Issue Date: May 15, 2006
Archives For Africa
The London-based Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) is making its archive of scientific journals available online free of charge to scientists in educational and research institutions in more than 50 developing countries, mainly in Africa. The aim is to help strengthen the science base in some of the poorest countries in the world.
"Science and technology are fundamental to social and economic development," says Simon Campbell, RSC president and drug discovery scientist. "The society has always wanted to help advance chemical sciences in the developing nations. Our archive has been a commercial and scientific success with nations that can afford it, so we felt that donating it to developing countries in Africa and elsewhere would be of fundamental value in building capacity in science education and research in these regions. We already offer our current scientific journals to African countries at a nominal price."
Campbell introduced the main part of the RSC program, known as Archives for Africa, at the inaugural meeting of the Federation of African Chemical Societies, which was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Feb. 23. The meeting was followed by the 22nd annual congress of the Chemical Society of Ethiopia.
About one-third of the society's membership—some 300 chemists—attended the congress, Campbell tells C&EN. "At the end of my presentation on drug discovery, I mentioned the launch of the Archive for Africa program. The audience broke into spontaneous applause, as it considered access to the archive to be a significant development for chemistry in Ethiopia."
RSC conceived the archive scheme several years ago. "Late in 2005, I enquired about free journal access for Africa following a visit to Ethiopia," says Peter Licence, a lecturer in chemistry and chemical engineering at the University of Nottingham, in England, and a visiting professor at Addis Ababa University. "My enquiry obviously hit a chord with RSC, which accelerated its program. Without access to state-of-the-art literature and education material, curricula become stale and outdated. Progress can only be made by learning from the work of others."
Nigist Asfaw, assistant professor of organic chemistry at Addis Ababa University, agrees. "Free access to the RSC archive will have an immense impact on the advancement of chemical sciences in Africa," she tells C&EN. "The general availability of journals at our university is very low, especially when it comes to online journals. We rely on friends and collaborators abroad for copies of journal articles for our students and ourselves. Published information is the basic starting point for any scientific research. Access to such scientific information will strengthen and enhance the research capability of our institution."
Robert D. Bovenschulte, president of the American Chemical Society's Publications Division, says ACS applauds RSC's initiative. He notes that ACS, working with the U.K.-based International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP), is providing online access to ACS journals at "a very small fee" in higher education institutions in Uganda, Kenya, and Malawi for both current and archival content. "We are also taking a leading role in U.S. government-sponsored access initiatives for Iraq and Pakistan," Bovenschulte says.
The RSC Archive for Africa program was formally launched in London on Feb. 28. In a speech at the launch, Kenya-born Robert Mokaya, an associate professor and reader in materials chemistry at the University of Nottingham, welcomed the initiative. He studied chemistry as an undergraduate at the University of Nairobi in the late 1980s.
"The cost of access to electronic information means that researchers in the poorer developing countries often have to 'guess' or make do with very limited information on what is already in the scientific literature as a guide to what they do," Mokaya tells C&EN. "I equate this to carrying out research with darkness both in front and behind. The ability to do good research should have benefits that may eventually filter through to improvements in the local economy and the general welfare of the people. I hope that other publishers, not only in chemistry, but also in other areas, will follow the RSC example."
The fully searchable RSC digital archive currently contains every paper published in the society's journals from 1841 to 2004—a total of around 1.5 million pages and 250,000 papers. The journals include Chemical Communications, Dalton Transactions, The Analyst, and Chemical Society Reviews.
"The archive cannot be used for commercial use or gain," explains RSC Customer Services Director Philip Abrahams. "This means that an academic or a government employee can have access to the information; an industrial employee cannot."
INASP's Program for the Enhancement of Research Information (PERI) is helping RSC to host the archive and operate the scheme. The program aims to strengthen research in developing countries by helping institutions to produce, disseminate, and gain access to information and knowledge.
PERI used the World Bank's Human Development Index as its defining criterion to identify the poorest countries in the world for the RSC project. The 50 or more countries selected for the project range from Angola to Zimbabwe in Africa and also include a few non-African countries such as Papua New Guinea and Uzbekistan.
"Access to the archive is managed at an institutional level, not an individual level," Abrahams says.
Campbell and RSC hope that the archive scheme will help African and other developing countries to establish themselves on the chemistry map. "We will also roll out the program to other developing nations over the next few months," Campbell says.
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