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 BPN Newsletter Issue No 25, July 1999 


The African Journals Online pilot project

Diana Rosenberg
Diana Rosenberg manages Africa Journals Online on behalf of INASP, the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications, 27 Park End Street, Oxford, OX1 1HU, England. Tel +44 1865 249909, fax +44 1865 251060,;

A key problem facing scholarly journals published in Africa is their lack of visibility. Little is known about their existence outside their country of publication, and they are therefore not much used. As well as contributing to the 'invisibility' of African scholarship, this also means that such journals are rarely able to build up viable subscription bases. And this, in turn, leads to irregular publication and frequent closures.

More effective marketing and promotion is the obvious answer. And this is where African Journals Online (AJOL) comes in. The Internet can be exploited in various ways to promote journals. Yet because of weak technological infrastructures and the additional costs of using the new technologies, few African publishers are able to make use of this new marketing tool. In 1997, INASP, after consultations with colleagues in Africa and with the help of funding from UNESCO and the National Academy of Sciences, USA, established a pilot project offering access via the Internet to either the tables of contents (TOCs) or the full text of African-published journals. The AJOL service went live on the Internet in April/May 1998.

AJOL's objectives are:

  • to enable the results of research carried out in Africa to become more widely known and more easily accessible;
  • to strengthen the African academic publishing sector, by providing income through encouraging both print or electronic subscriptions and the purchase of single articles;
  • to assess the impact of using the Internet to promote African-published journals.

The pilot project was restricted to journals in science, technology and medicine in the English language, published in sub-Saharan Africa excluding South Africa. Journals were selected on the basis of their past history of content quality and regular publication, and so that as many different subject areas and countries of publication as possible could be included. Initially ten journals were selected in science and technology and three in medicine. Additional funding made it possible to expand the coverage with a further seven journals in science and technology.

The AJOL service is offered in two parts, with TOCs of science and technology journals available on the INASP website and the full text of medical journals on the Bioline site, an existing electronic publishing service for bio-scientists. Issues for 1997 and 1998 were included in the pilot project.

The situation at June 1999 is:

TOCs of the following 12 journals are available on the INASP website

  • African Crop Science Journal (Uganda)
  • Bulletin of the Chemical Society of Ethiopia
  • Discovery and Innovation (Kenya)
  • Ghana Journal of Agricultural Sciences
  • Ghana Journal of Science
  • IFE Psychologia (Nigeria)
  • Insect Science and its Application (Kenya)
  • JASSA: Journal of Applied Science in Southern Africa (Zimbabwe)
  • Journal of Science and Technology (Zambia)
  • Malawi Journal of Science and Technology
  • SINET: Ethiopian Journal of Science
  • Zimbabwe Veterinary Journal

The following journals have been invited to join the TOC service but no issues have yet been received:

  • African Environment (Senegal)
  • African Journal of Tropical Hydrobiology and Fisheries (Uganda)
  • East African Agricultural and Forestry Journal (Kenya)
  • Journal of Pure and Applied Science (Sierra Leone)
  • Tropical Freshwater Biology (Nigeria)
  • TOCs, abstracts and full text of the following medical journals are available on the Bioline site

    • African Journal of Neurological Sciences (Kenya)
    • Central African Journal of Medicine (Zimbabwe)
    • East African Medical Journal (Kenya)

    TOC service
    INASP took out subscriptions to the selected journals and TOCs are placed on the website as each issue arrives. In addition, separate pages are provided for information about the journal, such as mission statement and editorial board, and how to subscribe. The user moves from the AJOL home page to the journal information to the contents of an individual issue. Links are provided to other sites on the Internet which display TOCs of or indexes to African-published journals.

    Access to the TOCs is free. Users are given the option of ordering a photocopy of any article listed. Payment is by article; order instructions, together with a form, are supplied. Orders can be sent by post, fax or e-mail and articles can be supplied by fax or post.

    Full text service
    Abstracts of articles and full text/graphics are offered. Access to the abstracts is free of charge. Users can take out an electronic subscription to the journals or pay to see the full text of an individual article.

    Publicising the project in every possible way was seen as crucial. Both print and electronic means were used:

    • 6,500 copies of a simple three-fold A4 leaflet were inserted in the May 1998 issue of the INASP newsletter, distributed at conferences in Europe, Africa and USA, and sent to appropriate journals, libraries and scholars;
    • an article about AJOL appeared in the May issue of the INASP Newsletter;
    • a number of journals agreed to include an advertisement about AJOL;
    • a press release went out to a number of listserves; Africana sites were asked to provide links;
    • details were sent to the major search engines;
    • relevant electronic journals and newsletters were asked to carry items about AJOL.

    An evaluation of the pilot project is underway in July 1999. The reactions of users are being sought and journals are being asked about any impact on subscriptions.

    The Web Server statistics are encouraging. Page requests to AJOL on the INASP site rose from 100 per week in June 1998 to a present average of around 500 per week. Most requests come from the USA, Europe and South Africa. Usage of the medical journals is somewhat lower.

    One disappointing interim result is the low uptake on requests for photocopies of articles publicised in the TOCs or purchases of articles or electronic subscriptions from the Bioline site. To date we have received only two requests for photocopies and there have been two requests for electronic subscriptions. It could be that readers are using the sites for current awareness only and accessing the full text by other means. Another possibility is that the journal contents do not sufficiently whet the appetite of users; no matter how well a journal is promoted, in the end its value depends on the quality of its contents.

    Future of AJOL
    It is recognised that a year is a very short time for any tangible impact to be felt. INASP would like to maintain and expand the AJOL service for a minimum of another three years. In particular it would like to increase the number of journals offered in science and technology to 25, additionally offer TOCs of ten medical journals, and expand the service to include ten journals in the social sciences. In the meantime, the service is being maintained at its present level to the end of 1999, thanks to funding received from ICSU Press. [end] [BPN, no 25, 1999, p 19.]

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