Knowledge is Global: Expanding the Awareness and Impact of Research from the Global South – Guest post by Monica Ihli

A Panel from the 2019 American Library Association Annual Conference in Washington D.C.

Monica Ihli, Librarian and Liaison to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Data Science, and Energy Science at the University of Tennessee, summarizes the discussion

A speaker panel assembled on Saturday, June 22nd 2019 at the 2019 American Library Association Annual Conference, to address and promote dialogue about the barriers to inclusive scholarly communication and research assessment experienced by researchers from countries in Latin America, Africa and much of Asia, here described with the term used by the panel as the Global South.

Panel participants included Anna Hatch, Community Manager for Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), Juan Pablo Alperin who is Assistant Professor in Publishing Studies and a researcher with the Public Knowledge Project at Simon Fraser University in Canada, Linda Eells who is Associate Librarian at the University of Minnesota, and Julia Kelly, a Science Librarian at University of Minnesota Libraries. Eells and Kelly both additionally contribute as coordinators for AgEcon Search. AgEcon search is a free online repository containing full texts of working papers, conference papers, and journal articles in applied economics from across the globe and in a variety of languages. The event was moderated by Jim Morris-Knower, Research and Global Initiatives Librarian at Cornell University Library.

Before beginning the question-and-answer style session, attendees were reminded of a research grant opportunity offered by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) to support investigations into development of open and equitable systems of scholarly communication (

In response to attendee questions, the panelists characterized the challenges to expanding impact and awareness of research in the Global South largely as problems of participation and communication. When systems of scholarly communication, best practices, or policies are developed, these tend to take place in already dominant communities that have time and resources to make decisions. Then these decisions are disseminated to other places in the world. Once the rules of the game have already been set, other communities may feel like they have no choice but to change their own ways to accommodate. The solution, therefore, is that people from every part of the world must have equal access to participate in the conversations through which the rules of scholarship are constructed.

Additionally, different  value systems in higher education must be taken into consideration. For example, the reward structures for scholarship in any one country or region should not be assumed to be the same as the system of the hegemonic region. This could involve considering regional processes of promotion and tenure particularly where a greater weight is placed on teaching as a measure of successful scholarship. These contributions will not be accurately represented if only publication volume and citation counts are measured. As well as this, there are additional barriers faced by academics in the Global South when partaking in research, such as bias in journal acceptance rates or underrepresentation on journal editorial boards.

Addressing the question of what can libraries do to help promote open and equitable access to global literature, broadening access to institutional repositories maybe one place to start. University repositories tend to be insular and limited to those with an affiliation, yet once a repository infrastructure is already in place, dependent on the cost model there could potentially not be a substantial cost associated with broadening the scope of who may deposit. Smaller scholarly or society publishers in particular might take advantage of such an opportunity to make the contents of their literature more widely available.

The panelists advocated the importance of ensuring global participation in conversations around scholarly communication. This encourages awareness of how research happens outside of our own immediate institutions, regions, and communities. As individuals, we should consider publishing in journals from other parts of the world, and likewise promote these journals as valid, meaningful ways to share research. We can actively seek out global collaborators as well. There may be additional effort to do so, but doing so leads to normalization of diversity in authorship.

A question also arose as to how, in a growing market of open access titles, to discern between journals, an important task for librarians curating content and making it accessible for readers.  In the context of discovery, the panel suggests we must rethink our definition of relevance, and then ask ourselves if the journal impact factor  truly meets that definition. If it is decided that relevance is equal to citations, such as the number of citations indexed in a curated citation database, then you will be limited according to the bias of that particular citation database. The panel encouraged the makers of discovery tools or databases to consider how their evaluation practices can result in research from select countries or published in English language journals being over-represented in discovery tools and databases. By addressing this at the journal evaluation level, it could potentially aide discovery of literature from presently under-represented parts of the world. However, to consider only citations is also likely to perpetuate biases of existing systems and power relationships.

The topic of publishing models was also presented to the panel. Are publishing models largely the same in the Global South as the rest of the world, or different? Some challenges to searching for journals in Latin American indexes were described. Where should a person look to find journals and how may predatory journals be avoided?

To answer these questions, it is important to understand the more involved role of universities in the publishing model in the Global South. In fact, the Latin American journal publishing model is mostly university-led. Every graduate degree in an institution is required to have a journal, and the journals are typically university-owned and university-funded. As a result, however, this devolved model can lend itself towards difficulties in terms of aggregation. With regard to evaluation, there are numerous attributes to consider beyond a journal’s impact factor, such as good editorial practice, relevance to the community of readers, etc.

The subject of predatory journals is to be considered carefully. One the one hand, researchers publishing in Latin American journals do not generally experience the problem of predatory journals to the same degree as other parts of the world (because publishing in reputable open access university-owned journals is generally widely available in this region). At the same time, it is extremely important to be careful about what we consider to be a predatory journal in the first place. The panel acknowledged that this term has become for some a shorthand to describe journals published outside of the commercial publishing houses of North America and Europe. Associating a journal’s validity with its region of publication is highly problematic. It is not acceptable to suggest that publishers based in North America and Europe are likely to produce reputable journals, whilst those from the rest of the world are automatically suspect. The Global South is not secondary to other parts of the world.

A question regarding English language as the dominant language of science was addressed by emphasizing that research is not only undertaken and communicated in a single language, and that we must value contributions outside of English. A challenge as it stands now is the need for creative search strategies to locate valuable information in other languages, such as the imperfect yet serviceable Google Translate. Ideally, search and discovery interfaces should begin to develop capabilities for automatically translating search terms and returning results in multiple languages. However, product development is driven by demand, and if there is not a demand for these tools then they will not be created. Ultimately, this circles back to the idea of asking ourselves how we define relevance and what is meaningful to us.

The panel concluded with an acknowledgement that when ideals of  how research ought to or could be evaluated, it must also be asked how we are to remain accountable for our actions, citing recent cases of dialogue from the research community to remind institutions that they have made a commitment to principles of evaluation after acting in a manner contradictory to these principles. Clearly, changing attitudes to research evaluation is not a simple process.

Photo of Monica Ihli

Monica Ihli, Librarian and Liaison to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Data Science, and Energy Science at the University of Tennessee

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