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Conference Report


D-Lib Magazine
July/August 2009

Volume 15 Number 7/8

ISSN 1082-9873

Report on the 2nd African Digital Scholarship and Curation Conference


Martie van Deventer
South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
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Heila Pienaar
University of Pretoria
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Red Line


The 2nd African Digital Scholarship and Curation Conference was held in Pretoria, South Africa, on 12 and 13 May 2009. In addition, an e-Research seminar for senior researchers was facilitated on 11 May, and several post-conference workshops were held on 14 May. The principal organizers of the conference were the University of Pretoria represented by Dr. Heila Pienaar, and the University of Botswana, represented by Prof. Tunde Oladiran. This conference was a follow-up to two conferences that were held independently in 2007 and 2008: the University of Botswana's Digital Scholarship Conference in December 2007, Gaberone, and the 1st African Digital Curation Conference in February 2008, Pretoria (

The main purpose of this 2nd conference was to identify opportunities, strategies and practical examples for new forms of research and scholarship, and for the management of the digital content of these activities by academics, researchers, scientists, information professionals and IT experts. In particular it was an attempt to pull subject expertise and advanced computer skills, as well as information science practitioners, into the same conversations. The collaboration between the two universities ensured a very successful conference!

The outcome of the e-Research seminar was exceptionally rewarding. This half-day seminar was hosted by the University of Pretoria and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research as part of the Southern Education and Research Alliance activities. The main purpose of the seminar was to extract lessons learnt by overseas players active in the field of e-Research and to dovetail the learning with local agendas with the view of using these as input considerations for the review and mobilisation of a South African e-Research blueprint.

Despite the very limited time available and the highly condensed format of the workshop, the organisers, presenters and delegates generally expressed satisfaction with the quality of dialogue and knowledge exchange that took place and expressed confidence in the local players' ability to map out and implement a collaborative programme to benefit the South African research community.

Delegates agreed that the immediate and primary focus will have to be on the inclusive development of a strategic framework with a five- to ten-year horizon, and to have this adequately funded, resourced and governed to serve the South African research community with the technology backbone and service for effective and efficient linkages to similar users and providers, both locally and abroad.The conference was planned as three parallel tracks but also with three plenary sessions. The plenary sessions attempted to provide an international perspective while the parallel tracks concentrated on practical implementations and ongoing activities, mainly in Africa but also with perspectives from abroad. Tracks were subdivided as follows:

  • Track A: e-Research & e-Science; IT infrastructure for digital scholarship; collaboration; open scholarship and e-Resources.
  • Track B: Digital preservation; digital data management and digital curation.
  • Track C: Digital divide; e-Learning and distance learning; intellectual property issues; IT adoption and perceptions; information literacy; ethics and trust in the digital world.

During the first plenary session of the conference, Matthew Dovey, of the JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee, UK), provided a very informative and entertaining overview of the UK's VRE (virtual research environment) programme from 2004 to the present.

Lee Dirks, of Microsoft Research, was the main speaker during the second plenary session. In his paper "Transforming scholarly communication," he predicted that within the next five to ten years:

  • Open access to both text and data will be the rule, not the exception,
  • Publications will be live documents with links to (real-time) data and related software,
  • New forms of peer review and social networking will have been accepted/adopted,
  • Blogs and wikis for collaborative research will be normal operating procedure,
  • National and international repositories will be a key part of the scientific cyberinfrastructure,
  • Preservation and long-term access to data sets will be a mandated part of the scientific lifecycle,
  • A service industry will develop around online data analysis, visualization and dissemination of scientific information, and that
  • Most of the above scenarios will be cloud-based services, hosted by third parties and not the academic institution.

He pleaded for networking and collaboration – a message that again surfaced during the third plenary where Myron Gutmann (and Anne Green) of ICPSR, in their paper "Building partnerships among social science researchers, institution-based repositories and domain specific data archives" placed much emphasis on collaboration for the sake of curation excellence. Gutmann indicated that there is an increasing sense that partnerships can work but that such partnerships require effective agreement on repository formats and metadata standards. He indicated that, although much still needs to be done, participants are making gradual progress towards the shared goal of efficient digital preservation and data sharing. He is of the opinion that by sharing the workload it is possible to benefit from domain expertise, to make use of 'on the ground' services and to build up economies of scale.

Several other international speakers contributed to the sharing of learning and experience. David Giaretta of the UK's Digital Curation Centre (DCC) was perhaps the most prolific – delivering no fewer than three papers!

Conference attendees appeared surprised by the contributions from Africa. Papers varied from digitizing knowledge regarding the processing of indigenous fruit to investigating the need for a virtual research environment amongst researchers of malaria, to activities that produce the data related to sun spot activity, to intelligent transport systems and to cloud computing. The fact that e-Research / e-Scholarship had progressed as far as it had in a period of approximately 18 months since the first conference, emphasized the dire need to also get the related curation activities up to speed.

A paper on Botswana's progress with regard to e-Learning was well received while a paper relating initiatives to introduce science and technology to toddlers attracted much attention. The next stage of development would be to transfer some of the learning content to mobile technology – a solution to several obstacles within the African context. Similarly, papers on the use of wikis, 'gaming' and virtual worlds to do information literacy training were well received and much discussed.

The importance of trust in the digital environment was highlighted by several speakers. Digital crime was seen as one of the key reasons why African scholars are not making use of the opportunity to collaboratively build knowledge. It was reported that digital crime is seen as an international constraint on collaboration. Even inside South Africa almost 70% of current scholars reportedly do not collaborate online.

Open access and open scholarship attracted much attention. The use of electronic content in special libraries of Tanzania resulted in a recommendation that suppliers standardize the interfaces and functionality of their products to encourage use of content. On the other hand the University of Pretoria was able to show the importance of collaboration between the library and the research office in ensuring that research statistics were accurate – especially when these have a direct impact on funding. They also made use of the opportunity to explain the process that led up to the University's open access declaration a week after the conference.

Another paper that caused much deliberation was one in which the authors made use of 'worldmapper' images to display Africa's contribution to the published body of research literature (showing a very skinny and small Africa) versus the image of a large, obese Africa when it comes to issues such as poverty and illiteracy. The reality of Africa where we do cutting edge basic science including cell biology, immunology, biochemistry, genetics, microbiology and molecular science, which in turn enables us to discover the origin and development of disease, was stressed. Understanding the nature of human disease allows us to develop new drugs, accurate diagnostic tools, effective vaccines and other interventions that can be life saving. This in turn means that we can take our discoveries into clinical research, and translate what we do from the laboratory to the bedside with the intention of improving people's lives ... and yet we are struggling to communicate our research victories to the rest of the world. A serious plea was made that Africans actively participate in the effort to find alternative publishing models that would reward research effort much earlier in the research cycle.

Lastly – conference workshops provided hands on training related to the management of spatial data; making use of Web 2.0 to create second generation libraries; establishing institutional repositories; and promoting open access for the advancement of science and research. Although some thought that the workshops were too basic, many expressed appreciation for the opportunity to experience and learn about the activities first hand.

All papers and several presentations have been made available via the conference web site. The conference proceedings may be found at <>.

Planning for the third conference is already underway. The next conference will be in May 2010 in Gaberone, Botswana.

Copyright © 2009 Martie van Deventer and Heila Pienaar

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