Friday, July 13, 2007

Embracing Electronic Scholarly Publishing In Africa; The Kwame Nkrumah University Of Science And Technology Library, Kumasi, Ghana As A Case Study

: Helena Asamoah-Hassan, Library, KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana
Time: 9:40 AM - 10:40 AM, 13 July 2007
Location: SFU Harbour Centre, Westcoast Energy Executive Meeting Room, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada


“the wind of ICT revolution…has also blown onto the continent”

Helena Asamoah-Hassan presented on her university library’s consideration of publishing a scholarly journal electronically. What follows is a case-study of their assessment, evaluation and conclusions. While a study of her particular library’s experience, her observations are relevant to e-publishing throughout Africa.

Demerits of Electronic Scholarly Publishing in Africa:

- lack of standardization
- lack of knowledge that many journals maintain both online and print versions and only a small proportion are strictly online
- few journals have put back issues online
- URLs change and crash
- lack of a permanent archive
- e-journal articles may not be recognized for promotion decisions

Merits of Electronic Scholarly Publishing in Africa:
- online access to journals
- ease and speed of use
- access available at anytime to multiple users
- embedded links add value to article
- articles may be available ahead of complete issue
- reduces space issues and labour costs at libraries
- multi-media options (sound, video etc) that unavailable with print

Both the merits and demerits have a strong relationship with libraries so it is logical that libraries get involved in publishing and work to find solutions to the demerits.

African Libraries as Electronic Publishers:
Africa produces a lot of scholarly journals and reports, most in print form. African researches, however, also need information from other parts of the world. While it is important to provide access to knowledge created elsewhere, it is more important to promote the creation of knowledge within Africa. Further, it is imperative that an avenue is created to disseminate this knowledge. Libraries are age-old conduits for information acquisition, repackaging and dissemination.

KNUST Library:
- consists of Main Library and 6 College Libraries.
- total stock ~320,000 volumes, 500 print and e-journal subscriptions as well as fee e-journals (mostly through INASP)
- in total ~19,000 e-journal titles for 22,000 students and 650 faculty and researchers

KNUST as Publisher:
- training programmes begun on setting up Institutional Repository (IR) with plans to set up an IR for KNUST with the server in the Main Library
- workshop held in Kumasi 23-24 November 2006 to introduce OJS to editors, grad students and IT administrators from 6 research institutions and 5 universities
- KNUST planning a multidisciplinary journal that will feature research reports, technical reports, theses, conference papers, articles and other scholarly communication between staff (this journal will be in addition to KNUST’s journal the Journal of Science and Technology (JUST) already featured in African Journals Online (AJOL)

KNUST must still decide:
1) whether to institute a referee system for the journal
2) whether to make journal online only or also produce a print version
3) whether to place copyright with library or author
4) amount of information to make freely available and timeframe for doing so
5) whether author role will differ from role in print publishing
6) what type of reading software to be used
7) whether services will be performed voluntarily, how to fund
KNUST is currently working on a budget so hopefully the journal will be able to launch by early next year.

Having been introduced to OJS, Helena Asamoah-Hassan then offered some comments and recommendations for PKP software in Africa. Generally, from her own experience and from conversations with others who had used the software, she indicated that it is considered user-friendly (not filled with technical jargon) with a logical process and built in guides that are easily understandable. She offered the following suggestions for PKP software in Africa:
1) Government approval of software from the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports is required in order for it to be used by institutions. Approval is more likely if the Ministry is approached by the software manufacturer and not the institutions.
2) A CD-ROM of the software would be valuable to institutions with no regular Internet access or slow bandwidth
3) Regular updates on developments and full training on the use of OJS after installment would be helpful
4) Training should be provided to core IT staff in each country
5) Software requires a regular automatic saving function given regular breaks in electricity
6) OJS developers should consider assisting in sourcing equipment support to interested institutions who lack basic equipment
7) Public relations work is need to demonstrate OJS software will last (skepticism attached to fact that it is free “too good to be true”)


Blogger's Blurb:
“The publisher of an Africa scholarly journal is faced with the rapid expansion of higher education and an increased number of disciplines. This results in many small niche markers of isolated scholars, who either look to the North for specialized journals or are tempted into creating one of their own.”
- Jaygbay, J. 2007 Jun 29. The Politics of and Prospects for African Scholarly Journals in the Information Age. Developments in Scholarly Publishing

Asamoah-Hassan’s presentation was followed with a presentation by Charles Kiven Wirsiy, Library Services, University of Buea, Cameroon. The presentations are closely related to the extent that Helena visited Cameroon to help launch the Consortium of Cameroon University and Research Libraries. Both presenters, and the libraries discussed, suffer from a dearth of information and resources and are constrained by small budgets. While electronic journals and open-access seem an ideal means of enabling small libraries to access a wealth of information, the disparity of the “digital divide” is evident in the African context. Access to computers and reliable Internet connections were noted by both presenters and scholars at the University of Buea now depend on their mobile telephones to download and Internet cafés play a crucial role. Both presenters however expressed optimism and interest in electronic journal publishing and open access. Crucial insight was offered on how to introduce software such as OJS despite fear, skepticism and the challenges of government bureaucracy in Africa. While global access to information is the ultimate vision and hope, both presentations highlighted that global access still requires knowledge of regional and cultural issues.

Thomas Abraham’s presentation on scholarly publishing in India raised many similar concerns and considerations. His discussion of customizing OJS software in Hindi and the potential to extend this to other Indian languages seems particularly relevant in the African context. While the coordination and sharing between the libraries in Ghana and Cameroon is promising, extending such dialogue to other countries outside of Africa, such as India, would not only be valuable for all involved but very much in the spirit of expanding lines of communication with the aim of improving the quality of information that underlies the Public Knowledge Project.

Related conference presentations:

On libraries
"Rethinking Collections: Libraries and Librarians in an Open Age", "Librarians as campus OA leaders: the University of Alberta experience", "The Library as a mediator for e-publishing. A case on how a library can become a significant factor in facilitating digital scholarly communication and open access publishing for less web savvy journals", "The National Library of Australia: open access to Open Publish", "A content management strategy – implementing OJS and OCS at Swinburne University library", "Beyond the Experiment: The Scholarly Publishing Office and the Maturation of Library-Based Publishing", "Survey of Librarian Attitudes about Open Access", "A Critical Theory of Library Technology: Libraries & Electronic Publishing"

On Africa
"Strengthening African Research Culture and Capacities Project", "Scholarly publishing in sub-Saharan Africa in the twenty-first century: challenges and opportunities", "Open Source Software in Education in Africa", "The State of Acquisition, Organization and Use of Open Access Information Resources in Cameroon University Libraries: The Case of the University of Buea and University of Yaounde I Libraries"


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