Online Research Center hits One Million Searches per month

The Online Research Center has seen over 1 million searchers performed each month since January 2018, a remarkable achievement considering its very humble background.

In 2014, RADAR’s former Periperi U programme coordinator, Vimbai Chasi, saw an opportunity during her meetings at the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) in Geneva, Switzerland. UNISDR mentioned that it was about to dismantle and recycle its global library of hard-copy resources accumulated since the 1990s. Seizing an opportunity, Vimbai initiated discussions between RADAR and UNISDR to redirect the materials to South Africa. This set in motion a process, where, along with the Stellenbosch University Central Library Information Systems staff, RADAR reconceptualised the UNISDR materials to form the basis of Periperi U’s Online Research Centre (ORC).

UNISDR shipped 5439kgs of materials to Stellenbosch, South Africa, where the Cape Winelands District Municipality’s Disaster Management offices in Stellenbosch graciously provided temporary space for storage and sorting.  The hardcopy materials were sorted by relevance to the disaster risk field, document type (books, book chapters, reports, theses, guidelines, journal articles, newsletters etc.) and online status.

During the sorting process, RADAR researchers discovered that the shipment included many seminal pieces. Some dated back to the 1970s and represented the only hard copies in existence. To make these and other materials accessible online, the RADAR team digitised approximately 180 000 pages from 1350 items, retaining only the most important hardcopies. 300 duplicate books were then shipped to Periperi consortium members across the African continent.

In January 2016, the Online Research Centre went live, with steadily increasing traffic on the site. To date, there have been more than eight million searches and over 500000 PDFs downloaded from the platform. In January 2019 alone, there were a record-breaking 1086486 searches performed!

In keeping with a commitment to improve access to Africa-based disaster risk research, RADAR is increasingly providing access to post-graduate thesis abstracts from African universities. For instance, in 2018, RADAR was approached by the Federal University of Technology in Minna, Nigeria to include thesis abstracts from its postgraduate students. RADAR expanded this to include its own abstracts of theses as well as those from its predecessor, the Disaster Mitigation for Sustainable Livelihoods Programme (DiMP). In less than 12 months, these abstracts have been downloaded 21900 times, proving to be some of our most highly sought-after resources.

This initiative creates an important opportunity to amplify the research and profile of emerging African researchers, scientists and academics. It also illustrates the collaborative synergies between SU's Library and centres that are custodians of specialist subject domains. The five-year journey that began in 2014 has allowed RADAR to embrace new opportunities and technologies – but also conserve and make easily accessible historic risk-related knowledge.