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Library Publishing in the Global South: Research in Progress

Published onApr 16, 2024
Library Publishing in the Global South: Research in Progress


Little is known about library publishing in the Global South which is varied in scale, format, and longevity. Library publishing is critical to the expansion of quality diamond open access that is robustly discoverable and properly preserved. The preliminary phase of a research project identified and analyzed Global South library publishers, and gathered data for publisher scale, geography, platform, format, and ethical best practices or other indications of external vetting.

1. Introduction and Background

Scholarly communications privileges the privileged. Diamond open access, particularly library publishing, is of critical importance globally and helps to mitigate low-quality, questionable, or predatory publishing [1] and otherwise foster opportunities for the Global South to overcome epistemic marginalization. The University of Cape Town’s library publishing program (Raju, Claassen, Pietersen, & Abrahamse, 2020) has been a leader in library publishing in the Global South since its inception yet little is known about library publishing in the South. Cape Town is well connected to the Global North-based library publishing community; however, how do other library publishers in the Global South fit into the landscape? Specifically, how do library publishers from the Global South, particularly those who are not members of the Library Publishing Coalition, or LPC, determine and execute their best practices?

Postcolonial conditions persist: the Global South continues to be excluded by Northern publishers and their products that measure impact (Bell, 2018; Clarivate, 2022; Huttner-Koros, 2015). Scholars in the South are also hobbled by neoliberalist conditions in their institutions, the domination of English as the lingua franca of scholarly publishing, and unaffordable APCs (article processing charges). Bibliodiversity ties to self-governance and is anti-colonial as is cooperation [6]. University presses in Nigeria are struggling because they function as isolated, for-profit operations [7]. Library publishing offers a solution (van Schalkwyk, 2017). Also, we need to remember that the South can have a different conception of journal publishing, emphasizing in-kind support rather than publishing expertise (Murray, 2023).

Library publishing continues to be overwhelming Northern. We need to better understand why. Is it an issue of resourcing, or an issue of awareness, or something else? New traction for diamond open access from COAlition S (Plan S, 2023), the European Union (Council of the EU, 2023), the 20th anniversary of the BOAI (Budapest Open Access Initiative) (Budapest Open Access Initiative, 2022), and others is helpful. Lastly, library publishing also supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (O’Neill, 2022).

Library publishing in the Global South is not a new topic. As early as 2009, library publishing was identified as critical to the South. Matthew Baker wrote:

Although many of the challenges to OA library publishing apply in any context, there are some particular challenges faced by libraries in the Global South (areas also referred to as the Third World), not only in gaining full access to available resources but in participating more fully as producers of information and knowledge. Overcoming these challenges is an ethical imperative, enshrined in many a library mission statement, with profound consequences for freedom of thought and expression, democracy, and sustainable development. (Baker, 2009)

2. Identifying Publishers and Leading Research Questions; Separation Issues

After a literature review which resulted in identifying one or two publishers, the author located a list of Global South countries and then performed extensive searching of downloaded spreadsheets of journal and publisher data, which was obtained principally from the LPC Directory, IFLA’s (International Federation of Library Associations) Library Publishing Map, DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals), and Web of Science. Unfortunately, few journals in PKP (Public Knowledge Project), home of the OJS (Open Journals System) platform, which is widely used in the South, are indexed in the Web of Science (Khanna, Ball, Alperin, & Willinsky, 2022). Ironically, Web of Science’s datasets are easily available. Publisher data from PKP is not directly available – filtering and searching by OJS’s data set by repository name would take endless hours. This is a huge impediment. In the process of working through the data, the author discovered that some known library publishers are identified only under the name of their university.

For future surveys or interviews, some of the leading research questions include: How do Southern library publishers learn about best practices, particularly if they are not affiliates or members of LPC? What are their practices, priorities, and values? How do they and other Southern institutional publishers collaborate and support each other?

When the author emailed the institutional repository (IR) manager at the University of Stellenbosch asking if they were a library publisher, they wrote back, “We do host a number of journals associated with Stellenbosch University. This is a free service, but we see ourselves as hosts rather than publishers.” As a result, the author realized that greater clarity was needed in defining and delineating library publishing in the context of this research. DIAMAS’s (Developing Institutional Open Access Publishing Models to Advance Scholarly Communication) study identifies similar distinctions. They divide Institutional Publishing Service Providers into institutional publishers and service providers to institutional publishers (DIAMAS, 2023a).

These boundaries are porous (DIAMAS, 2023b) and libraries can be both publishers and service providers. This raises questions about self-definition as a library publisher. It is possible that some libraries included in the LPC directory are hosts or digitizers of their physical collections and not publishers by the LPC definition which generally “requires a production process, presents original work not previously made available, and applies a level of certification,” (Library Publishing Coalition, n.d.). Using an IR to disseminate content further adds to the confusion.

3. Data Points and Future Survey / Interview Questions

Top-level data gathered included publication formats, quantities, platform(s), and editorial practices. The LPC directory proved to be a useful starting point. In the future, the author may also examine subject focus and language; open-access-related details, for example, APCs; partners and funding; indexing, persistent identifiers (PIDs), bibliometrics, and preservation. For future surveys and interviews, the author is particularly concerned about publisher best practices and training the publisher received for editorial and technical aspects of publishing, e.g., Journal Publishing Practices and Standards (AJOL & INASP, 2017).

Questions specific to publishers in the South include: Have you received training and other support from DOAJ and the DOAJ Ambassadors, do you know the new DOAJ / OASPA (Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association) journal toolkit (DOAJ & OASPA, 2023)? Have you received training and other support from INASP or Research4Life? Are you familiar with infrastructure-related resources like University Cape Town’s Continental Platform that provide not only hosting but also training? Do you partner with any NGOs (nongovernmental organizations)? Has predatory publishing affected you? For example, were authors afraid to submit because they were concerned that their institution would not accept publication in your journals? How does indigenous and local scholarship fit into your program? How do you address non-English publishing? Do national or institutional scholarly publishing requirements have any impact on your practices?

4. Summary of Publisher Site Data and Next Steps

Here is a summary of publisher site data: there were thirty-six library publishers or hosts in total with sixteen in Africa, fourteen in Asia, one in Bosnia, and five in Latin America. The geographic distribution may be skewed because the author did not have time to download country-specific data from SciELO. It is probable that more Latin American institutions will be uncovered. The author also took time to investigate African publishers based on articles written by the University of Cape Town’s librarians.

Almost all institutions were academic. At least eight were hosts-only or IRs. A fair number of publishers produce only a single journal, but the vast majority publish three or more journals. Only twelve publishers publish monographs. Four publishers were exclusively focused on library information science. Most publishers use OJS. Lastly, only one publisher is a member of the LPC.

The author investigated publisher statements related to ethical best practices or other indications of external vetting and found the following: Eleven publishers were included in national journal lists or national standards. Ten publishers referenced COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics) with only two referencing non-COPE international organizations. Four had their own ethics statements. And, concerningly, the majority made no reference to ethical best practices or external vetting.

The author seeks research partner(s) and, more importantly, research mentors to help with research design who can advise on qualitative research as well as sample size. Should the author start with a survey with open-ended questions or proceed immediately to semi-structured interviews? Would limits for the study’s scope be useful, e.g., focusing on journals only or one specific continent only? If readers of this article would like to work on this study or are otherwise able to assist, please contact the author at [email protected].

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