The maxim that “knowledge wants to be free” is attributed to an Indian open access proponent, Subbiah Arunachalam. It is not surprising that India now stands as one of the most open access friendly countries in the world. Such change, however, has not come over night as the likes of Arunachalam had to work hard to do their part instead of sitting down and wait for others to do the work.
I think during this upcoming Open Access Week (Oct. 18-24, 2010), Ethiopian librarians and researchers will persuade more people to join their effort in promoting the free flow of information and knowledge through the vehicles of open access models. One thing I gathered in my research in 2009 in Addis Ababa is that when you approach academic researchers, do not use jargons such as institutional repositories, green-road, golden road to open access, even self-archiving as that does not do any good in getting your message across. Tell them about the undergraduate student from Arba Minch or Jijiga or Debremarkos university who is unable to read the research works published elsewhere in the country. In a form of discussion, ask them how much is their work visible to other researchers, to policy makers and also to search engines. I remember Mekelle University law students had to come to AAU law school to just read the previous years students’ research works. This is a fact of life, at least as far as my experience goes. Well, to be absolutely honest, even the students had to carry a letter from the dean to get access to these works. But that is another topic.
As most of you may know, the history of journal publishing goes back to 1665. Before that time, scholars used to communicate using hand written letters and had to make a copy of each correspondence and distribute it to other scholars. At present, there are tens of thousands journals with millions of articles in them, nevertheless most of these are subscription-based. You also know very well that subscribing to a journal is unaffordable to our Ethiopian universities.
Even though, some universities have had the good fortune to participate in projects such as INASP and IFLA to get access to some of these journals, access is still very limited compared to other countries. What can we do now? OK! we can promote open access and if needed being religious about it until we have enough converts to spread the word and persuade decision makers and also researchers themselves. Hence, to ensure that, at least, public-funded research becomes openly accessible. This is a big challenge mainly for library managers as they are the ones to roll up their sleeves and do the initial steps.
This is also a challenge for technical people who have the hands-on with systems such as Dspace, Eprints, Fedora and the like, to prepare easy manuals, guides, and lend a hand in installing and setting up institutional repositories. Also for researchers to submit their work or at least to be willing when asked by a librarian to make their work openly accessible. Just one more point is that, as you are aware, there are thousands of journals available online which are free and open. While making these accessible to our users, we should ask the big question: do these journals contain content on and about Ethiopian issues?
In short, is Ethiopian research work accessible on these journals? My experience is that it is almost non-existent as most of the works languish in dusty library shelves and even worse in lockers. This is also the paradox we found ourselves in. And, I think, this is the big challenge we need to address during the Ethiopian Open Access Week. I for one, tried to identify some recommendations in last year’s ETD-2009 Conference. You may read the recommendations in the last part of the paper. http://conferences.library.pitt.edu/ocs/viewabstract.php?id=676&...
In the end it boils down to taking some action. A pragmatic one, I suppose. One of my favourite is what Steven Harnad advises on avoiding what he calls the 'Zeno’s Paralysis’. the phrase is coined “after the philosopher who worried, how can I possibly walk across the room? There isn’t enough time! Before I can get across the room I first have to get half way across the room, and that takes time; but before I can get half way across the room, I have to get half of half way across the room; and so on. So there isn’t the time even to get started; hence I can’t possibly walk across the room” (Harnad, 2006, p.78).
Mandating self-archiving, Harnad believes, is the Prophylaxis against Zeno’s Paralysis. Harnad (2006, p.78) puts it as follows “The pragmatic solution to Zeno’s Paradox is of course to just go ahead and let your legs do the walking anyway. The cure for Zeno’s Paralysis is the same, except it’s your fingers that need to do the walking”. The initial step is to cure our Zeno's paralysis as advised by Harnad. Then certainly you will do great things. My best wishes in this.