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Library publishing as an alternative model for the advancement of African scholarship

Published onApr 16, 2024
Library publishing as an alternative model for the advancement of African scholarship


African knowledge production rate remains low, compared to other parts of the world. The challenge has been restricted access to current scholarly debates, resulting in minimal research output. Compounding this access challenge is prejudice within scholarly communication processes exerted by publishers, toward African authors. Using a case study, a solution has emanated from the University of Cape Town Libraries (South Africa) with the library publishing service model. Through this alternative social justice-driven publishing model, a continent-wide open access publishing platform is available to all African institutions. With the result, increased African scholarship can be created and disseminated globally, thereby contributing to transforming the rate of knowledge production.

Rumbidzai Chisenga (2019) indicates that African knowledge production should be “… knowledge that reflects who we are, knowledge that acknowledges where we are, knowledge that empowers us to get to the future we desire and knowledge that begets knowledge”. It is through unrestricted access to knowledge that further knowledge production occurs, which had been the vision of the open access movement written in the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) (Chan et al., 2002). However, as a continent, Africa’s knowledge production rate remains low despite the vision of the BOAI that open access will result in an increase in access to global scholarly content. This is evident in the number of African journals available in the Directory of Open Access Journals. In February 2022, there were 268 journals which represented 1.5% of the total indexed journals. In May 2023 this number had increased to 379 journals, representing nearly 2% of the more than 20,000 journals in the Directory.

Herb and Schöpfel (2018, p. 9) argue that it is not merely that access to knowledge remains a challenge, but it is compounded by the control and governance of the scholarly communication and scientific processes exerted by global north publishers. Concurring with the authors, Knöchelmann (2021, p. 66) opines that solving the accessibility of knowledge, through open access, is a myth as it does not democratise it, but rather it embeds a dominant global north driven landscape. Asaolu (2020) states, “those [publishers] who make the rules control the market … to the advantage of Western systems and institutions”. These scholarly communication processes include geographical bias, which prevent African researchers from getting their scholarly work published. In a blogpost, Kia Mackey states that “Researchers often find themselves getting rejections with no feedback. That's the way many journals work. But researchers in Africa believe they face an additional hurdle: prejudice within the scientific community about the calibre of research on the continent” (Mackey, 2021). This unconscious (or at times conscious) bias against African researchers, compounded by the lack of access to current scholarship and other socio-economic barriers on the continent, are contributing factors which impede the growth of Africa’s knowledge production rate.

At this point, questions can be asked: What would be a solution to the ongoing inequalities in knowledge production and contribute to disrupting the global north driven publishing landscape? How can there be an increase in access to knowledge and minimise other inherent barriers in Africa? Raju and others are of the opinion that it is through the alternative publishing service of library publishing that marginalised researchers can have opportunities to create and publish local knowledge, ‟This publishing service promotes social justice and the inclusion of African researchers and research output into mainstream research processes” [7].

An exemplar of the impact of this alternative publishing service is demonstrated through the University of Cape Town (UCT) Libraries’ library publishing service, which started in 2015 and has published seven open access journals and 25 monographs and textbooks.

Three local monographs and textbooks should be highlighted. The one monograph is a drama book that has been written in one of the local languages in South Africa, called Sesotho. This drama book is targeted for high schoolers, who can finally read text in their mother tongue. This Sesotho monograph (published in November 2020) has been downloaded more than 3800 times, including in Asian countries like Japan and India. Looking at the two textbooks, the one is a marketing to South African consumers (published in 2021) and the other is a South African constitutional law for students textbook (published 2020). The marketing textbook has had over 30 000 downloads and the constitutional law textbook over 160 000 downloads, with most downloads taking place during examination periods. The constitutional law textbook has been downloaded by 154 countries outside South Africa.

This library publishing service at UCT Libraries is underpinned by social justice and philanthropic principles, which is aligned to the University of Cape Town’s strategic goal of social responsiveness. Understanding the barriers on the continent that prevent the sharing of African scholarship, the library has developed an open access continental publishing platform, known as the African Platform for Open Scholarship, for all African universities and research institutes. Currently there are five African countries represented on the continental platform, with nine institutions (and six more institutions participating shortly). The library as publisher service practices diamond open access and provides training to other African universities which want to publish on the continental platform. Skills development includes building capacity for library staff who would like to provide the library as publisher service at their institution, as well as to editorial teams who want to publish local African scholarship.  The platform is one instance of Open Journal Systems and of Open Monograph Press and uses a tenant model for each African institution to showcase the scholarship that emanates from their own institution.

This tenant model means that each institution’s ‘look and feel’ is reflective of their own branding, logos, internet address as well as the languages that their researchers choose to publish in. This demonstrates that individual universities would take ownership of growing their own scholarship that is published by their researchers. The Association of African Universities endorsed the continental platform in 2021 and will partner with UCT Libraries to provide train-the-trainer skills development over the five regions of Africa.

Thus, the creation of a continental publishing platform addresses some of the systemic inequalities in the publishing landscape by creating opportunities to advance diversity of African scholarship, as well as being inclusive of many African voices. Library publishing can contribute to disrupting the current publishing ecosystems by providing this alternative means to publish, thereby accelerating the growth of African knowledge production, which will be accessible to everyone.

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