Open access to Botswanas knowledge assets

Last week marked the International Open Access Week celebrated globally from October 24 -30, 2016. This year’s theme is “Open in Action”. ‘…It is all about taking concrete steps to open up research and scholarship and encouraging others to do the same...’

It is time to reflect on Botswana’s efforts in this context. Botswana’s legislated national repositories and research intensive institutions and corporates have always subscribed to documenting and disseminating research findings even before the emergence and proliferation of ‘born-digital’ research pieces.

Open Access (OA) refers to unrestricted online access to innovative ideas, academic, theoretical and research literature that is scholarly and peer-reviewed (Fredericks, 2015).

When applied to all forms of research output, it includes: Journal articles – refereed and peer-reviewed, conference papers, theses, book chapters, technical reports, and research papers, monographs (books /eBooks), drawings, digital images, multimedia, grey (unpublished) literature, data sets (data archives) among others. Access to knowledge is central to education, research, improvement of quality of lives and the creation of human capital on which the development of societies depend.

In Botswana the proponent for OA is the Botswana Libraries Consortium (BLC) formed in 2003 with a current membership of 56 library and information systems in the country. The BLC’s mandate is to bring together all libraries and information centres to achieve a common objective for the total benefit of member organisations. The BLC seeks to promote access to information by its stakeholders through cooperation and sharing of resources. The efforts are supported by Electronic Information for Libraries (EiFL). BLC should not be confused with the Botswana Library Association (BLA). The latter is the umbrella professional body. While BLC is predominantly supported by EiFL, BLA , as Botswana’s motherbody, falls under the supreme International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), a major supporter and advocate of the OA philosophy.

Previously, the BLC undertook a number of open access advocacy activities among others, OA conferences (2014 and 2012) dialoguing on OA issues. In 2013 an OA repository training on Dspace software was held for skill base on creating digital archives.

The University of Botswana Research, Innovative and Scholarship Archive (UBRISA) team followed on with a demonstration using DSpace software, sharing experience on implementation. The UBRISA Team had long taken the lead in building a sustainable institutional digital repository.

We believe this resulted in increased knowledge and understanding of the OA philosophy and its benefits.

In 2011, the OA Week celebration included a conference building on the 2010 OA event that had embarked upon national campaigns advocacy funded by EiFL. When the 2014 conference revealed that even though BLC had made efforts to raise awareness on open access, participation by major stakeholders still lagged behind. The conference resolved that there be an open access need assessment at institutions in order to assess understanding and readiness to adopt open access.

In 2015, BLC embarked on a project geared at starting the processes to develop open access strategies and policies at both institutional and national levels. There has been dialogue with 13 stakeholders out of initially targeted 15. Key organisations holding research portfolios appreciate Open Access.


Benefits of OA for Researchers:

Researchers benefit from increased global visibility as authorities in their specific fields, usage and impact for their work. Assessment of research impact factor for individual researchers is calculable online and markets them for collaborative research. OA helps publicise institutions’ research strengths. OA is also beneficial for publishers, who gain maximum visibility, increased readership and impact for the content under their specialties.

OA means their research gets wider dissemination. Previousl,y the South had been heavily dependent on the North for access to research assets originating from the South. OA enhances the flow of knowledge between North and South and also between South and South  while OA cracks pay-walls to e-resources, ensuring tax payers do not pay twice to access research results after funding production. It also makes sure researchers are compensated for their intellectual property systematically. All players concerned adhere to protocols regarding both commercial research and the research that is pre-funded.


Some obstacles to appreciation of OA philosophy:

Electronic resources, particularly ‘born-digital’ content also comes with a conglomeration of copyright and intellectual property issues. That is why a mandatory policy has to be developed for clarity on such issues. Some predatory open access journals also make researchers even more suspicious and skeptical about publishing in OA journal publications, hence the need for more OA literacy. More stakeholders, namely, researchers, online journal editors and publishers, research funding authorities and the library and information workers require to be clearly informed on their rights and responsibilities regarding OA. Researchers worry about their copyright. Governments and funding bodies worry about being over-taxed for research they have funded. The main intervention that BLC has embarked upon with significant results is OA literacy among all the players. BLC has empirical evidence to answer questions and allay fears on opening access to researched assets. In conclusion, BLC believes accessible research results inform further research and open up opportunity for creation of new knowledge and research collaboration.

BLC has been engaging stakeholders in drafting Open Access Policies that will be instrumental in opening up wealth of knowledge from Botswana’s researchers to world.

These include research performing organisations and publishers of researched local content, research funding organisations and national repositories. Institutions have been making effort to create digital archives of research emanating from their researchers in varied fields. Dialogue on open data where data sets archives are created for reuse and to continually infor   m current research is another direction that BITRI has already spearheaded. We will continue to sensitise not only the research community, but also the general public on OA trends.

* Bobana Badisang, Librarian at IDM Botswana, is the Open Access Coordinator for Botswana under Botswana Libraries Consortium (2014-2016). The author of the article acknowledges Suzanne Fredericks, Iryna Kuchna, Kathy Matsika, Naniki Maphakwane and Ina Smith’s works references in writing this article.

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