities in general; and
  6. integrating components that ensure the integration of decentralized VHL information sources, like the DeCS terminology and catalogs of information resources and common methodologies.

Part of building the VHL is the development, adoption, and adaptation of the tools to operate information sources under the VHL architecture.

Based on the implementation strategy and in the VHL architecture of information sources, BIREME has drafted a preliminary list of indicators for evaluating VHL development at the national, regional, and thematic levels, focusing on the following:

  • Advisory Committee established and functioning
  • Coordinating institution(s)
  • Development plan
  • Matrix for division of responsibilities (Appendix 1)
  • Homepage
  • Information sources operating in current mode
  • Infrastructure and technological resources

This list of evaluation indicators (Appendix 2) should be improved in the near future as it is adopted and modified as an instrument for control and evaluation by the VHL Advisory Committees. Online publication of periodical results of the evaluation will help publicly highlight the problems and difficulties as well as gains and advances achieved by member countries and specialized communities in developing the VHL.


2. Production of information sources in the VHL

VHL content is a collection or network of information sources on the Internet. Information sources are created and operated under the principles of cooperation and decentralization. These VHL principles aim to develop local capabilities in the operation of information sources and to help expand and strengthen the health sciences information flow in the Region. The continuing development of local capability in the operation of information sources will help contextualize the VHL contents to respond efficiently to local demands for information.

The VHL architecture aims to ensure that information sources produced through this decentralized approach will be connected in a network and thus maximize their visibility and accessibility while avoiding duplication of work. Information sources should thus be created, organized, structured, and fed according to compatible methodologies developed within the VHL context, under BIREME's coordination. Each source has its elements or data fields defined, along with the coding standards, data entry and tagging, and content selection criteria. The methodologies include computer programs that facilitate their implementation.

An underlying premise of the VHL methodologies is that the production of information sources is decentralized, under the coordination of an institution designated by the VHL Advisory Committee, whether at the national level or for a thematic area. The coordinating institution is responsible for the integrity of the information source and its compliance with the corresponding methodology.

An important characteristic of the production of information sources in the VHL is quality control of its contents, preservation of collections, and guaranteed access to documents in electronic format or on paper.

In short, production of information sources in the VHL includes the following dimensions:

  1. Criteria for content selection from the information sources. For example, the Guidelines for Selection of Documents in LILACS;
  2. Information sources are organized in one or more electronic files, and each of their units is structured in elements or data fields. For example, the LILACS bibliographic format, the SciELO DTDs;
  3. Content of the elements or data fields follows standards for coding, cataloguing, tagging, etc. For example, content indexing fields should comply with the DeCS terminology;
  4. Local, national, subregional, or regional production of an information source should come under the responsibility and coordination of an institution with the function of ensuring data integrity and compliance with the respective standards. Production can include periodic transfer of records among local units and the respective coordinating unit. For example, the LILACS database is coordinated by BIREME at the regional level, the LIPECS database is coordinated by the Central Library of Universidad Cayetano Heredia at the national level, the MEDCARIB database by the University of West Indies, Jamaica, at the regional level for the English-speaking Caribbean, etc.
  5. e. The VHL Advisory Committee at the national or thematic level is responsible for monitoring and evaluating the production of information sources.

It is suggested that the National Advisory Committee define the responsibilities in the development of information sources and prepare a matrix of specific projects to be developed in the country or thematic area, identifying the institutions involved in each project and their levels of responsibility (coordination, participation, etc.).

2.1. Production of secondary information sources in the VHL

This section deals with the production of traditional secondary information sources, realigned to operate in the VHL, within the architecture of which the first type of information source is constituted.

Secondary information sources are defined as:

  1. databases, catalogs, or bibliographic indexes referencing documents and texts in general whose contents are recognized as scientific and technical health literature related to Latin America and the Caribbean;
  2. directories referencing health-related institutions and organizations, specialists, scientific research projects, development projects, events, and courses in Latin America and the Caribbean.

2.1.1 Bibliographic databases

The main objective of bibliographic databases operated in the VHL is the bibliographic control of health-related scientific and technical production in the Latin American and Caribbean countries. The databases thus reference all types of documents: journal articles, books, theses and dissertations, papers presented at scientific meetings, technical and scientific reports, projects, and nonconventional documents.

The LILACS database (Latin American and Caribbean Health Sciences Literature) was the first bibliographic database developed by BIREME, starting in 1982. In the Latin American and Caribbean Region, various regional and national bibliographic databases were subsequently created and operated using the LILACS Methodology to organize, structure, feed, and maintain bibliographic databases and are known as LILACS System databases.

The program used under the LILACS Methodology to feed the bibliographic databases is LILDBI (LILACS Bibliographic Description and Indexing), developed by BIREME, either in DOS or Internet/Web, available as of 2001. LILACS

The LILACS database, coordinated at the regional level by BIREME, is the result of a cooperative effort by more than 400 Cooperating Centers from 37 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

For the LILACS database in each country, the national or thematic VHL Advisory Committee designates the coordinating institution that should identify and select Cooperating Centers to participate in activities involving the identification, selection, bibliographic description, and indexing of the national scientific production in a specific area of activity (institutional, geographic, or thematic). The VHL should renew and strengthen the existing networks for feeding the LILACS.

Scientific production indexed by the LILACS database comes basically from the following document-producing areas:

  • Academic area (universities, faculties, schools)
  • Research institutes
  • Scientific societies
  • Governmental area and health services (Ministries, Health Secretariats or Departments, hospitals)
  • Nongovernmental organizations
  • International agencies

It is suggested that Cooperating Centers be identified in these institutions or in related institutions that establish mechanisms for compiling and processing the literature produced by them. It is recommended to identify a proportional number of Cooperating Centers among the various types of information producers mentioned above in order to guarantee a broad coverage of the scientific and technical literature produced in the country.

To become a Cooperating Center the institution should have the available human resources to compile, select, process, and index the bibliographic documents, computer equipment allowing installation of the LILDBI application, and leadership in the area so as to establish contacts with institutions for the identification of relevant scientific literature.

From the onset the Cooperating Centers commit themselves to select and process the scientific and technical literature and send the records to BIREME regularly and in updated form. It is suggested that the country's Cooperating Centers share responsibilities so as to allow for a broad coverage of the national scientific production while avoiding duplication of efforts. The Cooperating Centers should also commit themselves to record the location of the processed documents in order to guarantee access to them.

The Cooperating Centers receive training in the LILACS Methodology from the coordinating institution or BIREME, in addition to the LILDBI application in CD-ROM which allows them to begin processing documents for LILACS.

Each Cooperating Center receives a code and password from BIREME to install the Methodology. The LILACS Methodology CD-ROM includes the LILDBI program and the respective manuals and handbooks:

  • Handbook for LILACS Database Document Selection
  • Handbook for LILACS Database Journal Selection
  • Manual for Bibliographic Description

The LILACS flow for feeding documents is as follows:

  • Each Cooperating Center processes documents and enters records in a local database according to its area of activity, using the LILDBI and complying with the respective selection criteria;
  • The entered records should be sent periodically by the Cooperating Centers to the national or thematic coordinating institution, which in turn can create and maintain a national or specialized database. The coordinating institution should monitor the updating and quality of LILACS document indexing as well as decentralization of document indexing in the country (distribution of journal titles, types of documents, thematic areas, etc.);
  • After updating and quality control, the coordinating institutions validate the records processed by the Cooperating Centers, maintaining the identification of the Cooperating Center that processed the record in the respective field, and they send those that comply with the LILACS selection criteria to BIREME.

It is important to highlight that the national databases may have selection criteria that differ from the LILACS criteria. In this case, when these records are processed, the Cooperating Centers should identify to which databases they belong in the respective data field. This identification is necessary for the Cooperating Center to be able to select and send to LILACS only those records which comply with that base's specific criteria;

  • The records may be sent by the Cooperating Centers directly to BIREME, as long as they simultaneously guarantee that the records be sent to the national databases.

With the LILDBI application, the Centers can create their own local databases with their own document selection criteria (for example, to register the existence of their collections). In this case, the Cooperating Centers should be familiar with the procedures for updating and maintaining bibliographic databases, and in case of creating new data fields, they should be familiar the formats and structure of the database indexes.

The Documentation Centers at the PAHO Regional Offices and Specialized Centers use the LILDBI Methodology to create local databases with the existence of their collection and collaborate with the LILACS database, with the records produced by the Sub-Regional and Country Offices or Specialized Centers or relevant documents for technical cooperation.

In 2000, based on the records entered in the LILACS and PAHO databases by the Documentation Centers at the PAHO Sub-Regional and Country Offices and Specialized Centers and by the Headquarters Library, BIREME created a Collective Catalog of Existing Collections in the PAHO Documentation Centers (OPPAC). This Collective Catalog allowed to save time in entering the local collections from the Documentation Centers, facilitating the identification of document collections produced by PAHO in the Latin American and Caribbean countries. Specialized databases

Using the same LILACS Methodology, regional or national Specialized Centers which may or may not belong to PAHO can create specialized databases on relevant health themes, based on distinct selection criteria. These databases in the LILACS System not only use the same methodology but also complement the LILACS database on specialized themes.

The responsibility for defining the range of specialized databases, establishing a flow for feeding data and keeping the VHL up-to-date, belongs to the database coordinating institution, as determined by the Advisory Committee for each thematic area.

In order for the coordinating institutions of specialized databases to make them available in the VHL, BIREME developed a search interface - the IAH interface - which will be described in greater detail later in this Handbook. SciELO/LILACS Integration

In the VHL, the bibliographic databases and references should be generated and developed automatically based on the fulltexts themselves from the scientific production they index, and the fulltexts should allow for links between the cited documents and the VHL databases. This integration is possible for all the databases in the LILACS System.

Thus, the SciELO library sends the databases files in LILACS format prepared from the tagging of fulltexts from journals with the bibliographic description data fields, which are imported in the databases in LILACS format, automatically generating the respective records in the bases. All the Cooperating Centers need to do is complete the records with the fields corresponding to the indexing of the documents.

SciELO/LILACS integration is completed at the moment of access to the databases:

    • it is possible to reach SciELO from LILACS using the field corresponding to the document's Internet address (URL) which is filled in with the specific address of each article from the SciELO journals;
    • likewise, from SciELO it is possible to reach LILACS based on the bibliographic references for the journal articles, with links generated automatically, comparing them with those of the databases.


2.1.2 Collective Catalog of Scientific Journals

The VHL includes collective databases of scientific journal collections.

The scientific journal collection database coordinated by BIREME is the SeCS base, or Health Sciences Serials, produced cooperatively by the Cooperating Centers.

The SeCS database records bibliographic data for scientific journals from the health sciences area indexed in the LILACS and MEDLINE databases, as well as the respective collections from the Cooperating Centers.

For the description of the titles and collections, the SeCS application is used, developed by BIREME and distributed to Cooperating Centers as part of the LILACS Methodology. Each month the libraries update their SeCS collections and send the respective data to BIREME.

The main objectives of the SeCS are visibility and accessibility to existing collections in the libraries and their shared use, seeking rationalization and efficient access. The database is integrated into the SCAD (Cooperative Service for Access to Documents) in order to help automatically locate the library which has a given journal or issue and consequently help transfer photocopy requests to the libraries cooperating in the Service. Contribution to the SeCS database

It is suggested that the Cooperating Centers commit themselves to recording at least the respective existence of journal titles indexed in LILACS that are under their responsibility. For example, if Cooperating Center "X" has the responsibility for indexing journal "Y" for LILACS, this center should also assume the responsibility for sending the record of its collection of journal "Y" to the SeCS database. This guarantees that every journal indexed in LILACS will have at least one collection described in the SeCS database and will thus also guarantee access to fulltexts of articles through SCAD.

The Cooperating Centers receive training in the SeCS application either from the SeCS coordinating institution at the national level or from BIREME.

Each Cooperating Center receives a code and password from BIREME for installing the application and a manual for its use, included in the LILACS Methodology CD-ROM.

The SeCS flow for feeding information is as follows:

  • Each Cooperating Center records the existence of the scientific journal in its collection of LILACS journals whose indexing comes under its responsibility, using the SeCS application;
  • Cooperating Centers should periodically send the entered records to both BIREME and the SeCS coordinating institution at the national level, if the country has a Collective National Catalog.

It is important to highlight that the Cooperating Center can use the SeCS application to record its entire journal collection, generate its catalog, generate lists of missing issues, and use all the collection management functions available in the application. Nevertheless, for the purposes of the SeCS database, only the collections of journals indexed in LILACS and/or MEDLINE are relevant. These titles should be identified at the moment of recording the bibliographic description, using the respective data fields (related systems and SeCS number). Portal for scientific journals

In addition to the bibliographic description of journal titles, the Portal for scientific journals contains information on the availability of the journal's electronic version and the mode of access to the fulltext. Thus, users can link from the Portal to the electronic description of the journals and to the description of the collective catalogs, when available.

The VHL Portal includes information on the journals indexed in MEDLINE and LILACS, as well as some other titles that are relevant to VHL thematic areas, like adolescent health, toxicology, and public health, with links to collections in the SeCS database.

The Portal can also be found through a national and/or thematic VHL, either as a link to the regional VHL site or through a personalized search form. For example, the national VHL portal may list only that country's journals. The portal for a thematic VHL can include journals from the respective thematic area, like the VHL Portal on Adolescence (http://www.adolec.org/).

2.1.3 Directories

Directories are databases with records on researchers, institutions, events, courses, projects, etc. Each directory requires the definition of the necessary data fields to record the respective information.

Feeding the directories is totally decentralized and should thus follow the compatible methodology for the creation of VHL directories. In the near future, VHL at the national, regional, or thematic level should allow users themselves to enter data in the directories. One or more institutions designated by the National Advisory Committee will be responsible for validating records entered by users and for maintaining and updating directories in the VHL.

Directories created under the database concept are not merely lists of addresses, since the directory search interface allows for selection and access through different data fields.

Directories can be operated at the thematic, national, or regional level. Directories of Specialists and/or Researchers

Directories of specialists are developed by and for specialized areas in the VHL. Their objective is to provide information on professionals working in different thematic areas, including where they can be found (complete addresses, identifying the States or Provinces) and their areas of work or specialties.

In general, directories of specialists are created from the registers of Professional Boards or Associations and should if possible be integrated with the curriculum vitae databases of the National Scientific and Technological Research Councils.

Feeding the directories of specialists is decentralized and can be done by users themselves on the Internet.

The institution in charge of the directory should validate the records entered by users and enter them in the database, monitoring the quality of the available information.

Directories of researchers are developed at the national level and aim to provide information on researchers working in the different thematic areas and where they can be found (complete addresses, identifying the States or Provinces).

Directories of researchers are created from database records in the respective National Scientific and Technological Research Councils and other institutions supporting scientific research.

The project entitled CVLACS (Latin American and Caribbean Health Sciences Curricula Vitae) is developing a methodology to register resumé data for researchers, based on the Lattes Platform of the Brazilian National Research Council, CNPq (http://www.cnpq.br/lattes). This project is a joint initiative of the PAHO Health Research Program, BIREME, and CNPq/Brazil. Directories of Institutions

Directories of institutions can be developed at the national, regional, or thematic level. Their objective is to provide information on the health institutions in the countries, their complete names and acronyms, administrative hierarchies, physical addresses including identification of the country, State, Province, city, etc., and areas of research and/or other activity, with links to the institutional sites.

In general, directories of institutions should be created on the basis of records from various health-related national, State, or regional associations. In particular, directories of research institutions should be integrated with the databases of the respective National Scientific and Technological Research Councils and other institutions supporting scientific research.

As with other VHL information sources, an institution should be designated by the National Advisory Committee to be in charge of updating and maintaining the directories of institutions in the VHL.

Feeding the directories of institutions is decentralized and can be done by the institutions themselves that access the VHL. The form for entering or updating data should be available in the national, regional, or thematic VHL. The institution in charge of coordinating the directories of institutions should validate the incoming records and enter them in the database, monitoring the quality of the available information. This institution will also be responsible for maintaining and updating the database of directories of institutions in the VHL.

The national VHL sites should mainly record the institutions in that country, allowing for searches by State, Province, city, type of institution, and area of activity.

Regional sites should integrate with the national directories, with searches allowing for selection by country, type of institution, and area of activity. The institutions in charge of the regional directories should also enter data on international or regional institutions working in the country or relevant to the country or respective thematic area. Research Project Directories

Research project directories can be developed at the national, regional, or thematic level and aim to provide information on research projects under way or completed in different areas of Health Sciences as well as the various groups of researchers.

In general, research project directories should be created on the basis of records from the respective National Scientific and Technological Research Councils and other institutions supporting scientific and technological research in the countries, and insofar as possible should integrate with national databases of curricula vitae of the researchers and research institutions. An example of integration is the Lattes Platform of the Brazilian National Research Council, CNPq.

In this sense, BIREME is considering the adoption of the SHARED proposal (http://www.shared.de) as a solution for mediation and integration of information sources for institutions, researchers, and research projects.

Feeding the directories of projects is decentralized and can be done by the research groups themselves on the Internet. Therefore, it is important for research project directories that the form for entering or updating data be available in the VHL. The institution in charge of coordinating the research project directories should validate the incoming records and enter them in the database, monitoring the quality of the available information. This institution will also be responsible for maintaining and updating the project database in the VHL.

The projects should be classified as "under way" or "finalized". Interim or final project reports should be entered in the bibliographic databases and as fulltexts in the VHL. The research project directory should establish a link to the bibliographic database and/or to the fulltexts of the reports, when they exist. An example is the integration of the CNPq/Brazil curricula database with SciELO and LILACS. Directories of Events

Directories of events can be developed at the national, regional, or thematic level. Their objective is to provide information on scientific events (congresses, seminars, conferences, etc.) from the health area promoted mainly in the Latin American and Caribbean countries, in addition to dates and venues, with identification of the country, State, Province, city, etc., program and thematic areas, with links to the sites for the events when they exist.

As with other information sources in the VHL, an institution should be designated by the National Advisory Committee to take charge of updating and maintaining the directories of events in the VHL.

Feeding the directories of events is decentralized and can be done by the institutions themselves that promote the events. The form for entering or updating data should be available at the national, regional, and/or thematic VHL sites. The institution in charge of coordinating the directories of events should validate incoming records and enter them in the database, monitoring the quality of the available information. This institution is also responsible for maintaining and updating the events database in the VHL.

Insofar as possible, proceedings or papers from scientific events entered in the events directories should be recorded in the LILACS database and/or in the specialized database corresponding to the theme of the event. In this case, links should be established between the events directory and the bibliographic databases, as well as to the fulltexts of the papers, when they exist.

Events already held should be available for consultation in the events database with a selection allowing for back searches. Directories of Courses

Directories of courses can be developed at the national, regional, or thematic level. Their objective is to provide information on health-related courses and other academic activities, promoted mainly in the countries of the Latin American and Caribbean Region, with dates, location, identification of the country, State, Province, city, etc., course program and thematic areas, with links to the course sites, when they exist.

Feeding the directories of courses is decentralized and can be done by the institutions themselves that hold the courses. The form for entering or updating data should be available in the national, regional, or thematic VHL. The institution in charge of coordinating the directories of courses should validate the incoming records and enter them in the database, monitoring the quality of the available information. This institution is also responsible for maintaining and updating the database of courses in the VHL.

Courses already held should be identified in the database as past courses and should be available for consultation in the course database as a selection option, for example, for users who may interested in their programs.

3. Fulltext production in the VHL

Fulltexts are published in the VHL in different formats, including HTML, PDF, Word, etc. However, the preferred methodology is to treat the texts using text-structuring languages like SGML and XML, as with the SciELO Methodology for publishing electronic scientific journals.

BIREME is preparing extensions of the SciELO methodology for other types of literature, like monographs, theses, dissertations, congress proceedings, legislation, etc.

The expectation is to generate collections of structured fulltexts with the possibility of retrieval based on the various bibliographic elements (like author, title, abstract, etc.), establishing dynamic links with other information sources and measuring statistics on use and citations.

The fulltexts should always be referenced in the bibliographic databases.


3.1 SciELO Model for Publication of Scientific Journals

The SciELO Model - Scientific Electronic Library Online - www.scielo.org - is oriented towards the publication of scientific journals on the Internet, with an emphasis on the Ibero-American countries.

The SciELO Methodology is the first component of the SciELO Model. The second component is the SciELO site, which operates decentralized collections of selected scientific journals based on established criteria, and the third component is the SciELO Network, integrating the individual SciELO sites.

The SciELO Methodology includes a set of policies, standards, guidelines, procedures, and tools for performing the functions of evaluation and selection of journals, as well as the preparation, storage, publication, preservation, and control of the use and impact of scientific journals operated through the SciELO sites.

Development of the SciELO Methodology is the result of a collaborative project involving BIREME, FAPESP (São Paulo State Research Foundation), and editors of Brazilian scientific journals, launched in 1997 and adopted subsequently by other countries from the Region. In the health area, the SciELO Model operates within the VHL sphere, and the SciELO Methodology constitutes the common methodology for publication of scientific journals on the Internet. The methodology has or considers extensions and adaptations for other types of literature, like monographs, theses, dissertations, etc.

In the SciELO Model, the methodology is applied to establish and operate collections of electronic journals organized according to a geographic and/or thematic scope. A particular collection operated on the Internet constitutes a SciELO site. Examples of SciELO sites operating at the national level in all areas of knowledge are: SciELO Brazil (http://www.scielo.br) and SciELO Chile (http://www.scielo.cl). Examples of SciELO sites operating at the national level and restricted to health sciences are: Costa Rica (http://www.scielo.sa.cr) and Cuba (http://www.scielo.sld.cu). SciELO Salud Pública (Public Health) (http://www.scielosp.org) is an international SciELO site that operates a selected collection of Ibero-American scientific journals in public health, besides including the PAHO and WHO bulletins.

It is important to note that the SciELO Methodology can be applied to the operation of any individual journal or collection of journals. However, establishing a collection recognized as a SciELO site requires that the titles be selected according to quality criteria specified in the document "SciELO Criteria: criteria, policy, and procedures for scientific journals to enter and remain in the SciELO collection" (http://www.scielo.org/metod.html). Journal collections that fail to comply with SciELO quality criteria may operate on the Internet utilizing the SciELO Methodology, but in this case they are not recognized as SciELO sites.

For implementation of the SciELO site, refer to the "Handbook for Installing SciELO sites" at http://www.scielo.org/metod.html


3.2 Other fulltext documents

The VHL should progressively operate with collections of fulltexts for different types of literature, including single texts.

In the case of monographs, the collections are preferably operated by the producer or intermediary institutions, like Ministries of Health, scientific research and research support institutions, universities, etc. These institutions should establish editorial committees to review and monitor the quality of papers published on the sites. These papers should also be referenced in the VHL bibliographic databases.

Collections of theses and dissertations in fulltext should preferably be operated by the institutions where they have been presented, at the national or thematic level.

Fulltexts of legislation should be operated by the institutions that publish them, like Ministries or Secretariats of Health and also intermediary institutions that guarantee that updated texts be published.


4. Integrating components of the VHL

The VHL space is defined by the network operation of decentralized information sources. The network is made up of defined static or dynamic links among the information sources, as well as by the responses by information sources to content searches and navigation. In the latter case, the network is built on the basis of response capabilities by information sources to requests for content. Use of the terminology or controlled vocabulary to describe the information sources as a whole and the records they contain is the VHL mechanism to maximize the capacity to respond to content requests.

Integration and definition of the VHL space as well as referencing sources external to the VHL is provided by use of the DeCS vocabulary (Health Sciences Descriptors), the LIS (Health Information Locator), and the sets of common methodologies for operating information sources.


4.1 DeCS - Health Sciences Descriptors

The VHL controlled vocabulary is the DeCS (Health Sciences Descriptors), which operates in a database in 3 languages, Spanish, Portuguese, and English. Its basis, in terms of a terminological body and structure, is the MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), allowing its participation with the Portuguese and Spanish language terminology in the Unified Medical Language System (UMLS) of the NLM. DeCS contains more than 25,000 entries, including the terms from the MeSH as well as terms added by BIREME for the description and retrieval of information sources in public health and homeopathy. In the area of public health it contains more than 6,000 terms and covers specific areas like health services administration and health sector reform, environmental sciences with terminology in sanitary engineering, environmental health, natural and manmade disasters, etc.

The DeCS database is coordinated by BIREME, and its ongoing development aims to serve all the thematic areas in the VHL. Suggestions for new terms or changes in terms in the DeCS can be provided individually using the option "suggested new terms" in the DeCS Server in the regional VHL site. In addition, a complete review of a thematic area can be performed by a specific project in a specialized area of the VHL.

Suggestions for new terms in the DeCS, both individually and in a given thematic area, can be sent to BIREME, which submits the suggested terms to approval by experts collaborating in terminology development. Inclusion of new terms in the DeCS database should follow the same hierarchical structure of the terminology and the same principles for creating terms.

BIREME is developing the Geographic DeCS, a specific section for identifying the geographic and administrative divisions of the various Latin American and Caribbean countries. Its production is decentralized, with the Cooperating Centers helping record the geographic and administrative divisions of the respective countries.

An area for "Health Terminology" with a link to the DeCS Server in the regional VHL site can be included in the national VHL or in the thematic VHL areas.

4.2 LIS - Health Information Locator

Reference catalogs for information sources both inside and outside the VHL space are operated by the LIS (Health Information Locator). LIS allows for the description and retrieval of information sources in a mode compatible with international standards. It is possible to operate catalogs covering different geographic areas, like country territories and groups of countries both inside and outside the Region. It is also possible to restrict the operation to thematic areas.

LIS is the health area information source portal on the Internet, principally for sources operated in the countries of the Latin America and Caribbean Region and Spain. The purpose of the LIS is to contribute to the visibility and accessibility of information sources produced in the Region, selecting technical and scientific contents on the existing Internet sites according to quality criteria, describing and indexing them with a common methodology and the DeCS terminology to facilitate navigating in the VHL.

The content of LIS databases consists of meta-data describing information sources on the Internet, based on the GILS (Global Information Locator Service), adopted as the model by the Global Information Society Program and the Dublin Core.

Data entry to LIS is decentralized, and as in other VHL sources, the National or Thematic Advisory Committee in each country should designate an institution in charge of managing and maintaining it. Validation of the information resources registered in the LIS can be done by specialists selected by the institution in charge of the LIS.

The LIS can be developed at the national, regional, or thematic level. Information resources can belong to one or more levels, and the LIS types are identified when the information resource is described.

An important characteristic of the LIS is that it records all the existing scientific and technical contents in the sites, in addition to recording the institutional sites. For example, a Ministry of Health site can contain as many records in the LIS as its content sites (publications in fulltext, bibliographic databases, health indicators, etc.), beginning with the record of the institutional site.

National LIS sites in the VHL should mainly record the information resources produced by the country, while the regional thematic sites should mainly record information resources of regional interest produced in the Latin American and Caribbean Region.

The Regional LIS in the VHL integrates the regional, national, and thematic LIS, besides recording resources from relevant health-related international or regional agencies in the Region.

The LIS Methodology was developed jointly with the National Center for Information in Medical Sciences, Ministry of Public Health, Cuba.


5. Cooperative Online Access Services

VHL cooperative information services can be grouped as follows:

  • Search in information sources
  • Document access services
  • Selective dissemination of information

The services are operated in the national, regional, or thematic VHL sites.

5.1 Search in information sources

The bibliographic databases and general or specialized national, regional, and international health references that are realigned for operation on the Internet and with access available to the general public can be included and targeted from the national and/or thematic VHL webpage, under the item "scientific literature".

To have this search service available from the webpage of a national and/or thematic VHL, there are two possibilities:

a) include the search form directly on the webpage, according to the instructions indicated on the site http://www.bireme.br/iah/link.htm.

b) set up a link to the VHL search system for each available database.

National and/or thematic databases generated cooperatively and that follow quality control criteria should also be available for access through the national and/or thematic page, if possible using the same IAH search mechanism developed by BIREME.

5.2 Document access services

The increase in published scientific production, greater ease of access to bibliographic indexes, increased demand for access to fulltexts, and decreased purchasing power by libraries are some of the elements in the current library environment that directly influence the maintenance and development of collections in general.

Thus, access to fulltext of documents referenced in the VHL bibliographic databases at the regional, national, and thematic levels is obtained as follows:

  • direct link to the electronic text, when available; or
  • link to a document photocopy supply service.

For electronic access, it is recommended to form consortia among libraries. Access to paper collections uses SCAD (Cooperative Service for Access to Documents), which is the VHL service for searching and supplying full documents and articles by sending photocopies via post, fax, or e-mail.

Integration of the bibliographic databases with SCAD requires some adjustments and definitions, for example, to which library one transfers the request for a document and the parameters for identifying the document's data.

5.2.1 SCAD in the VHL

SCAD is a management system for bibliographic exchange between libraries and information users, operating through the Internet in a client-server mode. It involves libraries with important collections and that have the infrastructure to offer the document supply service to other libraries or end users by mail, fax, e-mail and/or Ariel.

The VHL SCAD is integrated with the bibliographic databases and the collective catalog SeCS (Health Sciences Serials) and is operated under the coordination of BIREME. This integration allows for automatically generating a document photocopy request, including transfer of the identifying bibliographic data and location of the document in one or more libraries cooperating in the service.

The VHL offers SCAD to any library or professional from the Latin American and Caribbean Region who is a registered user of the service.

5.2.2 National SCAD

The implementation and operation of this service at the national level is complex, since it requires a high degree of organization and integration of libraries, an agreement defining the service's operating policy, an agreement on common fees, standards, and procedures, etc. In addition to these organizational and policy aspects, the infrastructure needed to operate and maintain the service involves other requirements, such as:

  • Central administration: the service must operate under a Center or Institution with proven leadership on issues related to document access, like interlibrary loans and bibliographic exchange services. This Center is responsible for the service's policy issues, including the fees for services, development of cooperative plans and agreements, definition of a hierarchy, and submittal and transfer of requests for documents and identification of sources; definition of standards, norms, and procedures; compilation of statistics; preparation of manuals and guidelines for using the service; and overall coordination of the service. It is recommended that the SCAD be installed on an Internet server in the coordinating institution;
  • Institutional resources: a document access service presupposes the existence of documents and collections in libraries. To organize a document access service involves designating a library or libraries in charge of systematically acquiring and storing documents and/or specific collections. This relates more directly to a policy for developing collections, but it is important to guarantee broad, organized, and rational availability of the existing scientific and technical information resources in libraries cooperating in the service;
  • Identification and location of the documents: when a specific document is requested, there should be tools in place to allow for the document's bibliographic identification and its location in one of the cooperating libraries. It is important that there be a collective catalog or tool allowing for the identification of journals/issues, whose integration with the system allows for the automatic generation of requests, including their location. In the case of national and thematic bibliographic databases, it is possible to have a specific field identifying the library responsible for recording the document/article, which theoretically is where the document is located;
  • Technological resources: an available UNIX, NT, or LINUX-type Internet server is needed to operate and manage the service, preferably installed in the Central Institution in charge of coordinating and maintaining the service. All the libraries and users of the service need is Internet access. Cooperating libraries, that is, those that will be responding to requests, need both Internet access and resources to make photocopies of the requested documents/articles, mail and fax service, and preferably a scanner and a software allowing electronic transmission of documents (for example, Ariel);
  • Fees, billing, and payment system: there are always costs involved in reproducing and sending documents, and these costs can be transferred to the requesting parties. A fees policy should be set in agreement with the libraries cooperating in the service so as to provide for common fees and to allow for the implementation of a clearing system for requests between the cooperating libraries. In addition to setting fees for the service, it is important to provide mechanisms for billing, control of payments received, etc.


To implement the National SCAD System, a pilot project is recommended based on a selection of 5 libraries at most. For a period of 6 months, this group should:

  • explore the SCAD System;
  • define policies for the service, including rates, billing policy, mean service time, identification of the libraries, and whether the service will be provided to individual users and/or other libraries;
  • define standards and procedures for the service;
  • prepare work procedures (pertaining to the service as a whole, help texts, and a system manual);
  • review and adapt the texts to the Spanish language;
  • define mechanisms for generating bills and payment controls;
  • draft a project for implementing SCAD at the national level.

BIREME is committed to:

  • provide support and technical assistance for implementing SCAD;
  • configure the SCAD system according to definitions in the pilot project (fees, codes for libraries, links to databases, etc.);
  • transfer documentation used for SCAD implementation and user training; and
  • prepare instructions for SCAD configuration, operation, and maintenance.

5.3 Selective Dissemination of Information

Selective dissemination of information is a VHL service designed to alert user-subscribers to the new information sources included and/or referenced in the VHL, according to defined thematic profiles.

The VHL will develop a network of profiles for themes and specialties, with the objective of responding efficiently to the needs for professional updating of specialized communities or those interested in specific themes. The profiles will be adjusted as they are used. User subscription to services involving selective dissemination of information and the process of recommending and/or defining new profiles will be performed online. The alerts will be sent to users through Internet services like e-mail, the Web, and PUSH.

The DSI methodology is currently under development at BIREME. Initially it will be applied to bibliographic databases and subsequently to the different types of information sources in the VHL.


Handbook 2001 BVS 2001