12 November 2003

Africa: Librarians Seek Improved Access to Foreign Journals

London — For many libraries in Africa without access to foreign journals, the problem may be one of a lack of communication rather than a lack of resources, according to a seminar for librarians which took place on 8 November 2003. The event, held in conjunction with a meeting of the West African branch of the Standing Conference of African Universities in Accra, Ghana, found that although many university libraries were no longer able to afford any international journals at their standard rate, awareness of opportunities to acquire them at special discounts, or even free of charge, is limited.

Results of a survey by Sara Gwynn, of the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP), suggested that several factors were inhibiting universities from taking advantage of existing opportunities. Some schemes overlap, others are not well communicated or targeted, do not fully take local needs into account, or fail to offer the long-term commitments necessary to build capacity. Such problems are sometimes compounded by management problems within recipient institutions, and practical issues such as the availability of foreign currency. There is also a need for schemes to cover paper and CD-ROM versions, as well as electronic access.

The seminar was organised by INASP, the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) and BookAid International, all of which organise support schemes. According to ACU's Deborah Bennett, the potential for co-operation is immense. "There is a great deal of goodwill from both donors and publishers to help, but a critical need to work together.

Moreover, the need is greater now than for many years -- several universities reported that they had withdrawn from journal purchases, or were in danger of doing so."

As a next step, the organisers of the seminar hope to convene a meeting of publishers and other organisations in the next few months, and would be happy to receive further expressions of interest. BookAid International and the ACU are also working on proposals to promote their programmes jointly with effect from next year.

More than 500 universities in 35 countries and regions around the Commonwealth are members of the ACU. It is registered as a charity and controlled by its member institutions through its Council. In 1963 it received a royal charter and its patron is HM Queen Elizabeth II, Head of the Commonwealth.

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