A pan-Arab glimmer of open access hope: Reflections from the first regional IFLA/AFLI conference in the Arab region

Qatar hosted the First Regional International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) Conference in the Arab region on the 10th and 11th of June 2013. It was organized in cooperation with the Arab Federation for Libraries and Information (AFLI) and the Public Libraries Department of Qatar Ministry of Culture, Arts, and Heritage. The conference examined the role of national libraries and associations in supporting free access to information according to the copyright laws. Both Jennifer Nicholson (IFLA General Secretary) and Professor Hassan Alsereihy (AFLI president), attended the two-day event that consisted of more than 15 talks.

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Reflections from the first regional IFLA/AFLI conference:

From a legal point view, Dr. Sulaiman AlReyaee (Al Jouf University, Saudi Arabia) presented his study, which examined Arabic copyright agreements and the application of international copyright laws in a non-Western culture. He concluded that development and enforcement of copyright law is highly dependent on the way Arab states will develop their respective constitutions with regards to common laws, civil laws, or Islamic laws.

Dr. Claudia Lux (Qatar National Library, Qatar) gave an overview of current Qatar copyright law, the Emiri Decree-Law No. 7 from 2002 on the Protection of Copyright and related rights. She compared current copyright law in Qatar with IFLA’s twelve recommendations for better copyright laws that were published in 2009. The copyright term in Qatari law is consistent with the Berne Convention and includes various provisions relating to EFLA’s recommendations such as provisions for preservation, copyright exemptions in teaching and reproduction for private use. Dr. Lux stated that even though the current Qatari copyright law protects authors and publishers, the law requires further additions as exceptions for education and teaching are more advanced than exceptions for library use. Currently, there are no general free use exceptions for libraries, which are limited to reprographic reproduction. Moreover, Dr. Lux acknowledged that current Qatari copyright law requires further developments with respect to copyright of orphan works and provisions for persons with disabilities. Finally, she recommended that librarians in Qatar need to be trained in Qatar’s copyright law and more importantly need to educate their clients.

Whereas the majority of sessions in the conference’s first day dealt with copyright issues digital content protection in libraries based in the Arab world, sessions on the second day (and to my delight) had a focus on open access.

OPEN ACCESS hope

Dr. Nozha ibn Al Khayat (Rabat University, Morocco) gave a presentation on copyright law protection and open access in the Arab world. She explained that even though initiatives in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Tunisia have established open access repositories, a large proportion of academics based in Arab countries do not have a clear understanding of open access. Dr. Ibn Al Khayat acknowledged the need for more institutional repositories and called out for developments by regional governments to include copyright provisions relating to open access. 

Likewise, Dr. Jibreel Al-Arishee (King Saud University, Saudi Arabia) spoke about the need for more institutional repositories. His presentation focused on the roles of Arab governmental agencies and legislative councils in the adoption of open access. He called for the adoption of regional public access policies for all research financed by governmental funds.

Listening to the likes of Dr. Ibn Al Khayat and Dr. Al-Arishee speak about open access and sensing their passionate advocacy resonating in the Nashira Ballroom, I left the Doha Hilton that day feeling reassured. With his current role in the in Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia (Majlis as-Shura or Shura Council), Dr. Al-Arishee gave a pan-Arab glimmer of open access hope as he announced that he is working on a public access policy adoption in Saudi Arabia.

Realistically, an adoption of a public access policy, or even open access,  in the Arab world will take some time. However, after witnessing a strong advocacy in this conference, I am hopeful that change will happen.

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Open access in the Arab world: Sulieman AlShuhri and the Arab Initiatives of Open Access

While searching for Arabic content on open access, I found the Arab Initiatives in Open Access blog, which is moderated by Dr. Sulieman AlShuhri, Amal AlSalem, Dr. Abdel-Rahman Farrag, and Dr. Ramadan Elaiess. The blog not only covers recent developments in the open access field, but also delivers its content in Arabic.

The Arab world definitely needs more open access advocates like Sulieman AlShuhri and his colleagues.

In collaboration with the Arab initiatives of Open Access blog ( aioa.blogspot.com), QScience presents Sulieman AlShuhri, AIOA founder, Asst. Professor at Al-Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University in Saudi Arabia and e-DocsLab research fellow. Sulieman speaks about the AIOA blog, about open access, and about the benefits of publishing in open access. The video transcripts (English and Arabic Transcript) can be found below. Note that the video is in Arabic with English subtitles.

“Your ideas will be easily quoted as long as they are easily reached” 

Video transcript (Sulieman AlShuhri, Arab Initiatives of Open Access)

What is the Arab Initiatives of Open Access blog?
The Arab Initiatives of Open Access was established in the 4th quarter of 2007 as a response to worldwide dynamics that called for the adoption of open access as a publishing approach and the use of available technologies to achieve it. Whereas many developed and developing countries took significant strides in the open access domain and left their own landmarks on the open access map during the time this blog was established, no significant Arab presence was perceived. We decided to provide Arab readers and researchers with a blog that introduces concepts of open access, practices, approaches with some relevant examples. We also intended to follow up on the world’s open access activities including efforts, initiatives, as well as institutions and universities that made efforts to implement and adopt open access all over the world.

What is open access?
Open access simply means that intellectual property including periodicals, articles, conference proceedings, theses, books, and other electronic material, are available on the Internet at no costs to the end-user, whether they are researchers, readers, or students. They can read, download, and print material for free. Concurrently, such availability would be free of most copyright and licensing restrictions while respecting laws and traditions of author copyrights, as well as providing proper attribution and referencing by the end-user.

The concept of open access is mirrored in Arab and Islamic culture through Waqf (endowment), in which  students and researchers were granted free access to books and libraries. This may represent the first manifestation of open access concept in Arab culture. In western culture, the open access concept can be traced back to the Budapest, Bethesda, and Berlin open access initiatives, which came to existence in the third millennium. As for the practice of open access, some researchers maintain that it dates back to 1970’s and to individuals such as Peter Suber.

Forms or approaches of open access were categorized by into two routes and given two colors, the gold and the green. The gold open access route means that academic work is directly provided through publishing channels such as journals, electronic periodicals or e-books. As I have mentioned, such material is free to use via the Internet. The second way or the green route involves providing academic material through means of archiving channels such as digital repositories or digital archives. As I have mentioned, these archives would be accessed for free online. Providing or archiving academic literature from articles to editorials, theses, conference proceedings and other type of work for free to the end-user, whether they are researchers, readers, or scholars, and facilitating the swift access through the Internet as an easy accessible channel of communication, those are all key tools for open access.

What are the benefits of publishing in open access?
Thus we discern that open access is a developmental tool in the field of communication and scientific publishing. Unfortunately, information has been used for many centuries as a commodity that is supplied in return for continued monetary compensations. This matter exhausted recipients or information providers like libraries and information centers. We have witnessed numerous problems such as the inability to pay subscriptions for scientific journals and databases, or the inability of libraries and information centers to continue operating due to limited budgets and resources, especially if we took into consideration that the developed countries invest billions in scientific production and try to restore their payout through publishing revenues.

Naturally, accumulation of funds on end users or libraries led to a barrier of information and its prevention from reaching the end-user. Access to this information may otherwise lead to significant changes on regional, international, and even personal levels. No doubt, placing barriers to information and dealing with it as a commodity subject to fiscal bargaining, affects not only the scholarship and scientific exchange but also communication amongst the human race. We may call this “knowledge capitalism” that depends on nothing but fiscal opportunism. Therefore, open access comes to provide real chances for discovering research and applying information in different contexts and elevating knowledge to new levels and domains of research that facilitate solving problems, which is the main purpose of all efforts exerted by scientists and researchers. It is a more efficient, cost-effective, fair, and equitable means of scientific exchange. What we actually need to change is to help the researcher, scientist, reader and the decision makers to realize that information is not mere commodity subject to fiscal bargaining, but a human right, especially if such information relates to lives or to the way of living. As a researcher, author or writer, you should keep in mind that when publishing scientific work as a research paper, thesis or a book, always remember that you have been facing challenges, obstacles and the inability to access information, so please help others who follow you to avoid such challenges. Share your work with others via open access channels: gold and green routes, and increase the number of your readers. This is the best way to increase readability and disseminate your ideas. Your ideas will be easily quoted as long as they are easily reached. “Just say it once and it will be said a thousand times”.

In conclusion, I call on every one, listening or watching us, to visit the blog of Arab Initiative of Open Access to know more about the concept of open access. I also call on researchers to make use of services provided by Qatar Foundation to Arab readers and researchers. It is a true and leading open access service in the Arab world as it a wonderful example of the gold open access publishing model. I extend due thanks to the editorial staff of the Arab Initiative of Open Access’s blog, Ms. Amal AlSalem, Dr. Abdel-Rahman Farrag, Dr. Ramadan Elaiess and everyone who took part in this blog along with our visitors, readers and followers on Twitter, and Facebook.

Thank you,
Dr. Sulieman AlShuhri

 نص فيديو د. سليمان الشهري من المبادرات العربية للوصول الحر

(Alwaleed Alkhaja 27/05/13)