SFU library unrolls free access for local non-profits

The Community Scholars Program will offer the groups scholarly publications and library support

Although scholarly research is readily available to students and professors, it remains highly inaccessible to anyone outside the university. A new program launched through the SFU library intends to change this.

The Community Scholars Program, offered in partnership with the United Way of the Lower Mainland and the Mindset Social Innovation Foundation, will give 500 individuals from non-profit organizations from across British Columbia access to the scholarly publications by six publishers as well as research support from the library.

Librarian Heather De Forest, who is coordinating the program, notes that many of these non-profits are doing their own research in the community and the program will help to strengthen that research.

She said that a single journal article can cost around $35.

Participants have told us that without this program, they are not able to pay for the articles that they need,” she said. “It’s simply not affordable, so they are shut out.”

A successful pilot program was offered from January to December 2016, where 100 participants had access to the materials of two publishers. There has been interest and engagement from both high profile and local organizations, with many offering to support each other in finding and using research.

De Forest said she is excited for the expansion, which will offer SFU a chance to build deeper connections with the community.

Starting in September, the program, which is currently taking applications, will help non-profits that are engaged in work on various social and environmental issues, as well as those doing legal and human rights work and those working on projects in arts and culture.

In addition to access to scholarly publications online through a portal similar to the one students access, participants will have access to physical resources at the library, and consultations with a librarian.

The program also offers workshops, events, and journal clubs for participants if they are interested. However, De Forest says there are no expectations of participation in workshops, as they recognize “that our participants are very busy, and this program is meant to make things easier, not to add to their burden.”

Although she is unaware of any similar programs at other universities, De Forest says there are many initiatives to make scholarly research more accessible, such as UBC’s Downtown Eastside Learning Exchange, which make scholarly research and educational programming more accessible to Downtown Eastside residents.

She also noted that those without a university affiliation wishing to do academic research can access the majority of the SFU library’s collections on-site as a guest.

The current phase of the program runs until the end of the calendar year, but De Forest said it will likely extend beyond that with agreement from stakeholders.

Thus far, over 200 non-profit and charitable organizations have registered for the program.

SHARE