By Dr. Sven Fund, Managing Director, Knowledge Unlatched GmbH
Supporting access to scholarly content for researchers worldwide but in particular in the Global South is one of the altruistic arguments mentioned most commonly by librarians and funders in the more economically-developed regions of the world. But that wish alone does not fully address the demands and needs for equitable participation in the global publication and research process. In order to explore this in more depth, Knowledge Unlatched organized a truly global virtual panel within the context of the digital Frankfurt Book Fair. The three panelists invited were Liz Ngonzi, Founder / Executive Director, The International Social Impact Institute at Hunter College, USA; Juan Cordoba from Universidad del Rosario in Colombia, and Abel Packer, the director of SciELO, Brazil. About 30 participants from around the world also joined the conversation which took place on October 16.
It soon emerged that is a truism for all three panelists that there is no such thing as “the” Global South, as conditions vary greatly from country to country and continent to continent. While a number of academic systems in Africa for example still lack very basic technological preconditions to enable scholarship to take advantage of the free resources available, others are well-advanced both when it comes to publishing as well as reading/using open content. While in some countries even top institutions are just starting to familiarize themselves with digital publishing and the concept of openness, others can already look back at several years of experience.
Liz Ngonzi highlighted that there are blocking issues on a number of levels, not just the technical restrictions. Many – particularly authoritarian – governments in the world still restrict access to knowledge, viewing academic freedom on both the consumption as well as the dissemination sides as a threat to their rule.