The evolution of technology has influenced several aspects of organizational life, placing information as the essential element to generate knowledge. Theorists and academicians talk of the current “information society”. This situation has taken us to an information society, where access to and use of ICTs have become basic tools for research in any field.

This has generated opportunities as well as challenges for libraries: the range of formats and media, the variety of contents and the way to access information (irrespective of geographical, language, or time barriers) are presented as challenges to libraries, which have been transformed by mainstreaming ICTs into their processes, thus they are able to provide the services and programs required and expected by current society.

CIAT library, coordinated by Elizabeth Campillo and Carlos Saa, has not been the exception and it has also evolved at the pace of major changes brought by ICTs, bearing in mind the budgetary constraints of recent years.

The transformation of CIAT library started with subscriptions to services that enabled access to online and printed documents. Through CGIAR, there was a subscription to Springer, which provided access to 51 titles. Back then, it was believed that a paper could only be read in printed format and since there was limited access to internet connection, people might not always be able to access the document if it was available only online. Paying for online and hardcopy subscriptions was expensive.

Later, in 2011, it was decided that CIAT library needed to reduce its physical space and change to a smaller venue. “We started disposing of books, first on the basis of avoiding duplicates and then, considering whether they were directly related to CIAT’s activities. Regarding journals, we analyzed which ones were already in the databases we had access to, which ones were online with an open access, and which ones were relevant to CIAT”, remembers Elizabeth Campillo. Thus, with the need for more space, hardcopy subscriptions were cancelled.

A total of 4,263 books were discarded through this process. Book donation campaigns were organized. First, they were offered to the CIAT community. Others were taken to the National University so they could be handed over to undergraduate students within the framework of the “adopt a book” program.

Less money, more information

With changes in budget and physical space availability, the focus was placed on online publications. This has allowed us to invest less financial resources, while securing a broader access to information through services such as Springer (access to more than 1,800 titles), Science Direct (up to 500 document downloads), and access to the whole Elsevier collection of books and journals. If documents are Open Access, users can download them directly. If they are restricted, users must send an email to and the requested document will be immediately sent to them.

In addition, there is a library consortium of CGIAR centers that provides access to documents; CIAT library is also part of the Agricultural Information and Documentation Service for the Americas (SIDALC, its Spanish initials), which “provides access to information produced in the Americas that is properly organized in Agricultural Institutions, its libraries, and other associated information centers. This partnership offers access to nearly 3.1 million references, including books, journals, thesis, and reports, as well as more than 240,000 full-text documents”.[1]

With this, it may be said that, although the number of discarded books was high, today the number of resources available online has expanded, which makes it easier for scientist to search autonomously the information they need and download it in their offices. This is evidenced by close to 15,000 annual downloads and, according to some data resulting from a recent survey about library services at CIAT:

  • 76% of surveyed researchers said they had visited the information resources link in the intranet.
  • 78% said they had used resources, such as the catalog, databases, journals, and electronic books.
  • 66% expressed they had used the electronic journals offered by the library.
  • 79% rated between 4 and 5 (with 5 being the maximum score) the quality of the services provided whenever they requested support from library staff.
  • 59% rated between 4 and 5 (with 5 being the maximum score) the usefulness of services and information resources offered by CIAT library for their research work.
  • 60% of the 61 journals regarded by researchers as very important for their work are currently available through subscriptions.

A common space for learning

With the reduction of the library’s physical space, the possibility had been lost of having spaces where users could study or concentrate exclusively in the search of information needed for their work. Such spaces are being recovered by the creation of the Learning Commons, where CIAT staff can find a place to change the everydayness of their office, without the need to make a reservation, and study, write, conduct searches, or meet with others.

“We want to highlight that CIAT library is still relevant to the Center, since it would not be possible to obtain successful outcomes from research without having background information about significant facts for those conducting research. In addition, many research projects that are to be presented to donors need updated information on topics touching CIAT’s mission”, says Carlos Saa, who has been working at the Center for 34 years, always in connection to the library.

This statement is evidenced by the results obtained in the survey, where 100% of respondents agreed that it is worth to continue modernizing and strengthening the CIAT library, for it to be able to offer its users more and better services and information resources. It is certainly a commitment we need to sustain to keep at the forefront of agricultural research to ensure future food sustainability.

[1] Web page of SIDALC:

How to search a book, journal, or document?

First, conduct the search in CIAT’s catalog (also indexed in Google).
If you find what you need and it is Open Access, you can download it; if not, you can send an email to and request them to send it to you.

If you do not find what you need, you can write to requesting for help. While the library does not purchase books or journals, these may be obtained through befriended libraries.


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