Through a generous grant from the International Network for Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP), Makerere University participated in the Open Access Week, 28th November to 2nd December, 2011. The main objective was to create greater understanding, and increased awareness of Uganda Scholarly Digital Library (USDL), and other Open Access (OA) resources among researchers/ staff, university administrators and students. The Library’s Public Relations Officer/ CC PERii Coordinator and the Digitization Unit teamed up and carried out the following activities: downloading and customizing OA promotional materials, including: -OA Resources brochure, OA posters and banner; designing and printing USDL Bookmarks; preparing information packs for university administrators; Chalking OA information around campus; and having fun disseminating OA information. The OA celebrations were delayed by late release of funds from the center.
Each morning the OA team chalked OA information around campus (which helped arouse curiosity of the community), and carried promotion materials to a designated place, strategically raised banners and made presentations to students. While we planned to have exhibits at the 8 colleges and 2 schools, it was not feasible given the five days of OA Week planned. Later a decision was taken to have exhibits at: Main Building, College of Economics and Management, Senate building, College of Health Sciences Library, and College of National Sciences. These spaces were selected given their strategic location, high student population and traffic. Politically, these areas are strategically positioned to raise attention of university administrators as they came to their offices. The week long activity attracted over 8,655 spectators of which 870 asked questions and shared their thoughts and knowledge relating to OA movement in Uganda. Below are some of the most interesting events of the week long celebrations:
There continues to be limited awareness of USDL and OA in general. The University Community showed conflicting accounts of the day. It’s unbelievably true that some students thought we were advertising Bank services and so, they expected to open bank accounts; while others thought we were helping them to create student account to check their results. Someone asked:
“… is this another way of opening a Crane Access account?”
While another asked,
“Can I access my results of the previous semester from this website?”
Overall, the university community highly welcomed the OA movement and showed interest to start using the freely available resources. One user wondered why they were not aware of these kinds of services.
The OA movement is perceived differently by different stakeholders as one researcher said,
“Won`t this digital library promote plagiarism?”; “As a researcher, how will I benefit from this digital library?”
This lack of understanding is attributed to limited awareness among stakeholders resulting into poor response towards self-archive research into USDL. The week long sensitization of USDL and OA was a great opportunity because it opened our understanding of the reasons why researchers are slow to respond to archiving their research in USDL.
It’s important to note that the university community has limited knowledge of the existence of digital libraries and online literature. For example, some people asked about ‘the physical location’ of a digital library like USDL. It looked like the jargon “digital library” still poses a challenge to access and use online resources.
Graduate students and academic staff showed interest in the subject; while they acknowledged having knowledge of online resources, all is known to them is that these resources require money to access which many times they do not have. They highly welcomed the idea to have OA implemented because they have had challenges accessing good literature for free. The researchers/ authors admitted that they had no knowledge of opportunities to have their literature published in OA repository to ease access and increase citation to their research.
While USDL is a national repository, it’s not common thing among researchers outside Makerere University as Mr. Ambrose G.O`Donnell, a researcher and data Analyst with, Divine Consults Inc. (0787-987832, firstname.lastname@example.org) said,
“… I am glad to find out that such a service is available in Makerere University… I promise to upload some of my research in the digital library”.
Another researcher and Makerere University alumna with one of the universities in South African said
“… if the digital library and the open access movement were taken seriously, Makerere would be among the top five best universities in Africa, since this is what is being done in most South African Universities”.
It is interesting to note that some researchers and students have knowledge of USDL and OA; have ever archived and/ or used USDL and found these to be very interesting resource. However, little content limits access and use of USDL.
The team encountered challenges including: the delayed release of OA funds from the center which affected the timely production of promotional materials; the rainy season that interrupted Monday activities as well as most of the afternoons; sun-rays/ light that limited projection of presentations; limited resources to facilitate the whole exercise; and limited promotional materials (bookmarks, brochures, flyers, etc) to be given out to students.
In conclusion, the OA Week was a success and has helped Makerere understand the needs of the users and will devise ways to address the challenges. Our gratitude goes to INASP for the grant that boosted our curiosity towards participating in the week long activities.