Unintentional consequences

Free access to online journals and bibliographic databases for developing nations is surely a good thing, right? Philanthropic individuals and generous publishers are naturally praised for making such donations.

But, for struggling, local journal publishers and database producers, free access to western information can destroy the market value of publications created in, and for, developing nations.

NISC (National Inquiry Services Centre) in South Africa supports African online journals with an online platform (African Journals Online) as well as 40 bibliographic databases of Africa-related information. Margaret Crampton, NISC managing director, told me that African users ask her why on earth they should pay to access this material when donated material can be totally free. These services were created specifically with local needs in mind, but the ludicrous situation is that the majority of usage is outside of Africa for NISC data while Africans may have free access to foreign material of little local relevance.

Certainly, all nations deserve equal opportunity access to the world’s literature, but not at the price of stifling the development of emerging research and publishing activity. Funding to support such publication is desperately needed, but if it doesn’t come from traditional subscriptions it is hardly any more likely to come from author or institution fees. Are there any better models out there?

Jim Ashling

Information Today, international correspondent


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