The Public Knowledge Project’s Open Journal Systems
UNESCO Fellow, Kenya
This presentation focuses on the activities of the Public Knowledge Project, particularly on developing country applications and issues. A federally funded research venture at the University of British Columbia, Canada,1 the project’s driving principle is that knowledge should be free, hence, their mission to promote a world where knowledge is free. Over the last four years the project has involved research on ways to improve the scholarly and public quality of academic research through the use of online technologies. We have been gathering data on the impact of open-access publishing in Cameroon and South Africa, as well as on policy makers and professionals in Canada.
In addition to political, economic, legal, and social analysis of open-access publishing issues, the Public Knowledge Project just completed an open-source software system, Open Journal Systems,2 for managing and publishing e-journals. The system has been designed to be installed and run locally by journal editors with minimal technical skills and technology access. The system will support open-access, peer-reviewed publishing with international collaboration among editors, and offers precise metadata indexing of published materials on a global scale through the use of Open Archives Initiative standards.3 This free system is intended to reduce the cost and raise the quality of publishing in ways that make open-access publishing a realistic alternative to the traditional model. Open Journal Systems also includes tools that support greater public and professional use of published research.4
OPEN JOURNAL SYSTEMS AND RESEARCH CAPACITY DEVELOPMENT: THE CASE OF KENYA
A research project is being carried out in Kenya focusing on possibilities of using new publishing technologies to enhance research capacity development through publishing and sharing of information related to research findings in the public sector, particularly in African universities and government departments. This research will
establish the prospects of greater participation in the international network for the creation and distribution of knowledge by exploring the prospects, processes, issues, and hopes involved in initiating an online scholarly journal. Specifically, the ongoing research project is investigating whether the Open Journal Systems can be used to boost research capacity through sharing of knowledge and information, locally and internationally. The ongoing study is guided by the following objectives:
Establish from the perspective of the scholarly community—teaching staff, students, librarians, and policy makers—the potential for electronic journals to contribute to both information exchange and research capacity development.
Explore the technical and economic feasibility of supporting electronic journals that can contribute to knowledge circulation and sharing among scholars and other stakeholders.
Find out whether such an electronic journal can facilitate local knowledge creation within a global exchange of knowledge, as well as foster networking among peers.
The hypothesis is that from technical, economic, social, and intellectual perspectives, new publishing technologies can provide a means of improving Kenya’s research capacity by contributing to local knowledge development, as well as to a larger global exchange of knowledge.
The expected outcomes of the research project are:
an informed analysis of the challenges, possibilities, and obstacles in pursuing online scholarly publishing in African universities as a means of improving the universities’ research capacities and of providing greater participation in global knowledge systems. This analysis will serve as a guide for establishing new online journals in different fields, as well as for building better publishing software.
an informed body of scholarly researchers actively participating in knowledge creation, sharing, and dissemination, as well as professional debates and discussions in the relevant fields of knowledge.
improved networking among faculty, professionals, and policy makers, emphasizing use of scholarly and local works in education.
greater global visibility for African scholarly publishing, particularly Kenyan knowledge products and scholarly contributions. It is hoped that the e-journal will give the stakeholders the means and voice to be heard.
Online Publishing in Kenya
Although the research is in its initial stage, the findings are quite encouraging. A baseline survey has been done to find out whether there have been attempts to apply the new technologies for publishing and sharing research findings, identify the challenges and successes in this area, and establish possibilities of networking. There are various organizations in Kenya involved in online journal publishing. Currently several journals (about five) are publishing online with the help of Bioline International.5 Their field of specialization is mainly the sciences—biotechnology, medicine, insect science, food technology, and nutrition. The host organizations receive manuscripts from authors in hard and electronic formats, edit them, and organize them for peer review. After corrections are made the editors of the various journals send them to Bioline for posting on the Bioline Web site, where the abstracts can be accessed freely. Access to full articles requires a subscription.
The African Journal on Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development, formerly known as the African Journal of Food and Nutritional Sciences, has struggled to publish in both print and online even with the support of well-wishers and friends. It was established in Kenya to provide a platform from which issues and scientific information concerning Africa could be effectively addressed and shared. The journal was established largely as a capacity-building initiative. The impetus was for professionals in nutrition, agriculture, and development, who
For additional information on Bioline International, see Chapter 14 of these Proceedings, “Bioline International and the Journal of Postgraduate Medicine: A Collaborative Model of Open Access Publishing,” by D. K. Sahu and Leslie Chan.
were native to or living in Africa, as well as non-Africans with an interest in Africa, to have an opportunity to come up with practical and sustainable solutions to the continent’s problems. It would also encourage adoption of the writing culture among budding professionals in these fields. The title of the journal was changed because it was shared with two other journals; they also wanted a title that would reflect their main goals of linking research to development. The journal is peer-reviewed and has an editorial board, along with a secretariat composed of recent graduates from the university in the areas of food science and technology. It has its own Web site,6 and publishes full articles in English and abstracts in both English and French. Access to full articles and abstracts is free. For translations into French the journal relies on friends.
The Kenyan research study has identified several benefits of online publishing for the journals surveyed. Online publication increases visibility for the journals, their authors, and the research findings and discussions. Researchers feel that the online journals have given them a voice to be heard outside their borders. Publishing online also increases readership and exposure to more sources of information through the Web site links. It has encouraged partnerships and collaboration among authors in related fields locally and internationally. Works can be published and accessed faster than before.
Several challenges facing online publications were also identified. Funding, especially for printing costs, is a big problem. Some journal editors interviewed saw no hope of surviving if alternative funding sources were not found. Distribution is another problem, for mailing costs are quite high. Sluggishness on the part of some editors, their assistants, and reviewers can lead to delays. The editorial and reviewing jobs were voluntary in all journals visited, and there appears to be a lack of incentive. There is also a lack of training for some reviewers, especially on scientific writing and research methodology. Other challenges identified include the poor means of communication and lack of access to technology. Readers in rural and small urban areas in Kenya cannot enjoy the benefits of online publishing systems directly. If print copies are not also available there is less readership of the journals. There was also a lack of awareness of the new publishing technologies and the way they work. Some journals may not understand the potential of these technologies, which in some cases are viewed as a threat to their survival.
The Kenyan journals found many ways to cope with the challenges. In terms of funding, most journals rely on the proceeds from subscriptions and advertisements to cover their operating costs. A few rely on the goodwill of friends, well-wishers, and donors. In terms of access to technology most of the journals depend on the sponsoring organizations to publish online. These organizations are located in the capital city, Nairobi, where communication is not a big issue. All of the organizations visited produce both print and online copies to ensure that the technologically disadvantaged get access to the journal. Journals rely on the efforts and networks of their editors-in-chief and the goodwill of their editorial boards to overcome editorial and review challenges. Some journals are organizing in-house training sessions to coach inexperienced editors and editorial assistants. Lastly, seminars and workshops on open access journal publishing are being conducted with assistance from donors to expose stake-holders to the new technologies.
The Situation at the Universities: The Case of Kenyatta University
A visit to Kenyatta University was made to observe and interview academic staff and librarians about developments in new technologies and library resources. During the visit it was found that the university had made great strides in embracing new technologies, and use of information and communication technologies was also increasing. The university has constituted an ICT board under the deputy vice-chancellor to oversee implementation of ICT policies. The library has a seat on the board. The university has been the recipient of many ICT-related donor projects that have boosted its ICT base (e.g., the World Bank’s African Virtual University, the Institute of Continuing Education through distance learning, and the electronic Supply of Academic Publications (eSAP) project). The university is also the depository of World Bank publications, both print and online. Kenyatta University also has many Internet cafes where staff and students can access all the information they need, and the library is being automated and computers have been purchased to facilitate the process. The library is working on
a retrospective conversion of its catalogue. It also has a few computers connected to the Internet to which postgraduate students and staff have unlimited access.
Kenyatta University publishes the East African Journal of Science: An International Journal of Pure and Applied Science, Chemchemi: International Journal of the School of Humanities, and the Kiswahili Journal. The latter is published sporadically because journal publishing is seen as very demanding and less rewarding. As such, academic staff would rather engage in writing school textbooks that earn better money. Journal subscription has decreased since the 1980s due to reduced budgets among university libraries. The acquisition librarian said at times the budget could not purchase even five journals and felt that equipping the library to be the center of research capacity development was not given priority. However, it was noted that there is slight improvement in the 2003 financial year; budget allocation for journals has gone up to K Sh. 1.1 million (about US$14,000). Even with this improvement the library can only subscribe to core journals, at times only one per department. The limited budget requires the university to buy journals in single copies through an agent. Other journals are acquired through donations, though these have decreased over the years.
Online Resources. The university library’s focus is to expand its electronic resources. The library has Internet connectivity and allows postgraduate students and academic staff unlimited access. It has access to electronic and online journals (close to 8,000) and bibliographic databases with abstracts, including Dissertation, Psychlit (psychology), TEEAL (environment and agriculture), POPLINE (population), EBSCO, Humanities Index, Education Index, Medline, and Elite. Most of these databases are available on CD-ROM. The library offers online publications by the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications’ (INASP) Programme for the Enhancement of Research Information (PERI), including EBSCO online, Blackwell Synergy, AJOL, and the IDEAL library. It also offers electronic books, primarily World Bank publications. INASP/PERI has been helping in paying for the licenses of the databases.
Another new project in Kenyatta University is eSAP, whose mandate is to train library staff, faculty members from various departments on Internet, publishing, and Web design. The project also aims at facilitating electronic publishing of resources from the university, starting with business and development studies. The project is still at the infancy stage and has no editorial board. Initially the software was to be installed at Kenyatta University, but due to infrastructural (communication mainly) problems, inadequate articles to publish in the targeted disciplines and editing and reviewing problems, they shifted the base to the Netherlands.
Donors funding the Kenyatta University’s electronic journal initiative include the World Bank, INASP/PERI, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Cornell University (host to the TEEAL databases).
Building research capacity through online publishing has encountered many challenges, including inadequate exposure to and training in computer applications, especially the Internet, even among the library and academic staff; inadequate infrastructure, including equipment (computers and their accessories are few), furniture, and communications (reliable telephone connections); lack of a technical support staff; and low morale of likely authors due to low salaries paid in an ever-rising cost-of-living environment. The dilemma for these potential authors is: devote time to research and writing or to looking for means of survival? The challenges related to editing and reviewing stem from the incentive structure related to these activities and the lack of financial resources. There is also a concern about the sustainability of the resources after the donor has left.
RECOMMENDATIONS REGARDING ONLINE PUBLISHING
There is a need to create an awareness of the Online Journal Systems project and its long-term benefits. There is also a need for capacity building for would-be editors and reviewers, especially in scientific writing and research methodology, even at the university level, as well as for technical staff and library staff. Budgets must accommodate the purchase and maintenance of equipment, especially computers and communication gadgets. There is an urgent need to look for ways to motivate authors, editors, and reviewers, such as training, experience-sharing workshops, and networking opportunities.