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About IReL

IReL FactSheet 2013



IReL the Irish Research eLibrary is a nationally funded electronic research library, initially conceived to support researchers in Biotechnology and Information Technology in mid-summer 2004, and following on the success of this, expanded in 2006 to support research in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

High-level research is both an academic and a national economic imperative, the essential component of a strategy to develop a knowledge-based economy and to position Ireland as a world leader in this respect. As a result of initiatives funded by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) through the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions (PRTLI), and projects funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) there has been a major enhancement in the research profile of the Irish universities.

In response to an invitation from SFI transmitted via the Conference of Heads of Irish Universities (CHIU, since renamed the Irish Universities Association, IUA), the university librarians submitted a proposal in June 2002 for the development of an electronic library, or research information resource. This proposal envisaged that the electronic library would be established on a consortium basis and available to the research community throughout the sector. Following favourable approval, IReL began in the summer of 2004 concentrating on resources to support biotechnology, and information and communications technology. This first (STM) phase of IReL continued until December 2009.

The success of the Science, Technology & Medicine (STM) phase of IReL resulted in the funding by HEA of a second phase of IReL to run from 2006 to 2009 to support the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) a major boost to researchers in these areas.

In 2009 additional funds were made available for the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and the Institutes of Technology. The funding arrangements of IReL are described here.

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What is available?

IReL delivers quality peer-reviewed online research publications journals, databases and index & abstracting services, as well as ebooks - direct to the desktop of researchers wherever they are located. Link to IReL holdings as of April 2013

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Why a national approach?

A number of factors support the value of a national as opposed to an institutional approach to acquiring e-resources:

  • the inability of individual institutions to bear the cost of comprehensive information provision;
  • the collaborative cross-institutional and cross-disciplinary nature of the various research initiatives;
  • the advantage of economies of scale from consortium purchasing
  • the advantage of economies of scale from centralised negotiation and administration, especially in view of the highly flexible pricing of the resources;
  • the need to make the resource available to researchers across the sector, regardless of the institution in which they are based

In addition to ensuring Irelands competitive advantage for access to high quality research, the benefits of IReL are available to all students and staff in the universities, RCSI and the Institutes of Technology. This is particularly important in instilling a research culture at undergraduate level and is making a significant contribution to Government policy as recommended by the OECD.

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How IReL is managed

The IUA Librarians Group has overall responsibility for the collaborative project, and commits a significant proportion of existing resources to run it. IReL is managed by IRIS Electronic Information Services Ltd, a company owned by the universities - with the assistance of the IReL Steering Group (ISG). IRIS and the ISG work closely with the contracted negotiators to acquire agreed content at the best possible rates and at the most favourable licensing conditions for IReL member libraries.

The IReL Monitoring Group was established to monitor the performance of IReL Resources, to promote IReL, and advise the IUA and IReL Steering Group. This includes actions deemed necessary to maintain adequate and appropriate coverage of resources in response to the changing needs of researchers. The Monitoring Group has also published a number of reports, some of which can be downloaded from here.

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Success of IReL

Researchers in Irish universities now have access to a world-class electronic library service comparable to any such service in the international research community. The range and quality of publications available through IReL compares favourably to what is available in some of the leading research libraries, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Columbia University and Imperial College London.

It is heavily used

Since the release of the first resources in 2005, millions of journal articles have been downloaded each year.  Researchers and students have also made excellent use of the databases and ebook collections, performing close to 3.9 million searches in 2012 and consulting over 3.5 million ebook sections over the last five years.

The chart below shows the aggregated usage of all monitored (approximately 94% by value) IReL resources (including ebooks, ejournals and databases, both HSS and STM resources) between 2005 and 2012, combining searches and downloads. The statistical information was collected by the Monitoring Group.

Usage of IReL resources 2005-2012


Impact factors

The following table shows how many of the top 20 highest ranked journals, based on their 2012 ISI Journal Impact Factors, IReL offers for a selection of research areas (as at June 2013).

Research interest area:Of the top 20 highest ranked titles IReL offers:% top 20 titles accessible
Biomedical Engineering 18 90%
Biochemical Research Methods 18 90%
Biotechnology and Applied Microbiology 16 80%
Chemical Engineering 18 90%
Computer Science - Information Systems & Software Engineering 17 85%
Surgery 14 70%
History 16 80%
Economics 9 45%
Law 19 95%
Mathematics 13 65%
Psychology - Multidisciplinary 16 80%
Geography 19 95%

Findings of the Impact Survey 2009

The IReL Monitoring Group conducted a survey between 25th of March and 9th of April 2009, targeting researchers and students at the seven Irish universities and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. The aim of this study was to gain a deeper understanding of the impact that IReL has had on research, the nature of usage and any suggestions for improvement.
This representative survey (with a response rate of 37%, twice the 2007 response rate) highlighted the paramount role IReL plays in the everyday life of researchers in Ireland. IReL has enabled faster access to a wider range of publications, enhanced research in a multidisciplinary context and had a positive effect on the competitiveness of research output as a whole. Beyond the primary purpose of research, respondents felt that the service has helped them to enhance teaching and undergraduate learning, and helped institutions forge successful partnerships.

It has also become clear from the survey, that IReL has evolved into a tool without which it is impossible to conduct research effectively in Ireland. Invited to comment on how any discontinuation of IReL would affect their work, respondents expressed grave concern at such a possibility.

To read the full report, please click here.

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What the researchers think

See Testimonials

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How to access IReL

Although it is possible to link to publishers web sites from this site, via Lists of the Resources, in order to obtain its full functionality, users are advised to access IReL via their university library website as follows:

List of University Library Websites
Dublin City University
National University of Ireland, Galway
National University of Ireland, Maynooth
University College Dublin
University College Cork
University of Dublin, Trinity College
University of Limerick

All of the libraries offer off-campus access, which means that wherever researchers or students are located they can access a world of knowledge - delivered via IReL.

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The future of IReL

The objective of IReL is ambitious. The purpose is to provide common access to electronic resources for all IReL members. In so doing there will be clear benefits not just for researchers and research projects, but also for those whose objective it is to attract researchers of the highest international calibre to make Ireland and Irish research institutions their preferred location

IReL currently serves the 7 Irish universities, the RCSI, and for a limited number of resources, the Institutes of Technology.


The initial (STM) phase of IReL was jointly funded by the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the HEA. The HSS phase is funded entirely by the HEA. Total state investment in the first 5 years of IReL provision was more than €35 million. Budgets are under pressure in line with all public funding and achieving value for money for all resources continues to be imperative.

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An initiative of the IUA Librarians

Dublin City University

I think IReL is a huge joint achievement of the HEA, IUA & SFI and in particular the libraries of the institutions involved.
Dr Enda McGlynn, Dublin City University

Read more Testimonials

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