SPARC Africa has teamed up with African Library & Information Associations & Institutions (AfLIA) in a new effort to advance the open sharing of knowledge and research on the continent.
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed in December 2020 to formalize the partnership. The MOU sets up SPARC Africa operations as a section within AfLIA, a nonprofit organization for libraries and librarians headquartered in Ghana with 141 member institutions and associations.
SPARC Africa was started in 2015 to create a forum that would assist with capacity building to open up Africa’s scholarly output and make it discoverable to the international community. Reggie Raju, Director of Research and Learning at the University of Cape Town Libraries, who led the initial effort, says AfLIA’s strong infrastructure permeates the continent as a whole and will improve the chances of engaging other groups.
“This new relationship is a boon for Open Access in Africa,” said Raju, who hosted two SPARC Africa conferences in Cape Town that generated enthusiasm for the movement.
AfLIA has been operating since 2013 to support the interests of libraries and information associations in Africa, including hosting webinars and training on Open Access. The new connection with SPARC will provide opportunities to further raise awareness and provide educational workshops, said Helena Asamoah-Hassan, Executive Director of AfLIA. The first task will be to recruit volunteers and a chair to craft a plan for moving forward.
“We are really excited. We want to find new strategies to enable people to embrace Open Access more,” said Asamoah-Hassan, of the partnership that had been discussed for a few years. “It strengthens our hand to approach other organizations and expand our advocacy.
“We are delighted and look forward to supporting our partners as they create an agenda and operation for SPARC Africa that serves African interests,” said SPARC Executive Director Heather Joseph. “AfLIA’s established relationships with libraries means it is uniquely positioned to be an effective pan-African home for SPARC Africa.”
AfLIA already has an established platform and attention of libraries upon which to build Open Access, said Asamoah-Hassan. One approach that will be considered is going directly to researchers on campus to find champions using open methods to help advance the cause.
Research in Africa is often not given the same kind of gravitas as in the Global North and different strategies are needed to address the inequity. The intent of this new partnership helps to bridge the divide that exists with infrastructure and skills development needed to push the movement forward.
“We are getting a foothold with Open Access and we need to find our own solution and develop our own pathways” Raju said. “Working with AfLIA will help us do that.”
The economic situation in many African countries makes it more difficult to purchase materials compared to other parts of the world, said Lorraine Haricombe, who serves as the SPARC Africa liaison.
“Clearly Open Access is a social justice issue,” said Haricombe, Vice Provost and Director of Libraries at the University of Texas. “The Global South seems to be at the short end of access to information because of pricing structure at libraries – a trusted and most important agency to rely on for quality information.”
Having AfLIA at the helm is a positive step that Haricombe said she thinks will inspire others to get actively engaged: “To have SPARC Africa embedded and grounded in an organization like AfLIA that is already respected and known across the continent is a real benefit.”