The Future of Research Communications and e-Scholarship

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FORCE11 Blogs: Infrastructure Series

This fourth entry into the year-long FORCE11 Blogs series on scholarly infrastructure is an interview with Jill Claassen and Reggie Raju.


Libraries may be thought of as integral to the original research infrastructure. I am a librarian myself so admittedly biased but no discussion of research communications is complete without a look into the role of libraries. This month, Jill Claassen and Reggie Raju of the University of Cape Town discuss the evolving roles of academic libraries within universities and publishing as well as issues of social justice and bring a much-needed global south perspective to the series.

Interview with Jill Claassen and Reggie Raju

Interview by Jennifer Kemp

What does ‘infrastructure’ mean to you/your organization, in the context of research communications?

The University of Cape Town (UCT) is one of the leading research-intensive universities on the African continent hence research communications is a strategic goal. Further, as an institution that is driven by a social responsive agenda (social justice), the sharing of UCT scholarship with the rest of African research community is extremely important.

Cascading the importance of sharing the research output of UCT to the library, is reflective of the significance of the creation of a scholarly communications and publication department within the library. This infrastructural obligation has seen the growth of the commitment to the open access movement and specifically the growth of IRs and open access publishing services.

There are sub-infrastructures that are in play with regard to the publication of monographs and journals. The software used to publish is Public Knowledge Project’s (PKP)  Open Journal Systems (OJS) and Open Monograph Press, which is supported by the university’s central IT department.

Even though there is one scholarly communications and publishing department, in the commissioning of a new title for publication, a team is put together under the watchful eye of the Head of the Section for the publication. This team comes from across the client-facing section of the library, as open access publishing is a key performance area in the job descriptions. Thus, each publication is treated like a project, with a team overseeing the formatting and publishing of the monograph/ journal.

How do you describe what you do/how academic libraries work to people unfamiliar with them?

Library publishing is a new service that is offered by a handful of academic libraries in South Africa. UCT Libraries is the only academic library that is currently publishing monographs/ textbooks. Given that this is a new phenomenon, the service was viewed with suspicion. The better part of the suspicion is built on the misconception that open access is vanity publishing.

The positive on the part of the authors is the drive to contribute to a social justice agenda. Further, the Rhodes Must Fall Movement (#RhodesMustFall) and the drive for decolonised scholarly works aided in convincing the authors of the need to publish local content for the benefit of the country and continent. The library staff themselves are also researchers and published their own monographs. This was sufficient to show proof of concept. It wasn’t long before UCT authors started to buy into the concept of publishing via the library. In the four years of publishing, the libraries had published thirteen monographs, including books by world leaders in their areas of specialization.

Library publishing is now a mainstream service offered by UCT Libraries. The proof of concept has been of tremendous value in promoting the service. What has also helped enormously was the number of downloads and the potential for citation. This process of being meaningful and contributing to social justice, the decolonization of material and contribution to addressing African challenges makes this service acceptable.

What is the one thing you wish non-technical people understood better about the challenges of academic libraries?

UCT LibrariesAcademic libraries have changed dramatically over the last decade. They are no longer merely focussed on traditional library services but have competencies to partner with researchers to contribute to the research lifecycle stages. Academic librarians provide services that are linked to all the stages: planning, creating, dissemination and impact.

It is important to emphasize though that the core principles of academic librarianship  have not changed (that is, the collection, organization and dissemination of knowledge) – however, the collection is now no longer restricted to mainstream publishers, but include the library as a publisher; organization is now not restricted by the cataloguing and classification of material, but now includes organization material into open journals titles and open monographs and dissemination is the dissemination of scholarly material published by the library for use by the widest reading audience.

How, if at all, does library publishing differ from more traditional scholarly publishing?

Library publishing occurs within academic libraries. Its model is diamond open access which means that scholarly books and journals are published for free – it is free to the reader and at no cost to the author. Thus, library publishing ensures that dissemination of research takes place to the widest possible audience, without a profit motive. Furthermore, the focus on library publishing is on disrupting the publishing landscape that has been dominated by global north standards and content. It allows many voices to be heard so that knowledge production can advance through different languages, different formats and the scope of the research can be around local issues that impact local communities, as long as academic rigour is adhered to.  For too long, researchers published scholarship that increased the global north content, as that would be the only way their work was published. Library publishing provides an alternate, sustainable model to give both marginalised voices, as well as marginalised research an opportunity to participate in the global scholarship and ensure that all kinds of research is available to everyone.

What other areas of infrastructure do you work most closely with/are most dependent on (& how)?

At UCT, our IT department is centralised. We are very dependent on our IT colleagues to provide the support to advance open access publishing, both through the institutional repository and through our platforms for open access journals and open access monographs and textbooks.

The publishing services offered by the Libraries has been done via trial and error. The staff performing these services have not been trained by the library schools, hence it becomes imperative that the libraries work in concert with other libraries across the world to ensure the delivery of a service that was once viewed with suspicion. Any default will fuel the negativism. The collaboration with institutions with similar commitments to publishing, continue to build communities of practise.

Explain in some detail the issue you think is the most vexing/interesting/consequential/etc.

There will be significant duplication here as the most interesting and consequential overlap continuously as the service continues to grow. The interesting component is the buy-in from authors and institutions into a phenomenon that was never associated with academic libraries. In South Africa, the university press was considered to hold the monopoly on publishing and upholding the prestige of the institution.

As university presses continue on their downward spiral, library as a publisher service seems to be on the rise. The digital version of the material, accessible via the lowest common device (mobile phone) provides the users with a multitude of options to respond to varying challenges in the delivery of higher education. At UCT, the incorporation of audio and video clips, the incorporation of quizzes, worksheets and such make the learning experiences that much easier for first generation university students. The historical prejudices of the past will take generations to overcome but these services may have the potential of accelerating the levelling of the education playing field. The library is driven by the principle of equity before equality hence the library continues to guide authors to ensure that the monographs address the issues of equity and social justice.

Another issue is the OA financial publishing model, which does not grow African scholarship because it’s unaffordable. A newer proposed solution to the APCs and serials crisis has been flipping this financial model so that subscription budgets are overturned to be used for open access publishing (OA2020 and Plan S). This alternative finance-driven publishing model still prejudices African authors. Open access should revert to the reason this model came about; for the global north and global south to enjoy an exchange of knowledge, without payment. Library as a publisher is a model that can also be seen as an alternate model to disrupt the for-profit motive of publishing, even open access publishing. No payment should be needed to publish research.

The principles of social justice and equity serve as the driver in continuous innovations relating to publishing.

In a perfect world, how would academic libraries/library publishing be funded and governed?

National government would fund a centralised publishing platform that each higher education institution has governance over. Funding should be provided for local research to be published.

What are your favorite blogs, conferences, Twitter accounts, etc. to keep up on news affecting academic libraries?

We work with open source organizations, attend Library Publishing Forum conferences and actively participate in the Special Interest Group of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).

Favorite little-known fact or unsung hero?

We feel the “unsung heroes” are the librarians, as they work in the background and are not recognised for their contribution in this critical paradigm shift.

What question do you wish we asked but didn’t and why?

The significant question would relate to how collaboration can contribute to accelerating library publishing across the world especially at libraries in the global south.

More Information: Jill Claassen, Reggie Raju, & the University of Cape Town

Reggie RajuJill ClaassenJill Claassen is the Section Manager of Scholarly Communication and Research at the University of Cape Town Libraries.  Reggie Raju is the Director (Research & Learning) at the University of Cape Town Libraries.

The University of Cape Town (UCT) is South Africa’s oldest university, and is one of Africa’s leading teaching and research institutions.  UCT is an inclusive and engaged research-intensive African university that inspires creativity through outstanding achievements in learning, discovery and citizenship; enhancing the lives of its students and staff; advancing a more equitable and sustainable social order and influencing the global higher education landscape.


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