LA Referencia – South American Open Science network

Alberto Cabezas

LA Referencia – South American Open Science network


Alberto Cabezas – Executive Secretary of LA Referencia

(interviewer: Michał Starczewski)

La Referencia is a network of repositories from 9 South American countries. How does it work and what are its aims? Does it have a formal structure?

The initial project was presented by RedCLARA (RedCLARA – Cooperación Latino Americana de Redes Avanzadas – is an international non-profit organization established in 2003, managing the only advanced internet network in Latin America) and funded by the Regional Public Goods program of the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) from 2010 to 2013. The goal was to build a common strategy for a regional federated network of scientific publication repositories.

The second phase of LA Referencia started in January 2014. It has the clear objective of consolidating a self-sustainable regional service, in accordance with national repository strategies. We harvest each national node which in turn collects the country's production. 

The associates are Science and Technology (S&T) organizations from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela; they finance the operation and maintenance of the national nodes. Also, in some countries, they work together with National Research and Education Networks and with University Consortia to perform national harvesting. In this context, RedCLARA offers administrative support and the necessary technical infrastructure. In order to sustain this effort, LA Referencia keeps regular practices and formal mechanisms for decision making among the associates.

The service offered by LA Referencia is a clear expression of the public policy agreements of the science and technology authorities of the countries that signed the agreement to create this initiative in November 2012, in Buenos Aires. The pilot was developed in 2013 and the service was opened at the end of the same year.

The main objective of LA Referencia is to provide open access to the regional scientific production, through a federated network between countries that promotes national strategies for open access repositories.

Some specific objectives are:

  • to develop a stable funding structure and stable decision making procedures, and to integrate new partners that share the same principles;
  • to make visible and to maximize the use and impact of the scientific production of Latin America;
  • to set standards and best practices for preservation, quality, and interoperability in information retrieval;
  • to generate projects that will facilitate value adding services, technological upgrading, and public policy articulation.

We believe that regional strategies help to:

  • increase the visibility and the access to Latin American scientific production, both on the national and international level;
  • mitigate the impact of the high cost of scientific journals in universities and technological and scientific organizations with fewer financial resources;
  • promote the development of open access repositories in countries that are at an early stage in this area;
  • generate an ample space to consolidate operational agreements and disseminate best practices in different areas (technical, institutional, public policy).

Our activities cover many areas. In short, every week we harvest the national nodes of each country which, in turn, collect the scientific production of that country. In this process we also validate and transform the metadata to improve interoperability at the international level. To improve the results of the regional collaboration, we employ statistical and diagnostic tools that help us to measure quality at different levels.

What has LA Referencia already achieved? What is its biggest success?

Institutional: There are a number of successful projects that stop operating when the grant comes to an end. In the literature this is called the “Valley of Death” in innovation. With efforts from many countries, institutions and people,  LA Referencia is today a self-supporting effort in essential operational terms, with formal mechanisms for decision making.

Innovation and service: Today it is an imperative to offer a viable and recurrent service. During the initial pilot only 3–4 countries were harvested recurrently. Today the reality is completely different. We have grown from 320.000 documents to almost 800.000; and in this process, countries and repositories are clearly improving their metadata quality. However, we still need to make some modifications to this process and to combine growth with quality improvement.

Technology: In 2014 we developed a “national” version of our platform. Our developments are basically located in the so called back-end (harvesting, validation, transformation) and in the statistics module. For the front-end we use the open source software VuFind. The version we use is adaptative (it works fine both for mobiles and tablets) and up to now has been installed in Peru and Ecuador.

What are your plans for the future?

Improving institutionalization, improving the quality of our services and of the information presented, improving the communication of open access strategies and developments in each country – these are all ongoing efforts. However, we see two areas with relevant challenges:

The associates of LA Referencia are national bodies of S&T. We need to agree on metadata standards for project IDs  in order to connect funding information with the scientific results. The majority of R&D in the region is financed with national public funds, so we must make sure that these results are available for all our citizens. This is a collaborative effort supported also by the recent national legislation in Argentina, Perú and México.

In the future, collaboration with relevant initiatives, projects, and organizations to make scientific literature repositories interoperable with data repositories. Especially for the so-called long tail of research data, and ,again, for data financed with public research funds.

Technical standards and metadata are very important for a successful repository network. Did implementation of these standards cause any problems? And if so, how were they solved?

In 2012 our technical group agreed on the strategy to adopt Driver 2 Guidelines in order to implement the pilot. This decision reflected the national realities, rather than being an answer to some problems “per se”. For example, some countries have adopted the guidelines from the very beginning. Others followed a strategy of adapting and updating their own guidelines. In all other cases, we worked country by country, implementing transformations either at the national or at the regional node.

This is an ongoing process. In some countries we continue to introduce transformations, while in others hardly any modifications were necessary. In any case, the chief achievement is that with this approach, national repositories are improving significantly, due to the adoption of common technical standards.

In addition, as I have already said, we have a set of tools for administrators that enables them to monitor the processes of metadata validation and transformation during harvesting; this allows them to identify problems with specific records or institutions.

There are no “silver bullets” for solving technical difficulties. It is a process of ongoing quality monitoring that must combine a general agreed strategy with local conditions.

Additional information