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Open Access: Berlin Declaration

Open Access: Sharing information to build a better South Africa

“Universal and equitable access to information is vital for the social, cultural, economic and personal development of individuals and communities alike. Our goal is to transform South Africa by making information freely accessible to all.”

Those were the words of Pateka Matshaya, Library Director at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), addressing a crowd of academics, library staff and others at the University's Signing of the Berlin Declaration to Open Access in the Sciences and Humanities on Wednesday, 23 October 2013.

Signing the Declaration commits the University to supporting the principles of open access and working to achieve openness in publicly funded projects. Open access is achieved through the deposit of peer-reviewed research papers in repositories or through publication in open access journals – the research is thus free for all to view and use, not just those who've paid for journal subscriptions or whose libraries have allowed them access (and have in turn paid for subscriptions). Through this declaration, researchers get to have their work read by many more people, industry is able to make use of academic work they might otherwise never have seen, and the public gets to see where their funds go – a win-win situation for all those who create, use or are interested in human knowledge.

The recently-appointed Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, Tshililo Michael Masutha, was the keynote speaker at the event, expressing his appreciation for UWC's signing of the Declaration.

“Open access serves to level the playing field between the haves and the have-nots, especially in the developing world,” he said. “Like the telephone or radio or tape recorder – without which, being partly blind, I would never have been able to pass my Law degree so long ago – new technologies can make the world a fairer place.”

But the benefits of open access do not end there, he continued. “I really feel that projects like this will facilitate the production not only of new knowledge, but also of new knowledge producers, who will themselves contribute in producing more knowledge and knowledge producers. Knowledge breeds knowledge, new knowledge breeds new possibilities. And new possibilities can change the world.”

Prof Brian O'Connell, UWC's Rector and Vice-Chancellor, explained what open access could mean for South Africa. “For most of history, Sub-Saharan Africa has never benefited from the sharing of knowledge with other cultures,” he said. “But now we're no longer isolated. Every South African can acquire all the knowledge that anybody else in the world can. And with this knowledge, and the right level of commitment, we can make this country something people will marvel at.”

Prof O'Connell read from the Declaration before he and and Deputy Minister Masutha signed it:

“Our mission of disseminating knowledge is only half complete if the information is not made widely and readily available to society. New possibilities of knowledge dissemination not only through the classical form but also and increasingly through the open access paradigm via the Internet have to be supported.”

The signing was the culmination of UWC's long-time commitment to transformation through knowledge and empowerment. In 2005, UWC Library established an online repository for Masters and doctoral theses. In 2009, the University established the UWC Research Repository for any researcher who wished to make their work Open Access (opened in 2010). And after much discussion, UWC geared up to fully join the Open Access community, with monthly talks since July this year leading up to the signing.

“We are very excited that this day has come at last,” Matshaya concluded, “and we're looking upon all of our researchers to grow our institutional repository, and help us move towards a full engagement with open access policies.”