Highlights from #COASPASIA: OASPA’s first Asian conference on open access scholarly publishing

This week I had a chance to travel to Bangkok in Thailand to attend COASP Asia: OASPA‘s first Asian conference on open access scholarly publishing. It was OASPA’s first conference outside of Europe, and I do hope there will be more of these in the next couple of years. It was very exciting to get new insights into the landscape of open access publishing in countries such as South Korea, Japan, Singapore and China. One of the conference’s main themes was building trust and transparency in academic publishing and I am sure that this will be mentioned again in the upcoming annual conference in September. To find out more about the highlights and discussion during the conference, check out the Storify feed, which I have created using the #COASPAsia hashtag. It was a pleasure being at another OASPA meeting!





[View the story “COASP Asia” on Storify

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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.


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.


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.

twitter buttonAlwaleed Alkhaja

QScience.com Interview with Affra Al Shamsi (Head of Medical Library, the Royal Hospital, Oman)

While attending the 19th Annual Conference & Exhibition of the Special Libraries Association – Arabian Gulf Chapter (SLA-AGC) in Abu Dhabi last week, I had the chance to speak with Affra Al Shamsi (E-library and Resource Manager in the Oman Medical Speciality Board and Head of the Medical Library at the Royal Hospital in Muscat, Oman).

She was one of the organizers of the “Health Information Under Microscope: Challenges & Solutions” symposium that took place between 13-14 February, 2013 . The symposium was a collaboration between Sultan Qaboos University (College of Arts & Social Science and Medical library), Royal Hospital Medical library, Oman Medical Specialty Board and the SLA-AGC.

Affra Al Shamsi speaks with QScience.com during SLAAGC2013

Affra Al Shamsi speaks with QScience.com during SLAAGC2013

“librarians need to stand up, need to be more outspoken, and need to believe more in themselves”

Interview with Affra Al Shamsi (Thursday 25 April 2013):

[Alwaleed Alkhaja]: Hello Affra, and thank you for meeting with me. First, can you tell us about the history of the medical information symposium that took place in Oman?
[Affra Al Shamsi] :We started the symposium as an open day in 2005 in the Royal Hospital. The idea was to link up the doctors with the biomedical professionals along with the librarians and the publishers and to make transparent environments to discuss and share their thoughts and fears. It was successful, so we decided to do it every year. It eventually grew to become a conference for the Royal Hospital. We invited everyone from around Oman and we brought international speakers. Slowly, it started having a reputation, and people were coming from everyone, not just Oman. In 2012, it was the first year that we decided to merge it with Special Libraries Association (SLA), to give it more visibility for the whole region. It was a success. Since then, we have had a very good number of doctors attending, as well as nurses, pharmacists and others in the biomedical field. It is the only type of [regional] symposium that talks about information the medical field. All other events talk about medical practice and not information.

How was this year’s symposium in February different from other years?
This year we tried to make it more practical. I believe people learn more when they do things than just listening. We added a program that was more focused on practice. We had about five workshops and two tutorials and other lectures. We added ‘Training the Trainer’, which was novel. Instead of publishers giving lectures about their products, we made it more about training the attendees, to make them more aware of their products and how to use them. These workshops had a huge attendance. People really liked it!

Why do you think was the most successful part, that got the most attention?
There were two things: the workshops and ‘Training the Trainer’ sessions. The workshops were on key issues. We had international and local speakers. It was very interesting for people to attend.

Now, somewhat of a different question. What are some of the challenges faced by medical libraries in Oman?
It is not only in Oman. I think it is all around the region. It is budgets. Budget comes first usually. Then the second thing is the value of the librarians. Still, it [value of librarians] is not clear for many people, especially the decision makers. There is a lack of support for libraries and library-related projects.

What are some recommendations that might help the situation?
I think to fix this, librarians need to stand up, need to be more outspoken, and need to believe more in themselves and their message. Once they do that, they will get the attention from others to support them.

Do you think SLA will give you this support in Oman and help find you solutions to these problems?
Unfortunately there is not much support from the association. They can’t. I think legally and politically, they are not allowed to yet. But from the recommendations [from the SLA AGC 2013 conference] I heard yesterday, some of the libraries raised some of these issues. It was about creating better job descriptions, better library structures. And if the association will send these recommendations throughout the region, it will be the first step for the association to show its position in supporting the libraries, because until now, many of the libraries do not have proper job descriptions. Within the same country, each institution has different job descriptions and titles for librarians, as well as different salaries. How can we have much rule or influence if we still don’t have any kind of identify?

What’s next for your symposium next year? Anything special planned?
We have been approached by different countries in the region who want us to move it or rotate it in the region. This means that the symposium would be more regional like the main SLA conference.

QScience.com is an open access publisher, what is your opinion on open access?
I want to salute all open access publishers. Because as much as we librarians struggle for budgets, open access helps us with the first step. It has big value for us!

For more information on QScience.com librarians’ resources:

For more information about the Special Libraries Association – Arabian Gulf Chapter (SLA-AGC): http://arabiangulf.sla.org/

For more information about the Royal Hospital Medical Library:

-Alwaleed Alkhaja, PhD.

Towards literary utopia


Doha-Qatar, 19 March 2013

Dr. Gloriana St. Clair*, Dean of Carnegie Mellon University Libraries and Director of the Oliver Archive and Daniel F. Ryan, Curator of Executable Content of the Olive Archive, recently delivered a seminar entitled ‘All knowledge for all people: A progress report’ at Carnegie Mellon University Qatar (CMUQ). On behalf of QScience.com, I attended the event, which was hosted by Teresa McGregor, Director of the Library at CMUQ and Dean of CMUQ, Dr. Ilker Baybars.

Dr. St. Clair started her talk by referring to the work of Dr. Raj Reddy, the Moza Bint Nasser University Professor of Computer Science and Robotics in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. She mentioned Dr. Reddy’s vision, in which ‘all the world’s people have all the world’s knowledge’.  Part of Dr. Reddy’s work was to establish the Million Book Project (MBP) that aimed to increase the amount of accessible digital book content. In addition to Dr. Reddy, the project was managed Dr. St. Clair, as well as Dr. Jaime Carbonell and Dr. Michael Shamos (Carnegie Mellon University). The MBP recognizes that ‘lifelong learning and access to books have become essential to employment, health, peace, and prosperity”.

Having inspired the Google Book Project, the MBP managed to digitize 2 millions books in China, 350,000 books in India and additional books in Egypt and Italy. Although, there is no doubt of the positive impact of book digitization in allowing greater public access to information, digitization initiatives have faced several legal problems with respect to copyright and fair use. For instance, several lawsuits were filed against Google and the HathiTrust Digital Library—a large-scale digital content repository. Dr. St. Clair explained how the law has not kept up with generational demands and how technological developments and amendments need to be made with the public’s interests in mind.

Dr. St. Clair continued her talk by showcasing the recent achievements of the Heritage Library Digitization Pilot (HLDP), a collaboration between the Qatar Heritage Library and CMUQ. The project was launched in 2007 and aims to scan 5,000 books and 300 rare books in Arabic, English, as well as other European languages. Some of the titles that have been successfully digitized by the HLCP include Pedro de Alcalá’s Arte para ligeramente saber la lengua arauiga and David Roberts’ Egypt and Nubia, as well as rare copies of the Holy Qu’ran.

Dr. St Clair and Daniel F. Ryan speaking at Carnegie Mellon University Qatar

Dr. St Clair and Daniel F. Ryan speaking at Carnegie Mellon University Qatar

Daniel F. Ryan then presented the Olive Archive, a digital repository of executable content that includes software, games and simulation models. Ryan talked about the current difficulty faced when attempting to retrieve some of the first designed executable content and thus the need to preserve executable content for future generations. Within the Olive Archive, reservation of content is not dependent upon preservation of old or obsoletes hardware, thus ensuring accessibility with continuous technological advancements and evolution of hardware.

In a world where more people spend time using their computers, smartphones, and e-book readers than they do sitting in their local libraries, there is definitely the need to adapt information to today’s consumers’ needs. Book digitization (and executable content preservation) should not only be regarded as a means of preserving our intellectual and culture heritage but also as a way of insuring the robustness of education. This is especially relevant to communities that would not normally have access to hard copies of books.

However, I wonder after attending this seminar, is a digitization initiative enough? Should there be a simultaneous push for having more freely accessible books online and eliminating barriers to entry? A utopian literary world would allow unrestricted access to all education references and textbooks. This is all not to mention that the ability to play the original Tetris in the year 2085 wouldn’t be so bad either.

*Dr. St. Clair was appointed lecturer at Carnegie Mellon University Qatar.

-Alwaleed Alkhaja 20/03/2013

For more information on CMU libraries : http://search.library.cmu.edu

For more information on the Olive Archive: https://olivearchive.org/team/

For more information on Qscience.com’s Open access books: http://www.qscience.com/page/books

First medical writer’s congress in the GCC gives authors the inside scoop on scientific publishing

I just attended the 1st International Congress of Medical Writers in Dubai last week. As a member of QScience.com’s editorial team, I found it both illuminating and reassuring. Illuminating, because it’s important for me as an editor to understand what researchers are facing and what they care about (or should care about). Reassuring, because while the speakers—all highly-reputed and well-published experts in the field of ethics and science publication—discuss how many journals, even big-named ones, are too strapped for resources to care consistently about their authors, we, at QScience, have not only focused on ensuring the highest possible standards in journals publishing, but have also made author care a cornerstone and constant focus. Flat rejections are not the name of the game—helping authors get published and cited is.

According to Karen Shashok, an editorial consultant at AuthorAID with a wealth of experience in author care in the Middle East, most of the researchers contributing to journals worldwide have English as a second language (ESL). This fact underscores the importance of considerate editorial process to bring important findings to light. What’s happening in the world of publishing nowadays, she said, is that many journals are unable to provide author care beyond the basics, if they can at all. In some cases, for instance, the paper might be completely sound but the peer reviewers disagree on some points and the journal’s editor mandates that those points be addressed, each one, exactly, in order to proceed with publishing, she explained.

The point here is that nobody is perfect—the reviewers might have a bad day or have other motivations, the copy editors may reject the paper because of challenges with English usage. And, again, this is regardless of whether or not the paper is perfectly sound in its science. In the MENA region, as scientific output ramps up, it’s imperative for authors to think critically about this situation so that findings—both particular to the region and critical to the advancement of science worldwide—are not passed over unjustly.

Among other things, Karen discussed techniques to make your manuscript sing and strategies that give your work a fighting chance in terms of making an impact in the scientific community. Part of what she talked about is that authors need to do more research about the journals they submit to. They need to shift modes, from finger crossing researchers waiting at the gateways of certain journals, to choosy authors with a strategic plan about where they submit so that they a) have a good chance at publishing in a quality journal, quickly and b) have a good chance of being read and cited widely.

In a publishing world where open access, altmetrics and great shifts in technology related to internet search engines are availing way more visibility, authors need to look into things like: What is the theme of the journal and how does their research fit into that it? Is the journal keen on the latest advancements, interested in the author’s success and working to make sure that the work is easy to find, use and cite? And of course, what are the standards of that journal? Are they members of accredited societies?  These realities are key to successfully matching the manuscript to the right journal.

A researcher today needs to get beyond the fact that the impact factor and size of the journal will make their paper a success in the ways they would wish it to be over the long run, because these two ideas, while nice on the surface, are laden with a lot of other considerations.

Dr. Farrokh Habibzadeh, president of the World Association of Medical Editors, editor-in-chief and founder of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and honorary editor of The Lancet, Middle East Edition, as well as director of NIOC Medical Education and Research Center discussed impact factors and implications of over-focusing on them. He talked about some well-known facts about impact factors and how they were developed. He also told me during lunch that a myriad of alternative strategies are being developed to sidestep the impact factor.

Another issue Dr. Habibzadeh brought up during the discussion on the last day revolved around publishing research that is specifically targeting problems of the place where it is conducted. Journals from the West, he explained, tend to want to cover diseases that affect people therein. But in the Middle East, many health concerns facing people in the West do not apply, and many conditions that do impact the lives of residents here do. For example, inflammatory breast cancer is a huge problem in the MENA region: genetically favored, rapidly advancing and highly-lethal, yet it is very rare in the West—studies from consortiums around this form of cancer must be brought to light, quickly and through high-quality channels.

The crux of the last day’s discussion, however, involved a focus on impact factors as imperative to career advancement and the problems this causes. The conclusion was reached that the current situation is damaging the notion that research should take place to solve local problems and impact the advancement of science in a meaningful way. The focus has shifted greatly to competition and striving for brands and impact factors and away from discovering and solving the most urgent problems facing human and planetary health and welfare.

A fruitful discussion took place around this, with audience members standing up to talk about the challenges they are facing in the world of academia and research. What became evident was a world where, if publish or perish wasn’t enough, they must strive for journal brands and publications that are largely after profits and not always so interested in issues that are particular to where they live … issues that must be brought to light, shared and used as stepping stones, regionally.

The discussion around open access was mostly informative and clear. It was also short, which told me that open access is now a given among the experts. Karen said that there is no difference in the range of quality in open access journals and paid subscription ones. In the end, Karen and Dr. Habibzadeh were vocal proponents of open access. Karen went so far as to say that there is a lot of erroneous and misleading information floating around about open access journals—when really, the quality range is the same as for-profit counterparts.

Astronomy comes to Qatar

Beep. I got an email a couple nights ago telling me that I have been finally moved from the waiting list and now would be able to attend the keynote lecture by Professor Lord Martin Rees at the 1st Doha International Astronomy Conference, taking place from 10-13 February in Doha, Qatar. I arrived at the Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC) much earlier than the recommend time and received my ‘Public Guest’ badge. Walking towards Auditorium 3 among other members of the public as well as scientists, officials, and about one hundred primary school students, I could not help but feel like my 7-year-old self. I was as excited as the day I first picked up a book on astronomy and discovered the solar system, comets, and the Milky Way.

astrony qatar2


The 1st Doha International Astronomy Conference was organized by Dr. Khalid Al-Subai of Qatar Foundation and Dr. Martin Dominik of the University of St Andrews. Dr. Khalid Al-Subai is also the founder of the Qatar Exoplanet Survey (QES), which over the last couple of years has conducted a wide-angle photometric survey and successfully found two exoplanents (planets outside the Solar System): Qatar-1a and Qatar-2b.

Astronomy has come home  – Dr. Khalid Al-Subai (Qatar Foundation) 

As all the attendees took their seats, Dr. Khalid Al-Subai, took the podium and declared ‘astronomy has come home’. He then introduced the guest speaker, Professor Rees: Astronomer Royal and fellow of Trinity College and Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge. Professor Rees started his talk, entitled ‘Planets, Life and the Cosmos’ with a brief history of Astronomy from the works of Galileo in the 17th century to the invention of the reflecting telescope by a ‘most unpleasant man’ from Cambridge, Isaac Newton. What followed was an interesting fast-track Astronomy 101 lecture. Professor Rees introduced the solar system and past efforts in space exploration.

With respect to extraterrestrial intelligent life, Professor Rees remains skeptical about stories in the press and from those sent to his email inbox. He believes ‘if we were to detect a signal from space, it would be very artificial’. Whether we do find life outside Earth or not, he believes that life will spread from Earth into space in the future, as humans will start exploring and settling in outer space. His talk was followed by an award presentation by Dr. Mohammad Fathy Saoud, President of Qatar Foundation.

After a brief coffee break, Dr. Khalid Al-Subai took stage again and announced that Qatar Foundation is planning to establish the Astronomy and Space Center in Qatar, which will host QES’s own observatory. He reiterated that Qatar has the opportunity now to engage in explorative science and to have a substantial share in a research field that is much underfunded. Dr. Al-Subai then announced that QES is expecting to discover three new expolanets by the end of 2013.

Astronomy research is coming to Qatar.

Whereas, it is still at its early stages, the project is indeed exciting and promising. And if I learnt anything from today’s talks it is that the next generation here can dream again. My astronomy dream died at the age of 9 (coincidentally with the time I tried to build a spaceship by using twenty-odd plastic and wooden chairs in my grandmother’s living room). I wish I had attended this talk when I was 7 years old. However, I am encouraged and do choose to believe that the inspiring messages from Dr. Khalid Al-Subai and Professor Rees have reached at least one of the future-astronomers sitting a few rows behind me.

– For more information about the 1st Doha International Astronomy Conference, click here .

– For more information about the Qatar Exoplanet Survey, click here.