Open Access, African Scholarly Publishing, and Cultural Rights: An Exploratory Usage and Accessibility Study

Article excerpt

Introduction

For much of the previous century, it was rare for individuals outside of the library and information science field to view information work within a context of social justice, democratization or human rights despite the long standing public awareness that journalism, another information field, holds a key place in these areas. However, there has been a shift in this first decade of the 21st century. Individuals and organizations across the globe not normally associated with the library and information science world are recognizing the need for access to information if local and global social inequalities are to be redressed. As a result, librarians and information workers in both industrialized and less-industrialized nations have new opportunities for increasing the significance of information work for achieving fundamental human rights. Similarly, the Open Access (OA) Movement has been praised by proponents as a way to reverse the unsustainability of traditional scholarly publishing economic models and to aid in the equalization of the flow of information between industrialized and less industrialized nations. The OA Movement is thus also seen as a means of helping achieve fundamental human rights as presented in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). When examining the place of information in the human rights framework, most focus on Article 19 of the UDHR and the corresponding Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which codifies it:

Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. (United Nations General Assembly, 1966a, article 19)

While the relationships between Article 19, access to information, and human rights are fairly obvious, there is another piece of the human rights framework that is equally important with relation to information work yet it receives much less attention. Article 27 of the UDHR is codified in Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) where it states:

1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone:

(a) To take part in cultural life;

(b) To enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications;

(c) To benefit from the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author. (United Nations General Assembly, 1966b, article 15)

In this paper, I report on an exploratory study that used data gathered during a forty day period to compare the OA journal usage of researchers in African countries with that of researchers in Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries. Indexing and abstracting of African scholarly journals is also a key necessity if a more even flow of information from Southern to Northern countries is to be achieved and if the journals themselves are to be truly accessible to other scholars. Therefore, the study also examines the accessibility of indexing and abstracting coverage of African scholarly OA journals and compares the data with that of non- OA journals from the continent. I examine the relationship between current African OA usage and content production and the cultural rights expressed in Article 27 of the UDHR. The data suggests that, in contrast to LAC countries, African researchers are being less active consumers and more passive contributors to the OA model. OA is thus not yet contributing significantly to the reversal of North to South information flows in the African context nor is it yet making a significant impact on achieving the rights guaranteed in Articles 19 and 27 of the UDHR. The results also indicate that African OA publications are more accessible in the abstracting and indexing services than non-OA African publications, so an increased shift from non-OA to OA publications in African scholarly publishing may contribute to improving information flow reversal in the future. …