GrandIR has just taken part in the 'Atélier sur les archives ouvertes' organised last week (May 14-15) in Monastir, Tunisia, by EIFL for promotion and dissemination of Open Access and Open Archives in the Maghreb countries. This workshop was held in the framework of the European Tempus ISTeMag Project for improving access to Scientific and Technical Information in the Maghreb universities. Led by the Université Libre de Bruxelles, this project features twelve universities and research centres in Tunisie, Algeria and Morocco among its partners. As a consequence, the Open Archives workshop in Monastir was well attended by over 30 Maghrebi librarians, developers, research officers, project coordinators and policymakers from all three countries.
Iryna Kuchma, EIFL Open Access Programme Manager, designed a comprehensive programme for the event along with the Tempus project coordinators. The programme covered all aspects of Open Archives, from its benefits to research activity to the obstacles faced for seting them up, from the strategies to develop a repository to copyright, marketing, policies and best practices. In order to provide the expertise, EIFL recruited a few European colleagues who delivered presentations and acted as facilitators for the group debates. Among these experts were Jean-François Lutz, Head of Digital Library at the Université de Lorraine and Pablo de Castro, Director of GrandIR.
There were several group sessions along the 2-day event, in which representatives of various professional profiles from different institutions -and often different countries- engaged in a lively debate and discussed their complementary approaches to specific aspects of Open Access policies, content gathering or marketing activities. Since ISTeMag has already held previous meetings to examine the different aspects of access to scientific and technical information (the most recent one took place last November in Algiers), workgroups discussions were in some sense a follow-up to a more general debate on access.
A Moroccan colleague kindly shared a ranking of universities in the Maghreb countries along the event - featured below. It's interesting to see that there are six Tunisian universities in the top ten, and that three of these top ten-ranked universities are partners in the Tempus ISTeMag Project (two Tunisian, Sfax and Monastir, and one Moroccan one, Marrakesh-Cadi Ayyad). It's also worth mentioning that having an open archive or institutional repository in place will significantly improve the position of a university in these rankings (see also in this regard the Top Africa section in the Web Ranking of World Universities released every six months by the CCHS-CSIC Cybermetrics Lab in Madrid, in which Maghreb universities could probably do better in a global African context).
There are already a few running Open Access repositories in Maghreb countries, with many more in project or in pre-production stages, but there is still a long way to go until the region reaches the level of infrastructure available in other countries in the continent such as Egypt, Ghana or Kenya. The main effort in terms of research output Open Access dissemination is currently being made on theses and dissertations. In fact the three national coordination organisations, the IMIST (Institut marocaine de l'information scientific et technique) in Morocco, the CERIST (Centre de Recherche en Information Scientifique et Technique) in Algeria, and the CNUDST (Centre National Universitaire de Documentation Scientifique et Technique) in Tunisia have already started building their national platforms for dissertations: Toubk@l in Morocco and in-progress platforms for Tunisia and Algeria. This policy of focusing on theses has similarly been aplied at European universities, but then repository managers should keep in mind they're aiming to collect research papers and other high-value institutional research outputs as well, so their visibility will be enhanced as a result. Dissertations being intellectual property of the universities and not always requiring to ask researchers for their permission for offering them online, part of the challenges of Open Access dissemination are rather easily tackled, but then there is no Open Access advocacy carried out and it won't be so easy to extend content gathering to the materials most valued by researchers everywhere.
Efforts like the Tunisian E-doc Université Virtuelle de Tunis (UVT) EPrints-based repository or the Algerian Dépot Numérique de l'Université d'Alger DSpace-based archive are pioneering IR initiatives that are also being mirrored in many other institutions in the Maghreb. As a consequence of the work of this ISTeMag Group on Open Archives, a network of institutional repositories in the Maghreb universities could soon be available.