This session highlighted some of the stellar work going on at university presses around the world and shed light on how they are addressing the issues of today, to help build a better tomorrow.
Overcoming the Colonial Past
Wits University Press turned 100 years old last year, and is one of the most important university presses in South Africa. The content Wits has published has historically privileged mining and white males in acquiring titles in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. South African presses are working hard to diversify and elevate local authors.
As Roshan Cader, Commissioning Editor at Wits University Press notes, “The geopolitics of academic production remain in place; old colonial relationships still influence the platforms. Often, South African authors are first published internationally in English and then the local edition is published by Wits.” However, the scholarship of South African authors is being shared globally on indexed platforms, instruments aiding the availability and accessibility of this scholarship, but English-speaking titles (America and British) continue to be privileged on these platforms.
Books Build Relationships
Books create relationships between authors, Latin American and Caribbean countries, and university presses. There exists a tension between the global south and the global north. According to Sayri Karp, Director, University of Guadalajara Press, “The long-term goal is to link the bibliodiversity of Latin America (Spanish speaking except for Brazil, which speaks Portuguese) with the rest of the world.”
The University of Guadalajara Press publishes in Spanish and Portuguese and does not have the financial resources to publish in English. The press is, however, working to raise dissemination and visibility of Latin American scholars’ content through publication of a huge catalog, to which Spain and Portugal have been invited to participate. The goal is to create networks that will aid in the democratization of knowledge
Editorial Gatekeeping Meets Open Access
According to Reggie Raju, Director Research and Learning Services, University of Cape Town Libraries, Africa produces less than 1% of the world’s knowledge due to editorial gatekeeping, hence the importance of open access. APCs (article processing charges) are exceedingly high and are a disincentive to South African authors being published. Both University of Cape Town Libraries and UJ Press have instituted a social justice paradigm to deconstruct the existing barriers in order to elevate South African scholarship publication. Having experimented with many options to share the work of South African scholars, Wikus Van Zyl, Manager at UJ Press, notes that, “The social justice-driven open access program is a South African platform developed to grow the African publishing agenda.” In response to poor infrastructure in South Africa, for example, medical videos have been embedded in publications from both presses to expand availability via download by practicing medical professionals and both presses have built the technology to the lowest common denominator device for use in rural areas.
In South African law schools, Constitutional Law remains the course most failed in pursuing a law degree, due to 4th or 5th generation English speakers being unable to make sense of the dense legal language. To counteract this accessibility issue, the University of Cape Town Libraries had senior students write the book in a language current students can understand without sacrificing academic rigor. The pass percentage went from 65-67% to 85% after 150,000 copies were downloaded. There are only 54 publishing houses across the continent. Both Raju and Van Zyl affirmed that indigenous language will not be a barrier to having content widely available and accessible. Using XML allows language translation and magnification (Raju noted that law students consistently have poor vision) and both presses are committed to publishing all indigenous languages.
Guam’s Response to Pandemic and Typhoon: Community Bookshelf Initiative
Guan’s youth empowerment grant project focuses on counteracting literacy loss during the pandemic by elevating the content of local authors. The University of Guam Press has undertaken efforts to partner with governmental agencies and non-profits to distribute to a wider youth audience, holding author get-togethers with accompanying activities (art workshops, storytelling sessions, getting kids out into the environment to teach them about the land) to engage young readers.
As Kiana Brown, University of Guam Press, states, “Our Community Bookshelf Initiative pushes out at least 40 collections to common spaces in villages around Guam. We worked with the Mayor of Guam and held a competition to build Community Bookshelves. Guam was hit by a typhoon a week ago and most homes have lost power, water, and internet connectivity. The push of physical books and activities into the community is critical to Guam’s compromised infrastructure. The youth publication program will likely help them articulate their experience with crises, whether the pandemic or typhoon, in the process of healing.”
Physically Located in Jamaica, Everywhere Virtually
The Press of the West Indies is celebrating 75 years. Christine Randle, Director, University of the West Indies Press, says, “While we are physically located in Jamaica, we are everywhere virtually and are part of the decolonization enterprise from British occupation.” The university and the press work to bolster the integrity of Caribbean authors producing and publishing their own content.
Many of the University of the West Indies Press titles are now used in foundational courses and have migrated to America and Europe, causing a rethinking of how the Caribbean presents itself to the wider world. Randle sites the key challenges facing Caribbean authors and the University of West Indies Press: resources, open access, working to mitigate violence, gender imbalance, and climate change.
Article by guest contributor K. Page Boyer, Sheridan.
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