|African Journals Distribution Programme: Evaluation of the Pilot Project (DFID, 1994, 20 p.)|
Nature of journal publishing in Africa
The precarious nature of journal publishing in Africa has recently been the subject of two IFLA workshops: Access to Third World journals and conference proceedings1 and Survival under adverse conditions2. The conclusion of these workshops are confirmed by the findings of the AJDP pilot project:
[1. Workshop on access to Third World journals and conference proceedings. Boston Spa: IFLA, 1993.
2. Survival under adverse conditions: proceedings of the African Library Science Journals Workshop. The Hague: IFLA, 1994.]
· journals are launched and backed by enthusiasm and hope rather than on the basis of a sound organizational structure and reasonably assured finance
· journals from Africa rarely achieve wide circulation internationally; their failure to maintain a regular publication schedule leads to their exclusion from indexing/abstracting services and the lists of subscription agents
· journals from Africa are rarely the first choice of African university libraries, which prefer, if money is available, mainstream journals from overseas
The African Library Science Journals Workshop concluded that it was very difficult to revive/maintain a reputable profile once a journal became dormant. A regular pattern of publication was essential if a journal was to be included in indexing/abstracting journals and therefore attract paid subscriptions, the base of financial viability. The 18 journals selected for inclusion in the AJDP pilot project had a history of reliability; they were not a part of the "volume 1, no. 1" syndrome. However, half of these journals failed to maintain an acceptable publication schedule in 1994. Well known, internationally funded journals failed. It was not part of the remit of AJDP to investigate reasons for the failures. However, they would appear to be managerial (poor organization, financial mismanagement, removal of donor funding prior to the establishment of a sound subscription base) rather than because there was a lack of contributions to include in the journals. Any future AJDP would, therefore, still have to be careful only to include journals with a history of regular publication, if money is not be lost.
AJDP income was used to improve journal sustainability. In three cases, the money was used to defray the production costs of the next volume - a short term measure, but one which showed that the journals concerned realized the importance of regular publication. Money was also used to support long term measures towards sustainability: to improve management procedures and to gain new subscriptions through publicity.
Eight journals failed to make any report on use of income. These same eight journals were also those which failed to maintain a publication schedule in 1994. Raising an awareness of the issues involved in journal publication and the steps struggling journals can take to improve their sustainability is an area that merits further examination. For AJDP to be of long term value, journals need to be able to use the subscription income wisely and effectively.
Method of journal delivery
Using the existing postal services between African countries for the delivery of journals is the most obvious and cheapest method of delivery. But the apparent 13% rate of non-receipt is rather high. However there is no pattern to this non-receipt. Nor is it proven that the non-receipt is the fault of the postal services, rather than that of the internal university mail systems or even the recording routines within libraries. (One library reported that no AJDP journals had been received; when asked to re-investigate, it appeared that all journals had been received but had been treated as "samples". One issue of a journal looked like a monograph; the high level of non-receipt might indicate it was treated as such by the libraries.) The speed of delivery by post (95% taking less than one month) is highly satisfactory.
Even with a 13% non-receipt, it would not be economic for the journals to be distributed by an alternative and more reliable system, e.g. by special courier or by centralization and subsequent redistribution. It would still be cheaper to pay for replacement copies.
Use of journals in teaching and research
It is notoriously difficult to find out how much journals are used and even more difficult to estimate their impact on teaching and research. Indigenous publishing is encouraged as it is seen to be a cheaper method of disseminating knowledge and is more appropriate to African needs. But there have been few, if any, surveys in Africa of the impact of available journal literature on teaching and research; there have been no surveys on the use made of western as opposed to African journals.
It is within this context that the data collected on the use and impact of AJDP journals must be considered. Only six of the university libraries returned records; these records were incomplete as some journals did not have returns. But for journals where data was received, the returns on use and impact is extremely positive. The journals are in regular use. The journal articles are being used not only for general interest but specifically for recommended student reading and as sources for ongoing and future research. The value of these journals to academic and scholarly pursuits within the universities concerned is undeniable.
However the only way to more accurately study use and impact would be to survey the citations appearing in the term papers and projects of students, the theses of postgraduate students and the conference papers, journal articles and research reports of academic staff of a particular university over the period of time. It would then be possible to examine the impact of articles from journals published in Africa.
Only Anglophone African libraries and English language journals were include in the pilot. However the immediate and negative response from libraries to the receipt of African Administrative Studies (an issue which was in French) does not bode well for cross communication between the different language spheres in Africa. Possibly all journals would have to be in at least two languages.