The Fellows Journal is a forum for the current Library Publishing Coalition fellows to share their experiences and raise topics for discussion within the community. Learn more about the Fellowship Program.
“It is my assertion that library publishing programmes should be guided by the possibility of realizing the field’s immense potential for growth and development of the African continent. The need for a social justice driven library publishing agenda must be at the epicentre of this development process.”
It is not the norm to begin with a disclaimer, however, in this instance it is necessary given that the larger readership of this blog is from the global north. This blog is written through a global south lens; a lens that has a deep affiliation to the fundamental principles of open access and that the sharing of research results is essential for the furtherance of research and the growth and development of society.
I was fortunate enough, as a fellow of the LPC, to attend the 2018 forum meeting. What I was longing to hear at the meeting, and maybe naively so, was discussion on the exploitation of this relatively new library service to radically improve the distribution of research results for the growth and development of society. It was clearly evident that we have two different parallels, though not mutually exclusive. One which is driven by the desire to improve visibility of authors and their work and the other which is driven by the desire to improve accessibility through openly sharing for the growth and development of society. In the former, the measurement of success is citation count while the latter is socio-economic impact. Citation count for research has a relatively high degree of maturity while the latter is barely at a fledgling stage.
The lens from which I view the roles and responsibilities of libraries in the delivery of a publishing service is driven by the single ambition: to share desperately needed scholarly literature freely with all, especially with those from the global south who are deprived of critical information, be it for research or growth and development purposes, due to exorbitant subscription costs. This financial barrier together with the high cost of internet access (one of the highest in the world) are major challenges for Africans. Other challenges such as frequent power outages and poor IT infrastructure are part of a myriad of challenges that make access near impossible – these challenges perpetuate poverty and doom and gloom for a continent that is so rich in natural resources–including an abundance of human resources. It is my assertion that library publishing programmes should be guided by the possibility of realizing the field’s immense potential for growth and development of the African continent. The need for a social justice driven library publishing agenda must be at the epicentre of this development process. Hence, my focus in this blog post is on diamond open access library publishing, that is, where there is no cost to the reader nor the author. The publishing service is part of the suite of services provided by the library.
There is a commonly held view that research is only complete when the results of that research are widely distributed for use by other researchers or by society at large. When research becomes inaccessible to researchers or the public at large then the purpose of conducting research becomes invalid, the purpose is negated, the purpose is violated. Hence, the new service of ‘library as publisher’ becomes ever more critical especially for those in the global south. My support for not chasing citation in lieu of societal benefit is driven my Africaness.
The library’s capacity to feed this societal impact is momentous. There is a need for libraries to grab this opportunity and make this service their own. The opportunity to embed the principles of social justice in this service is colossal. The need for libraries to optimise their roles as publishers is succinctly captured in the open access statement of IFLA (2011) which states that it “is committed to the principles of freedom of access to information and the belief that universal and equitable access to information is vital for the social, educational, cultural, democratic, and economic well-being of people, communities, and organizations”. It is my contestation that libraries have a moral obligation to sharing information with the widest possible audience and giving realization to, amongst others, championing the social justice/Ubuntu principles that accompany access to information.
This sharing of scholarly information is advanced by, amongst others, the open access movement. This movement is driven by the philanthropic purpose that sharing of research output is essential for the betterment of society. In rolling out this noble cause, the social justice imperative, located within the movement, was destined to disrupt the current commercial publishing model.
It is my view that Ubuntu and social justice carry through this philanthropic purpose and are the unheralded pillars of open access, as both of them advance sharing for the eradication of information poverty and information unfairness. The open access movement is guided by the principle that information, an absolute necessity for any level of growth and development, must be made freely available to all end users. Social justice challenges structures that perpetuate poverty and injustice through the eradication of information poverty and injustice; and open access is the conduit used for this eradication. Ubuntu advances communal justice en route to promoting an egalitarian society. The principles of fairness and justice underpin both Ubuntu and social justice. Academic libraries, be it through a global north lens or through an African lens, have been rolling out open access services to ensure information is made freely accessible to the widest reading audience possible. Some academic libraries are now offering a ‘library as a publisher’ service to take scholarly information to all parts of the ‘global village’. This service brings to the fore and consolidates the social justice imperative of open access. Researchers, in this growing service model, are supported in their desire to share their research output for the growth of research and to find solutions to the myriad of challenges that beset society. Improved access to information will ensure that all sections of the ‘village’ can contribute to the growth and development of the ‘global village’.
It is imperative that African academic libraries take ownership of the ‘library as publisher service’ to champion the return to philanthropic principles of sharing research, that is, sharing for the growth and development of science and society. This diamond open access publishing service must be driven by a social justice agenda which will bring ‘livingness’ to the principles of sharing research for the growth and development of society.
Without denying the significance of citation and journal impact and the subsequent influence on tenure and promotion, it is my deep desire to focus on the societal impact of research. Social justice is not about the free flow of information from the global north to the global south; it also includes the free flow of information from the global south to the north, but more importantly, the free information within and among global south institutions.
Libraries have the golden opportunity to make the ‘library as a publisher’ service their own. Libraries have the opportunity of adding value to their services by playing a more prominent role in the hosting, or publishing, of journals and monographs. The Library Publishing Coalition has the forum, influence and network to make the principles of Ubuntu and social justice come alive.
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). 2011. IFLA Statement on open access – clarifying IFLA’s position and strategy. Available at: https://www.ifla.org/files/assets/hq/news/documents/ifla-statement-on-open-access.pdf
 Ubuntu is an African concept (Zulu language) which expresses a sense of community: ‘you are who you are because of your interaction with the community around you, if the community thrives then you will thrive’