Initiatives to share scholarly works in Zimbabwe emerged in the early 2000s through the efforts of the Association of African Universities (AAU). It was noted that African research results are rarely indexed in major international databases and as a result the Database of African Thesis and Dissertations was born to share abstracts and metadata produced by African universities. This became a harbinger of future Open Access activities in the context of opening knowledge in Zimbabwe. The University of Zimbabwe and the National University of Science and Technology participated from the early stages of the DATAD project.
The champion for open access was done mainly by the academic institutions and later the formation of the Zimbabwe University Libraries Consortium (ZULC) provided necessary sands for the germination of the seeds of open access. In 2006, ZULC held a watershed open access conference which debated the need for coordinated Open Access developments in Zimbabwe.
Post ZULC conference developments
After the ZULC conference, there was enthusiasm by the various academic libraries to start their own repositories. The Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL) and the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) provided support for a number of advocacy programmes to raise OA awareness amongst members of their respective consortias. In 2010, of the 13 universities then, 7 had already implemented their institutional repositories – the challenges faced then were documented here. A number of institutional campaigns were done to raise open access within institutions. See an example here.
After 2010, there was a proposal to create a national repository for all universities and the thesis and dissertations were a low hanging fruit. The Zimthesis was proposed as a national repository, a lot of work and commitment was needed to bring this to reality – this included institutional support, hosting and common standards. The dream then was to a repository like this one, however sadly Zimthesis never took off.
There were more developments in Open Access Repositories than in Open Access Publishing. However, there are 11 Zimbabwean journals on African Journals Online project.
Current Repository landscape
According to OpenDOAR, Zimbabwe has 9 registered repositories and these are - Bindura University of Science Education Institutional Repository, Chinhoyi University of Technology Institutional Repository (CUTIR), Midlands State University Repository, National Research Database of Zimbabwe, NuSpace, NuStone, University of Zimbabwe Institutional Repository, Virtual Library on Capacity Development, and ZOU SPACE, Institutional Repository.
ZOU SPACE repository runs on AgriOcean DSpace. A study done recently noticed that still a few repositories are searcheable via Google Scholar. The major content of these repositories are journal articles, published conference papers, projects and dissertations, digital collections and past examination papers whose full texts are accessible on the universities’ local Intranets (GOAP, 2015).
The recent rankings notes that the University of Zimbabwe repository is ranked number 45 in Africa and the only one in the top hundred in Africa. EifL has supported the adoption and implementation of open access policies and repositories in Zimbabwe. This included 34 projects, with one workshop reporting 55 executives from 21 institutions supporting OA initiatives. The National OA policy formulation process has since been commissioned.
There are still inherent challenges that inhibit the uptake of Open Access, and these include, low research output from academics, visibility of the repositories, brain-drain, and institutional policy framework.