Prof Dr Akram Shaikh: Man behind the task to digitize information resources at PASTIC
By Team Technology Times
Prof Dr M Akram Shaikh is the Director General of PASTIC National Centre, Pakistan Science Foundation. He did his MS in Software Engineering in 2000 from University of Huddersfield (UK), and PhD in 2008 on HEC scholarship from Tsinghua University Beijing, China. Dr Akram is also a member of HEC National Curriculum Committee, PEC Accreditation Committee and Board of Studies Committees of various universities. In a detailed interview with Technology Times he shared his vision about the digitization of PASTIC
Technology Times: What is your experience about higher education in China?
PROF DR AKRAM SHAIKH: I went to China on HEC scholarship, as you know that was the time when doors of US and European universities were shut on us. Even in China some of Pakistani students were not allowed to work in their classified labs. But now the things have improved and access to educational institutes worldwide has been allowed. The period I was mentioning was exactly after the 9/11. In China there is a huge language barrier. Thanks to HEC; they sent us to those institutes where beside Chinese, English was also medium of instructions. Chinese language is very difficult and understanding the technical Chinese language is further more difficult.
Did you not raise this issue with HEC?
HEC officials gave us a good response whenever we informed them about any issue. But the teaching in China was really good. I had observed one thing there that they have one medium of teaching (Chinese) irrespective of the subject and field. They are also very quick in translating science and technology books published in US and Europe. And all this is done under copyrights. Let me also add here that Chinese have 100 percent commitment with their job. When I was studying in China there was no restriction on us and we could work 24 hours in the labs and even on weekends you can work. This culture needs to be promoted in Pakistan where it is difficult to work in a lab after the working hours and in case of weekends it is more difficult.
Tell us about PASTIC.
PASTIC stands for Pakistan Scientific and Technological Information Centre which is the premier organization in the field of SandT information management and dissemination that serves as a gateway for access to and delivery of SandT information catering to the needs of research and development workers in all areas of science and technology. The users of PASTIC includes researchers, entrepreneurs, academicians, scientists, engineers, industrialists, policy makers and planners. Its mandate is to collect process and disseminate scientific and technological information among SandT and RandD community of the country. It has evolved from erstwhile Pakistan National Scientific and Technical Documentation Centre (PANSDOC) which was established in 1957 under Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR) to provide the scientific community with such support services as the procurement of documents, compilation of bibliographies, abstracting and indexing services and technical translation. Later on in 1974 PANSDOC was transferred from PCSIR to Pakistan Science Foundation and was renamed as Pakistan Scientific and Technological Information Centre (PASTIC). After transfer to Pakistan Science Foundation, its scope and facilities were expanded. Establishment of PANSDOC/PASTIC at that time was a big initiative as there were difficulties in getting access to the information. Senior people informed us that in the old days it was very difficult to get Ph.D as access to information was difficult and setting up of PASTIC helped many of them. Once when I went to University of Bahawalpur and met its Vice Chancellor, he highly appreciated the PASTIC roll in serving the research community.
Have you modernized your services?
Yes, we have modernized our services. We are using information and communication technologies for dissemination of our services. We are using electronic means for rendering our services such as Document Supply Service, Bibliographic Information Service, and Literature Search/Literature Surveys. We have developed indigenous databases which have strengthened our information infrastructure and resources. Besides we have compiled and published reference information publications in the form of databases by using information technology. These publications serve as reference information tools which are available and accessible to our users through internet and being used directly by scientific and RandD community for fulfilling their information needs. We regularly subscribe many online international databases so that we could provide up-to-date information to our clients. We are doing all of our work in a scientific way. We want to make changes for a complete turnaround but this kind of revamping requires capacity building. We are planning to initiate new projects for revamping and capacity building of PASTIC. We are employing latest tools to meet the requirement of our clients.
Did PASTIC only base in Islamabad?
No, we are also based at provincial headquarters and other cities. PASTIC Head Office is based at Islamabad and housed in its own building at Quaid-i-Azam University campus, Islamabad whereas its regional centre are working at Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, Faisalabad and Muzaffarabad. We also want to have our sub centre at Gilgit Baltistan but due to lack of funds we have not yet managed to set it up. But it will be opened soon. We are also in process of establishing our information Kiosks/Cells in the selected universities throughout the country where there is no any PASTIC sub centre nearby.
Do you only disseminate information available internationally or also promote local knowledge?
We collect, procure and disseminate scientific and technical information generated, published and available anywhere in the world. We have established liaison with local, regional and international SandT information agencies/networks for exchange and procurement of information. We also liaise and interact with regional and international counterpart organizations and SandT information dissemination Centres. We also collect and disseminate the information generated and published locally. We have developed linkages with local libraries for sharing of their information resources. We have also developed indigenous information databases for this purpose. We have also signed Memorandum of Understanding with LEJ National Science Information Centre, University of Karachi and other institutions for information exchange and resource sharing in order to facilitate the scientific community. We are also expending this kind of resource sharing with other universities and RandD organizations.
How do you set your priorities?
We have a process to do that. We organize an annual conference in June or July at closing of financial year in which we review our activities carried out during the past year and set targets and plans for the coming financial year and the main ones are prioritized. The tasks pertaining to development and strengthening of information resources and modernizing our services are prioritized as fulfilling the information needs of our clients are the first priority. Besides we holds meeting of our sectional heads on fortnightly basis in which we constantly review our year targets and routine activities. During these meetings new proposals are also looked into. We set our priorities through this process of continuous reviewing of our activities and progress.
What are the services your organization provide to scientific community
Our major service is document supply service under which we provide copies of research articles, conference papers, patents, report and other scientific documents to scientists and research and development workers on their demand. Besides we also provide the abstracts of research papers on different topics. Facility of literature research/survey is also provided to students and research worker. We also provide the consultancy service to researcher and RandD workers in getting their invention patented. Guidance is provided to them for filling and filing the patent applications. Awareness seminars on intellectual property rights issues are also organized for creating awareness on IPRs among scientists and RandD Workers. Reference and referral services are also available at PASTIC library. We also provide printing services to science and technology and RandD organizations of the country.
Do you provide your services at subsidized rate?
Yes, some of our services are provided a subsidized rate, while some are free of cost. Document supply service is provided at highly subsidized rate as compare to actual cost of procurement of documents/reprint of article. Whereas Bibliographic Information service/literature search is provided free of cost. We have a printing section namely Reprographic Unit rendering printing services to SandT organizations and education institutions. We intend to run this unit on commercial basis so that some funds may be generated. We are in process of commercialization printing services through public private partnership programme.
Is there any foreign funding available to PASTIC?
At present no any foreign funding is available to us. However, we are in process of establishing liaison with international information network/agencies and counterpart organization for initiating collaborative projects and information exchange programmes. We are focal point of some regional and international organizations such as SAARC Documentation Centre (SDC), WHO/CEHANET, IFAP/UNESCO. We are planning to submit some project for foreign funding.
Who are your clients?
All the RandD organizations, faculty and students of higher education institutions, professionals of information technology, agriculture, environment and health sector, government departments, business and industrial community, Investors, entrepreneurs and libraries are the major clients of PASTIC services.
How do you help versities?
We provide scientific and technological information support services to all scientist, research workers, students of the universalities in the form of research papers, scientific documents which need to complete their research project and studies. We conduct literatures search and surveys for students and researchers of the universities for review of literature available in their respective disciplines. We compile and publish reference information publication to be used by scientists, RandD workers and students as reference information tools for accessing and locating the relevant information. We provide patent information services to RandD workers of universities and provide them guidance for filling and filing the applications for grant of patents. We have initiated a university industry partnership programme for interaction between universities and industries and providing them forum to find ways and means for commercialization of research carried out by universities.
Does it mean that you are acting as a bridge to help the industry?
Yes, information plays a potential role in research as well as in developmental activities particularly industrial development; therefore it is also used by industrial sector for growth of industry, value addition in products, business development, and enhancing exports. Therefore, PASTIC is in process of developing linkages with industrial sector through Chambers of Commerce and Industry for bridging the gap between industry and research institutions and promotion of research and development culture in the country. These linkages are necessary for bringing together academia and industry for close relation between research objectives and industry priorities and promoting indigenous technologies. This initiative of PASTIC will go a long way in developing industrial research culture and empowering the industrial sector with innovations leading to the promotion of competitiveness, productivity and socio economic development.
What kind of other services are provided by PASTIC to local universities?
We organize our information service stalls from time to time at different universities with a view to provide SandT information services at the door step of universities. Besides we are in process of establishing our information Kiosks/Cells at 16 different universities of Pakistan. This programme will be materialized after the approval and execution of one of our development project which have been already submitted to Government for approval. We help universities by providing training to their library and information professionals in modern information handling techniques for automation of their libraries and information source sharing. We also arrange foreign training for their library staff.