University of Vermont

Laurie Kutner

Library associate professor

Laurie Kutner

Whether studying utopian communities or the mating rituals of the Resplendent Quetzal, people have been traveling to Monteverde, Costa Rica for decades to conduct original, primary research. In fact, the small, mountain community is a research hot spot for scholars from across the disciplines.

But it's the location's shortcomings — specifically what it can't offer researchers studying there — that make it particularly fascinating to UVM library associate professor Laurie Kutner.

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Kutner spent six months of 2007 living in Monteverde while on sabbatical, researching the research community itself in an attempt to find out how scholars access the secondary sources they need when conducting primary research in the more remote locations of the world.

A "paradox of access"

Kutner's research found that those who have the least access are the independent researchers living full-time in Monteverde, publishing cutting-edge articles in journals like Science and Nature. Those with the most access are the students studying abroad for a semester or less.

"The overarching theme of everything I'm doing," Kutner says, "is global information inequality — the challenges that most of the world faces in terms of getting information, any kind of information, and how that really affects the larger society."

With a strong desire to be more than just another researcher, Kutner made it a part of her sabbatical goals to incorporate service into her work in Monteverde. That opportunity came in the form of a library project at the Monteverde Institute, which she used as her base of operations.

When Kutner discovered that the institute's library holdings were not catalogued and had no digital presence, she knew she could help.

So Kutner created a website for the library, and, with the help of two graduate students from Syracuse University, she created a digital library of free and publicly available Monteverde-based research.

Organizing all of those documents in one place, Kutner feels, is perhaps her single greatest contribution to the information world. "There was a lot of immediate appreciation for that," she recalls, "which was really cool."