A former journal publishing manager, Michelle Willmers was drawn to the Open Access movement after witnessing international publishers sweep into South Africa and acquire local journals. They then locked these journals behind paywalls and sought to sell them to local academic institutions at prices most simply could not afford.
For the South African academic community this was a case of bad to worse: Historically South African research has not been published over much in international journals. As such, it has tended to be invisible to the global research community. Now it was in danger of becoming invisible to local researchers as well.
Explaining her journey to OA Willmers says, “It was perhaps less of a case of becoming an OA advocate than having a deep realisation that the local scholarly communication paradigm was broken. The conversation around how to first acknowledge and then address this led in the open access direction.”
It was this same broken local context that led to the creation (in 1997) of the South Africa-based service African Journals Online (AJOL) — which Dominique Babini referred to in an earlier Q&A in this series. A local web portal that enables African journals to make their content available online (and so visible on a global basis without the need to cede ownership to international publishers), AJOL currently hosts content from 462 African journals, 150 of which are OA.
And it is this local context that saw the recent launch of SciELO-SA, a South African version of SciELO (Scientific Electronic Library Online), the online open-access publishing platform pioneered in Brazil. SciELO-SA was launched with the content of 26 “free to access and free to publish” South African journals, and it is expected that the service will eventually include around 180 of the country’s 300 journals.