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The state of Open in Algeria: an in-depth view with Samir Hachani

The Open Science Stars series is an ongoing quest to bring different experiences and perspectives on the world of open science from around the world together. Only by listening to truly diverse voices can we gain a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding open science.

Today, we’re honoured to bring you the voice of Samir Hachani, an Algerian researcher. He attained his PhD in Library and Documentary Science in 2013, and this is his story.

Hi Samir! Can you tell us a little about your background as a researcher and your current role?

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I’m Samir Hachani, lecturer at the school of library science, Algiers University II. I hold a PhD in Library Science from Algiers University II and a Master degree from The University of Southern California (U.S.C.) – Los Angeles. I hold positions in numerous scientific organisations but my main role, besides my teaching duties, is being Vice President of “Association Science et Bien Commun”, based in Quebec (Canada) and whose motto is “For an open science, for the common good”. We militate in this association for a just and open share of science and an empowerment of the research in The Souths (we use the plural because we think the South is not uniformly made up and there are many level of developing countries) through our flagship program S.O.H.A. (Science Ouverte Haiti Afrique – Open Science Haiti Africa). My main research interests center around open access, open science, open peer review and also digital divide.

When did you first hear about Open Access and Open Science? What was your first thought?

I first heard about open access some 10-15 years ago when I started investigating my thesis subject and I almost instantly got interested in the subject because the philosophy behind the concept was quite simple and enthralling: give access to knowledge produced by researchers or plain folks to these same people through The Internet. I first heard about open science much later (around 2010). My first impression was that I had to commit myself to the movement because it describes what I have always felt about life: sharing is paramount to make the world fair and equitable and there should not be a difference in accessing knowledge between the “have” and “have not“.

What is the current status of Open Access development in Algeria? Is there a national-scale policy in place?

It is sad to say that open access in Algeria is in dire situation. This is due to numerous reasons the UNESCO’s Global Open Access Portal summarizes in: “Lack of information on Open Access, the concept is new and not popularized enough thus implementation is not rapid, lack of clear institutional and national policy on Open Access, difficulty of securing long-term funding and getting commitments from more institutions to join the open access community”. As a practitioner speaking from the field, I could add a very weak and unstable Internet connection, a weak bandwidth (upload and download) and a rather restrictive national policy regarding telecommunications that are still public and have not been privatized. It seems that the concept itself is ignored and as an example, I conducted a questionnaire on the subject of open archives use and one of the answers was that researchers used “archives of the colonial period“!!! There is no clear policy on the subject as it is ignored and the only initiatives are those undertaken in the academic world.

Is there a wide understanding of the issues around Open Science and Scholarly Publishing among the research community in Algeria?

No. There seem to be disinterestedness in the subject as scholarly publishing has not been traditionally a stepping stone to academic advancement and academics have always managed their career without the famous “publish or perish” Damocles’ sword. I should say that this is changing as the Ministry of Higher Education is putting new criteria for advancement that will compel academics to publish. As for open science, the ignorance is even bigger and I personally think the reason stems from the ignorance open access is victim of. I have already talked of this situation and there does not seem, for the time being at least, an awareness of the issue. We have proposed relentlessly that the concept be introduced in the academic curricula and that courses pertaining to the subject be introduced but to no avail.

There seem to be disinterestedness in the subject as scholarly publishing has not been traditionally a stepping stone to academic advancement

How well connected are the various stakeholders, such as librarians, researchers, and publishers, within the OA movement in Algeria?

Again the different stakeholders do not seem to see open access and open science as THE solution. I have always defended the idea that open access is a boon to the developing world more than for the developed world pending on a decent internet connection and an awareness of the benefits this medium could bring. At the national level, and in consequence of the different initiatives, only librarians seem to be aware of the benefit open access and open science could yield. For example, the overwhelming majority of open archives (either in DOAR or ROAR) are academic but researchers do not seem to trust nor even know the concept, a fact the questionnaire in my thesis confirmed. Lastly, publishers be it academic or commercial are not interested (a word used by a commercial publisher I proposed to go digital) in the Internet, a fact confirmed by the little number of publishers having a website. Due to backward approach, Algerian publishers (both academic and commercial) act as book sellers rather than publishers as the concept is traditionally known.

I have always defended the idea that open access is a boon to the developing world more than for the developed world

What would you say the main problem for researchers is in Algeria regarding scholarly communications? How can we all help to combat that?

I would say the main problem in Algeria for researchers and regarding scholarly communication is the quasi absence of incentive to publish and publish good science. Researchers do not generally have the culture of publishing since their first year at the university as it is the case in western institutions. One publishes circumstantially to access tenure or a higher rank in the hierarchy and not to advance and achieve progress in their field. The reason is the system that insures a lifetime job to people who have a Master’s or a PhD. The solution would be more selective criteria for university entrance (there is actually 1.5 million students in Algerian universities and higher study institutions for a population of 40,641,757) that would yield a more selective output from Algerian universities and whose ranking in different sites is not very brilliant.

Is there a role that ScienceOpen can play in helping researchers in Algeria?

ScienceOpen a well-known and respected organisation could do a lot to help researchers in introducing the concepts of openness which, as I repeatedly pointed out, are quite unknown. It can organize workshops, conferences and webinars that could open up the researchers’ minds to the idea that science in an increasingly connected world could and should not be closed. I personally would be more than glad to contribute. (Ed: Awesome!)

How well equipped are libraries in Algeria to tackle the challenges of access to research and publishing in the current age?

Algerian libraries are the reflection of research in the country’s educational system. As I said before, I personally think the big challenge lies in the number of students and the lack of qualified supervising. It looks like the library profession is in a limbo and the best example is the National Library which has been with no Director for over a year and before that for over two years. As a result, all libraries do not seem to be ready to undertake the transit towards the current ways of doing and disseminating science.

Is there much scope for training in peer review at institutes in Algeria? Are researchers open to the idea of open peer review?

The idea of peer review itself is practically unknown. I say practically because, as I said previously, publishing has not been up to a recent past, a way used to advance in one’s career. Academic careers have been managed as “publish to advance” and not “publish to discover new horizons”. There were no incentives to publish but publishing was a done at a minimum to further careers. As a result of this, the idea of peer review itself becomes secondary as a old boys’ networks furthers one’s the other agenda by accepting articles that are to say the least not worthy of publishing. As an example, if a researcher wants to present an article to get advancement, they should publish in a list of (Algerian) journals given to them by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. Any other title (be it Nature, Science, or the Lancet) will be rejected. These journals are all local and serve only to advance one’s career and not science. I personally had an article submitted to “Advances in Librarianship” rejected because the title was not recognized by the Ministry. Another article published in the faculty’s journal was accepted. Speaking in this case of open peer review is simply ridiculous. Through my research interests, I have approached colleagues investigating their views on open peer review and they did not even know what I was talking about.

I have approached colleagues investigating their views on open peer review and they did not even know what I was talking about.

Repositories in Africa seem to be taking off due to initiatives like OpenDOAR. Do you think these are successful in opening up access to research?

Research has proven that open archives or the green road is the best “road” for the Souths of which Africa is a part. This is mainly due to the fact that the golden road is rather expensive due to the Author Processing Charges (APCs) asked by some publishers (some of which could reach $5000!!). Open archives especially those in academic settings are rather easier to implement and do not come with author rights criteria, the researcher being sometimes compelled (through a mandate) to deposit their research in the institutional repositories. Algerian academic institutions with 07 and 13 repositories in ROAR and DOAR, respectively, seem to have grasped the importance of these tools to showcase their scientific output. Through my numerous attendance of conferences, I have felt an awakening of the Souths to this new way of opening up research though the percentage are not that encouraging (Africa make up only of 04 % in DOAR and 03 % in ROAR of the total of world repositories).

Why do you think African nations seem to prefer the self-archiving or ‘green’ route to Open Access compared to many western nations?

The reason is simply the false idea that publishing open access equates paying Author Processing Charges which are simply prohibitive for an African researcher. His or her situation does not allow him or her to pay to be published. Though this is a somehow false idea (many serious publishers do not charge for publication and there are waivers for researchers from the Souths) it is compounded by the widely widespread idea that the Internet is not a “serious” medium to publish in.

[There is a] false idea that publishing open access equates paying Author Processing Charges which are simply prohibitive for an African researcher

Where do you envision the future of scholarly communications? What steps do we need to take to get there?

It would be tautological to say scholarly communication is going through a complete and radical upheaval. The developments are so rapid that we have not digested one another one hits us. As a researcher from The Souths, I see these developments as an irreplaceable opportunity to catch up with North. For years, the paper made the flow of information hard and one way: the new settings offer opportunities that will make the scholarly communication a more just and equalitarian “game” if everybody pitches in. I have attended conferences and workshops in the West (United States, Canada, and France) and I was able to convey my own point of view thanks to the opportunities the networks have afforded me. The key words for the future of scholarly communication are openness, connection and sharing and we should all contribute and give without waiting for something in return: it will come undoubtedly in a form or another.

The key words for the future of scholarly communication are openness, connection and sharing

If you could give one piece of advice to students looking to make a career in research, what would it be?

Be yourself, be honest, be patient, try always to do your job the best you can and do not see in a career in research the way to get rich. The wealth you will gain is much more gratifying and endless: you will be able to contribute to advance Humanity and not your own (small) person.

Thank you so much for your insight, Samir!

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