‘Popular preprint servers face closure because of money troubles’

Nature News, 1 Feb 2020, doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-00363-3

This is the headline of yesterday’s Nature News article that addressed the OSF service fees.

AfricArXiv is here to stay! 

We are continuing our services throughout 2020 and are working on a roadmap and finance strategy to sustain operations for years to come and embed AfricArXiv in the growing Open Science landscape on the African continent.

We have set up a contribution page here on our website and a crowdfunding campaign on the opencollective.com platform.

Open Collective is a platform where communities can collect and disburse money transparently, to sustain and grow their projects.

Your contributions will go towards:

  •  covering the OSF hosting & maintenance fee
  • planning, facilitation, and documentation of the AfricArXiv platform and services
  • Travel support to present AfricArXiv at conference

A few more details on our ‘African’ context

In June 2018, we launched AfricArXiv in collaboration with the Center for Open Science and have since accepted close to 100 preprint manuscripts as well as posters, student reports, and short communications.
For 2020, the Center for Open Science asked us to raise USD 999.- for hosting and maintenance of the OSF infrastructure and have been supportive in identifying approaches and co-writing proposals in collaboration with them, e.g. for an NSF grant and a call from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

The fee announcement triggered us to look into comparing services and costs to inform ourselves of what is available. It soon became clear that we want to provide more than one option to our community to deposit their work. We are grateful for COS for having launched AfricArXiv together with us and made us come this far. It is now time for us to grow and extend partnerships for the various aspects of Open Science and Open Access to make them feasible and flexible for researchers on the African continent. We want to continue that journey together with COS and the OSF infrastructure, which provides for many more services other than just archiving preprints; scientists can also run their whole project cycle on OSF including datasets, preregistrations, and versioning.

We currently host nearly 100 accepted works, mostly manuscripts, a few presentations, and a poster. 

Even if uptake is relatively slow, preprints are gaining more and more momentum as a complementary step in journal publishing. We are working with our partners to highlight to African researchers, in particular, the benefits that preprints bring to science communication globally.

Services cost money, that’s a fact. We understand the necessity and it is challenging for everyone involved but also a good lesson to plan a viable and sustainable infrastructure from the beginning. As the academic landscape is restructuring itself, all stakeholders need to do the math and figure out how best to distribute the budget and who pays for what. Besides the direct cost for the infrastructure, there are other indirect costs involved in preprint hosting and maintenance, e.g. for integrated services on the platform that are provided by third parties, HR, marketing etc.

Contributors, challenges and opportunities

Since our launch, we have invested our personal resources (time and money) for building the platform, including our website and outreach to the target audiences. We think that researchers should not be the ones paying for our services and instead, we are reaching out to institutional libraries, governments, foundations, and donors – both African and international. For crowdfunding, we have set up a contribution page at https://info.africarxiv.org/contribute/ and are developing a financing strategy and roadmap for 2020 and years to come.

Due to the complex situation on the continent, we have first looked into learning about the stakeholders and had discussions with various experts. We want to partner with African stakeholders primarily and complement financial contributions internationally. In March 2020, we aim to launch our crowdfunding campaign and expect steady uptake of contributions so that we will be able to cover our ongoing expenses including the OSF fee for 2020.

Funds are limited especially in Africa and globally tied to outdated structures. As scholarly communication shifts towards more transparency and Open Science practices on a global level we are aiming for a strong and unified voice from Africa to realign funding structures – e.g. via IOI – https://investinopen.org/

Challenges in covering expenses

Marketing is a lot of work and involves a lot of money for travels and many hours invested to ensure that the Research stakeholders learn about the benefits preprint repositories provide to the research community. That is not only the case in Africa, Latin America, and Asia but globally. Other challenges in the region include funding constraints, low salaries for HE staff and infrastructure deficits. Most of the community leads work voluntarily on the preprint repositories and have only limited resources to do the work necessary for fundraising, which in itself and elsewhere is a full-time job for much bigger teams.

Our sustainability strategy so far

Additionally to our ongoing partnership with the Center for Open Science to use their OSF preprints infrastructure, we have diversified our platform by partnering as well with Zenodo and ScienceOpen. This allows African researchers to choose the preprint repository of their preference and based on their requirements:

Thereby, we will continue working on ensuring our preprint services remain available for the African Research community.

The specific and additional services and benefits provided by each platform are listed in https://info.africarxiv.org/submit/.
In Zenodo, we use a community account that is free of charge to set up and maintain by anyone around any topic.
With ScienceOpen we have an agreement that we can use their preprint infrastructure for free in 2020 and reassess towards the end of the year. On top of the submission portal, the preprint system at ScienceOpen has a standardized peer review integrated which adds another service level.
OSF provides for data storage of the whole research cycle of a project. It is up to the scientists to choose which platform they prefer.

On the onset of AfricArXiv’s operations, our long term vision was always to create a platform that is hosted on the African continent, decentrally at various research institutions in every region, to ensure ownership of the African research output and empower African research stakeholders in engagement, collaboration, and exchange of knowledge on a global level.

We are reaching out to other initiatives, organizations, and partners to make this a reality soon. Contact us to be involved.

Contribute

We have set up a contribution page on our website and an asociated Open Collective crowdfunding campaign.

In the next couple of weeks, we are initiating strategic outreach to liaise with African Higher Education and Research stakeholders for membership and partnership agreements.

Contact us to discuss ideas and suggestions: info@africarxiv.org.


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