Academic presses participate in global partnership

The Association of University Presses (AUPresses) has roped in African scholarly publishers in a new pilot programme that seeks to deepen transnational dialogue and collaboration among academic publishers.

The AUPresses, an organisation of more than 150 international non-profit scholarly publishers operating since 1937, aim to pair non-member presses in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America, in a year-long global partner programme.

Peter Berkery, executive director of AUPresses, said the organisation hoped to connect “our member presses”, both individually and as a community, with scholarly publishers in the Global South, for the purpose of knowledge exchange.

“We intend to facilitate this by matching pairs of member and non-member presses for direct interaction as well as by inviting the non-member press staff members to participate in our online discussion groups, webinars, and annual meetings and to access our online professional resources.

“We envision that the resulting exchange of scholarly publishing ideas, concerns, and best practices will be mutually beneficial,” said Berkery.

During the 2021 pilot, African Minds from South Africa will partner with Duke University Press from North Carolina in the US, which publishes about 150 books annually and 56 journals.

Makerere University Press from Uganda, which was revamped in 2019, and aims to publish 10 books and to launch two scholarly journals in 2021, will partner with Liverpool University Press, the UK’s third-oldest university press that has been running since 1899 and produces approximately 150 books a year, 38 journals and five digital collections.

There is a need to amplify the work of presses from the Global South because “the past 12 months have reminded us all just how important global knowledge sharing and academic rigour are for the challenges faced by humanity,” said Anthony Cond, managing director of Liverpool University Press and a member of the AUPresses’ board of directors.

Pilot focuses on African presses

Since this is a new initiative for the association, Berkery said it was decided to implement the programme this year on a pilot basis. It will entail limited participation and the first participating non-member presses are both located in Africa.

He said the association looked forward to welcoming African Minds and Makerere staff members into their online and virtual discussion spaces and were eager to partner with other presses in other parts of Africa and the world in coming years.

“This pilot year’s experiences will offer us a much-needed window on implementation and administration that will be vital as we consider how the programme might continue, grow, and improve in the future,” Berkery said.

Benefits for all participants

Francois van Schalkwyk, editor and trustee of African Minds, told University World News there was a steady supply of good manuscripts and the production of high-quality books posed no challenges.

“One of the biggest challenges African Minds and other scholarly publishers in Africa face is how to increase the visibility of and accessibility to the scholarly books we publish,” he said.

African Minds is an open access publisher of scholarly books, predominantly in the social sciences and humanities.

The second challenge for African publishers was competing with large, international publishers that were valued more highly by both academics and the systems that evaluate their research performance, said Van Schalkwyk.

“The collaborations between publishers supported by AUPresses are expected to result in benefits for all participating publishers. What these benefits are likely to be will depend on the publishers and the specific challenges they face or the opportunities available to them,” he said.

“In the case of the partnership between African Minds and Duke University Press, we expect to gain new insights into how to make our titles more visible and accessible to scholars in new markets.

“For Duke University Press, I suspect it may be interested in elements of our fully open access publishing model; a model which is very different from their own,” said Van Schalkwyk.

“Ultimately, more sustainable scholarly presses able to serve scholars effectively in communicating science is good for science,” he added.

North and South to learn from each other

Samuel Siminyu, the managing editor of Makerere University Press, agrees that the collaboration offers the opportunity for university presses in the North and South to learn from each other.

“Needless to say, university presses in the North have had a long history and may have a lot to share with younger partner presses in Africa,” Siminyu told University World News.

This notwithstanding, the effect of ICTs on scholarly publishing in the 21st century is an ongoing challenge that all publishers face, he said, adding that ICTs present unprecedented opportunities for publishers both in the North and the South to leapfrog all aspects of the publishing value chain.

“The benefits of partnering and collaborating internationally trickle down to individual academics and institutions that publish with us as university presses,” he said.

Siminyu hopes this collaboration will address the challenges African scholarly publishers face, such as improving capacity development of personnel engaged in publishing, issues of policies and best practices that can be adapted or adopted across the board; linking up with other university presses through membership in the AUPresses and taking advantage of the shared opportunities.