The Association of African Universities (AAU) has enlisted the Center for Research Libraries to help develop and implement an initiative designed to disseminate the research products of African scholars. Under the partnership the AAU and the Center will work together to devise a sustainable economic model and intellectual property management regime for disseminating theses and dissertations produced by scholars at African universities. The program will build upon the foundation of the Database of African Theses and Dissertations (DATAD), a cooperative AAU initiative of eleven universities in ten African nations, directed by Project Coordinator Mary Materu-Behitsa of the University of Ghana. The AAU is an international non-governmental organization established by the universities in Africa to promote interchange, contact, and cooperation among university institutions in Africa and encourage increased contracts between its members and the international academic world. The Center’s work on the project is funded by the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, an initiative of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.
Recognizing that significant intellectual wealth is contained in the graduate theses and dissertations produced by their scholars, several African universities have created databases to preserve, organize, and make discoverable those traditionally unpublished materials. Although an essential first step, the databases tended to be constructed and indexed to serve individual institutions and local needs. The impetus for integrating and developing these local efforts into a global access system was prompted by the rapid proliferation of the Internet in the mid-1990s and was formalized at a 1998 AAU workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. The initiative first took root as a feasibility study, followed by a three-year pilot project that led to DATAD’s launch at the University of Ghana in Accra in April 2003. To learn more, visit the DATAD Web site.
The second and current phase of DATAD has five objectives:
- Create an environment conducive to research and publication in Africa
- Build capacity in African universities for the electronic collection, management, and dissemination of theses and dissertations
- Increase visibility and improve access to the work of African scholars, both within the continent and beyond
- Develop copyright procedures and regulations for the protection of the intellectual property rights of African university graduates and researchers
- Provide support for other AAU networking and capacity-building programs
Electronic dissemination of unpublished gray literature presents significant challenges. “Building capacity at each institution is one of the keys to success,” noted Materu-Behitsa during a recent visit to the Center. “It requires patience.” Dr. Materu-Behitsa indicated that several the member libraries have adequate computer support, but others still rely primarily on paper documentation.
The Center for Research Libraries has assembled a team of specialists in scholarly communications and intellectual property, who will work with the AAU and member universities to formulate a business plan for ongoing, sustainable activities; and a copyright guide for managing intellectual property and copyright issues within the DATAD framework. The plan and guide will be developed in consultation with representatives of DATAD member institutions at a planning workshop to be held in February 2004, during visits by team members to several African universities, and through ongoing consultation with DATAD planners and other stakeholders from the African higher education and knowledge communities.
The development of a business plan is no small matter, especially when it involves synchronizing an existing international operation involving numerous institutions with differing administrative and operational systems, all within a rapidly changing, competitive international knowledge market. To achieve DATAD objectives, the blueprint must accommodate membership growth, ensure equity to knowledge creators and other investing parties, and generate a reliable, sustainable revenue stream.
In an age of automated communications and point-and-click data transmission, copyright and intellectual property issues require careful study and planning. As in other nations and cultures, the goal is twofold: to create an authoritative global marketplace for African scholarship and research products, while ensuring that the benefits afforded by copyright and intellectual property law accrue to the authors and investing institutions.
The February workshop will be the first step in developing a copyright guide for dissertations and other unpublished materials made available through DATAD. It will provide an opportunity for current and potential DATAD participants (i.e., university librarians, faculty, and administrators) to become more familiar with the rights and intellectual property issues peculiar to dissertations, theses, and other forms of grey literature. Presentation topics will include international aspects of copyright, the economics of scholarly communications with special bearing on unpublished materials, and practices adopted by other electronic theses and dissertations projects.
The workshop will also serve as a forum and consensus-building event on prospective practices and policies governing dissemination of DATAD information and content. The Center’s team will solicit attendees’ concerns about centralized archiving and electronic publication of materials as part of the workshop, and will also seek to learn more about participants’ aspirations regarding the returns and benefits that their universities might derive from greater dissemination of theses and dissertations.