Growing knowledge

Good libraries and access to the latest literature are essential for research, wherever in the world it takes place. Researchers in sub-Saharan Africa commonly highlight poor journal access as a serious hindrance to their academic work. But thanks to partnerships between librarians, publishers and a number of access initiatives, academics and students in east and southern Africa – and across the wider continent – have an impressive range of high-quality peer-reviewed material available. This includes many of the most important journals from leading international publishers: the four universities studied had 79% of the top 20 journals across 15 subject areas in 2009.

But while availability and electronic access is improving dramatically in many universities, actual usage amongst staff and students does not appear to be keeping pace. The study explores a series of interrelated issues which help to explain why availability has not yet translated into high levels of access and use in some cases: technology and connectivity, the discovery of academic resources, library leadership and staff development, and relationships within the university.

It offers a series of recommendations for librarians, ICT staff, university managers and external support and funding organisations, suggesting practical ways in which they can help to strengthen research and teaching by encouraging greater use of available online resources.

The study was commissioned by Arcadia, a UK grant-making trust, and was undertaken in conjunction with the University of Nairobi, the University of Malawi (Chancellor College), the University of Dar es Salaam, and the National University of Rwanda. Valuable support and advice was provided by INASP and the UK Open University.


The June 2009 paper contains a fuller bibliography of prior work conducted in this area.

Journal access how-to guide

Also arising from this project, the ACU and INASP have prepared:


  • Availability, access and use: re-understanding the e-journal problem? (PDF) – Jonathan Harle, ACU; Kondwani Wella, Kamuzu College of Nursing, University of Malawi. Presentation at the ITOCA-IDS seminar, Strengthening Information Literacy Interventions: Using Creative Approaches to Teaching and Learning, 5 December 2010, University of Botswana.

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