Academic publishing in Tanzania: if it seems complicated, that’s because it is

Publishers Without Borders Books training is part of a much bigger undertaking that will continue after we’re gone

Publishing professionals in Tanzania after the first training session. (Photo by Maaike Duine)

When I volunteered to spend November in Tanzania working with the Elsevier Foundation's Publishers Without Borders program, it felt like a big deal to me. It wasn't just that I had to make sacrifices of my own, but I had to ask my family and Elsevier colleagues to make sacrifices as well. My family had to do without me for all of November (including Thanksgiving), and the people I work with had to adjust their schedules and take on extra work to accommodate my trip. Everyone was very enthusiastic in their support of this project, and I wanted to make sure what we accomplished in Tanzania was worth it.

A small part of a much bigger undertaking

And yet as big a deal as this felt to me, the books publishing training that Mary Ann Zimmerman and I were sent to do is only a small part of a much bigger two-year project started by multiple international and Tanzanian organizations with the goal of strengthening indigenous academic and digital publishing In Tanzania.

Tanzania map

Tanzania by the numbers

  • 46 million people
  • 44% of the population is under 15
  • 70% of the population is rural
  • $1,426 GDP (gross domestic product) per capita
  • 5 years of schooling is the average for children
  • 61.5 is the average life expectancy
  • 159 out of 187 in the 2013 HDI (human development index) ranking (index based on life expectancy, average years of schooling, and gross national income per capita. For point of reference, the Netherlands is 4 and the United States is 5.)
  • 28 universities, 19 colleges and 14 higher education institutions

Source: UN Development Programme and VSO website

A year ago, COSTECH (Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology ), VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas ) Tanzania, PATA (Publishers Association of Tanzania), BAMVITA (Book Development Council of Tanzania), INASP (International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications), and DTBI (Dar Teknohama Business Incubator) signed a Memorandum of Understanding and launched this ambitious project. The key objectives are:

  • To cultivate a knowledge-based society to enhance development.
  • To promote and strengthen indigenous academic publishing focusing on enhanced digital publishing.

Needs assessment research based on input from 28 Tanzanian publishers led to a two-pronged approach towards achieving these objectives:

  1. A robust and extended training would be provided to Tanzanian publishers
  2. A consortium of academic publishers would be established to share knowledge and expertise and to provide a platform to meet and lobby for common interests.

The Elsevier Foundation is contributing to this project by providing the training expertise in the form of eight Elsevier volunteers, four in October and November 2014 and four in February, March, and May 2015.

Understanding where my contribution fits in is both humbling and encouraging. It's humbling because, even though these four weeks feel like a notable undertaking to me, other people are putting far more of themselves into this endeavor. For example, Maaike Duine, who is running this project for VSO, quit her job at Springer to live in Tanzania for two years. And it is encouraging, because I know that there are going to be multiple training sessions provided, and that through the training and development of the consortium, we are helping to support the indigenous work of the Tanzanian publishing community. Progress will continue long after I am back in New England.

What Tanzanian publishers wanted to learn

The 23 people who attended our training came from a wide variety of backgrounds and publishing institutions. Of the 28 publishers included in the needs assessment, 16 sent representatives. They included:

  • A man who owns his own successful publishing house, who knows a lot about acquiring titles, editing, marketing and sales, but who is only doing print and wants help learning about digital publishing and how to embrace a future that should include more online sales and marketing.
  • Professors with PhDs who had very recently been tasked with starting an academic press from scratch. They are published authors who understand the importance of research and scholarship and who know how publishing works from the perspective of the author, but they are just learning the basics of how to establish a press to publish journals and books.
  • Librarians who are struggling with budget constraints while wholeheartedly embracing the advantages of online book catalogs, digital journal collections, and other advances in digital content.
  • Graphic designers and production editors who attended wanted practical guidance on how to deal with digital workflows and files in a more efficient way.
  • Experienced textbook publishers wanted to expand into reference and monograph publishing. The journals publishers wanted to start doing books and the books publishers were curious about starting up journals. The training provided everyone with a broad overview of publishing as well as useful specifics.

The training

Publishers from Open University, St. John's University, COSTECH, Oxford University Press, and the Nelson Mandela Institute share their ideas on a group project. (Photo by Shirley Decker-Lucke)

During lively conversations, attendees from Ardhi University, Law Africa, Read It Publishing, University of Dar es Salaam, and Muhimbili University help each other relate the books publishing training to their own work. (Photo by Shirley Decker-Lucke)Our training approach was to cover all the topics that came up in the needs assessment research in an introductory way and to then allow the specific interests of the attendees to determine how deeply we would delve into particular topics. We knew a lot about best practices and workflows for publishing in general, and we fostered discussions and workshop exercises that allowed the attendees to educate each other on how to best fit what we were talking about into their Tanzanian context. We did some of the teaching, and they did much of the teaching as well by sharing their own experiences and ideas with each other.

We also gave them templates (e.g., for strategy maps, proposal submission forms, profit-and-loss Excel workbooks, one-page marketing metadata sheets), which they used during the workshops and took home as a starting point for developing customized templates for their  own publishing houses.

The future

In four weeks, we did not provide solutions to all the challenges facing Tanzanian academic publishers. Tanzania is a complicated country that faces major obstacles in health, job opportunities, and education that make this publishing project quite involved. But although we didn't solve all the country's problems, we did equip a number of highly motivated and skilled Tanzanian publishing professionals with concrete and applicable information and training. Because the training we provided is not just a one-time seminar but part of an extended training and network building project, I feel confident that the total will be more than the sum of the parts.

All the individual trainings we did can build on and support the much bigger and ongoing Academic Publishing Consortium. Since I arrived here at the beginning of the month, the number of universities that have signed the consortium agreement has grown from zero to seven, with more organizations signing daily. I'm looking forward to seeing the project accomplish its goal of strengthening Tanzanian academic and digital publishing.

And even though I only spent four weeks contributing to this project, it still feels like a very big deal to me.


Strengthening Indigenous Academic and Digital Publishing

Publishers Without Borders organizationsPublishers without Borders is part of a two-year research capacity building project: Strengthening Indigenous Academic and Digital Publishing. Participating organizations include VSO, the Commission for Science & Technology in Tanzania (COSTECH); INASP, a nonprofit with over 20 years of experience building research in developing countries; and the Elsevier Foundation. To learn more about the Elsevier Foundation's involvement, contact Ylann Schemm (@ylannschemm), Elsevier Foundation Program Director, at .


Related stories


Elsevier Connect Contributor

Shirley Decker-LuckeAs a Publisher for Science and Technology Books at Elsevier, Shirley Decker-Lucke manages the Food Science, Earth and Environmental Science, and Security portfolios. She spent November in Tanzania as part of the Elsevier Foundation's Publishers Without Borders program. She is based in Waltham, Massachusetts.

comments powered by Disqus

Related Stories