Toward a Canadian National License to the Cochrane Library

Calling all Canadians!

The Canadian Cochrane Network and Centre (CCNC) has created an online petition asking the federal government of Canada to purchase a national license to the Cochrane Library, a cornerstone of evidence based medicine, that includes their famous collection of “gold standard” systematic reviews of health interventions.

The Cochrane Library, as health librarians will know, is one of the top go-to resources when a patient or professional has questions about treatments for a health condition, among other uses. Tens of thousands of Canadians access the abstracts but cannot get the full-text each year.

According to the CCNC, half the world’s population already has free access to the library, as access is free in “the world’s poorest countries” and several other countries already purchase national access to the resources (Australia, England, Finland, Ireland, India, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Poland, Scotland, Spain, Sweden and Wales – and there is currently a movement toward pan-European licensing as well).

Some Canadian provinces already provide universal access, or access to all affiliated health care professionals, but a national license would increase equity in access to health information. Due to economies of scale, a national license would cost only 1.5 cents per Canadian each year – much more efficient than our current patchwork system of provinces, universities, libraries, etc. buying licenses for only their users.

Similar to how many electronic resource licenses are being negotiated at increasingly aggregated levels (local postsecondary consortia, provincial networks, regional library councils…), national licensing just makes sense – particularly for geographically disparate smallish populations like Canada, and for resources that are highly valuable to the public as well as expert users.

The Canadian Health Libraries Association / Association des bibliothèques de la santé du Canada has endorsed the petition, writing:

The Cochrane Library is universally recognized as one of the best sources of high-quality, research-based clinical information that exists. However, at present, there is inequitable access to this resource in our country. The first line of the Canadian Health Libraries Association/Association des bibliothèques de la santé du Canada (CHLA/ABSC) statement of values reads: “CHLA/ABSC members believe that informed decisions should be based on the best knowledge available”. To that end, CHLA/ABSC endorses this petition circulated by the Canadian Cochrane Network and Centre to garner support for government-funded national licensing of this essential resource.

With access to the Cochrane Library, CHLA/ABSC believes that all Canadians – health care professionals, policy members, and the general public alike – will be in a better position to make ‘informed decisions based on the best knowledge available.’ Such licensing would move Canada one step closer to establishing a National Network of Libraries for Health (NNLH), an endeavour our Association, working through its NNLH Taskforce, has committed much time and many resources.

The petition is open for signing until May 8, so please do go sign it.

I would also encourage you to pass it along to other lists, organizations – if you have a connection with your provincial art therapists, speech-language pathologists, etc., they may readily see the value of universal access to the Cochrane Library.

I know it’s hard to know if online (or any) petitions do any good, but recent Canadian experience with copyright reform seems to indicate that they might sway political will.

And, for the USAmericans out there, is there any talk of US National licensing of such resources? I’d love to know. I haven’t heard any, but I am not exactly in the MLA loop these days.



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