Be Creative, Determined, and Wise: Open Library Publishing and the Global South

By Baker, Matthew | Computers in Libraries, November-December 2009 | Go to article overview

Be Creative, Determined, and Wise: Open Library Publishing and the Global South


Baker, Matthew, Computers in Libraries


Libraries throughout the world are increasingly involved in the production of scholarly publications. Much of this has been thanks to the growth of open access (OA) publishing in all its forms, from peer-reviewed "gold" journals to "green" self-archiving, and electronic theses and dissertation (ETD) repositories. As a result, more and more of the world's scientific, medical, and scholarly research is freely available online. Libraries' quickly evolving capacity as OApublishers holds great promise for students, teachers, and researchers--not to mention farmers, entrepreneurs, and civil society groups--in developing regions of the world. The vast majority of research is still produced and used in a handful of economically powerful countries. This disparity of access to knowledge is slowly being corrected, at least in some disciplines,

Libraries are strategically placed to help significantly reduce the global digital information divide. thanks in no small part to the work and advocacy of librarians.

Every aspect of how information and knowledge make it from creator to user is being renegotiated. Indeed, thanks to the advent of the "read/write" web, the distinction between creator and user has effectively been eliminated. Many library and technology publications (including this one) regularly feature articles addressing the many issues raised by these changes and especially by the emerging role for libraries--from budgets to editorial workflows to the technical and legal challenges of digitization.

Although many of the challenges to OAlibrary 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.

Some well-known examples of current OA publishing are already enhancing research in the developing world, including HINARI (focused on public health), AGORA (focused on agriculture and the environment), and Bioline International (focused on bioscience). The Electronic Publishing Trust for Development and BioMed Central's Open Access and the Developing World do a nice job of tracking the latest happenings, while geographically focused efforts such as SciELO (for Latin America) and AJOL (for Africa) provide greater access for particular regions and language groups.

Describing the 'Divide'

The phrase "global digital divide" has been criticized for oversimplifying a complex set of issues and therefore tending to limit the kinds of thinking and planning required to best address those issues. At the most basic level, however, speaking of such a divide is useful shorthand for naming the tremendous gap in information resources between the affluent Global North and the economically "developing" Global South. Many of the factors that create and perpetuate the divide are much larger than libraries. Political instability, pervasive corruption and inefficiency (at every level of the process, including Western "donors"), systemic economic inequality, environmental degradation, and racial, religious, and gender discrimination all contribute to information asymmetry, between countries and within them. All of these will severely limit individual and community capacity to participate in the production of knowledge. There are obviously no "silver bullet" solutions here. There are, however, some areas in which libraries and librarians can play an important role.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

It's Not (Mainly) Technological

An obvious precondition for OA publishing of any kind is an adequate internet computing infrastructure. Many technological challenges remain, particularly for those in rural areas. …

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