It seems pretty obvious that “coronavirus” would be the most-searched term on many digital library platforms lately. The need for evidence-backed information about the pandemic is causing a new entry into the digital library space to double down on its mission to make scholarly information accessible to all. Although it is currently available in only the Middle East and North Africa, its approach is relevant the world over.
Knowledge E, founded in 2012 by Kamran R. Kardan, is an educational technology startup from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that has grown to serve 100-plus clients from 29 countries, including organizations and government entities in the research and education sector. The “E” in the name stands for words that can be associated with knowledge, such as “empowering” or “economies.” “Our vision is ‘a more knowledgeable world’, and we have always wanted to show that even small companies can make a big difference,” says Kardan.
Knowledge E provides expertise, information resources, and software under its three D’s approach: Discover (e.g., its tailored content packages), Develop (e.g., its training programs), and Disseminate (e.g., its OA publishing program). The newest Discover solution is a subscription-based digital research library platform called Zendy. Kardan shares that the name was inspired by the Arabic word “Zednee,” which means “enrich me.”
A Zendy spokesperson notes that after officially launching on March 1, 2020, the platform now has more than 7,000 subscribers in the Middle East and North Africa. Designed to give individuals—all kinds of researchers, students, business professionals, and “knowledge enthusiasts,” as Kardan puts it—access to scholarly research, it offers 120,000-plus scientific publications (including ejournals and ebooks) in all major disciplines for a monthly or annual subscription.
Content comes from contributors such as EBSCO Information Services, Emerald Publishing, SAGE, and Wiley. Its website notes, “The average cost of a single research paper is 3x the monthly subscription to Zendy.” And its About page confirms, “Zendy originates from the notion of building a more knowledgeable world, as there has never been a time where easy, affordable access to content has been more needed.”
Zendy’s News section lists the platform’s features as they roll out, including the following:
- All articles have permanent links (similar to DOIs) that can be copied and shared via email or on social media.
- Users can populate their profiles with their role, main area of interest, and country of residence, allowing Zendy to provide relevant recommendations for content.
- Author names are displayed next to titles in the search result list. In the expanded view, the display includes author affiliations, subject categories, and the journal’s ISSN. Search queries can be limited to several fields, such as journal title and an e-resource’s ISSN or ISBN.
- Users can click Save Search to save any combination of search terms and filters to reuse certain criteria. There is no limit for how many combinations can be saved, and users can go to View Saved Searches to access them.
- Any references can be exported in BibTeX format so they can be added to reference managers such as Mendeley, RefWorks, and EndNote. References can also be exported in common citation formats, including APA and MLA.
So far, Zendy is only available in Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, and the UAE—areas where, the About page notes, “many universities cannot afford the subscription databases required for advancing research and studies.” The press release announcing the Tunisian launch states, “Tunisia has the highest number of researchers per million of the population among the North African countries with a growing number of women researchers.” Texts for these researchers are available in French, Arabic, and English.
Kardan says that when even the most prestigious education institutions don’t have access to all scientific literature, researchers gravitate “more and more towards Google or even pirated sites. Their popularity among users across the globe also indicates that scholars and researchers are looking for easy ways to access content under a unified platform. Users are mostly agnostic to the source or the publisher platform and require trusted (usually measured by impact and citations) and relevant articles.”
Zendy’s path hasn’t been completely smooth. After more than a year of development, Kardan says that the team had to discard the work and start over. Luckily, he had the financial stability of Knowledge E to lean on. That “took away the sense of urgency and priority you feel in bootstrapped start-ups which is big driver to get things done.” Signing up publishers was also a challenge. Although all of the ones Zendy has approached have been supportive, Kardan says, “publishers have large existing revenues in many markets and do not feel comfortable in adopting new business models that can undermine that revenue. Finding that balance is very important. Of course, there is always this tough initial phase that you have to go through before reaching the magical tipping point.” That’s why Zendy uses a “regionally focused strategy” before expanding into new markets.
Zendy and COVID-19
According to a Zendy press release, “coronavirus” was the platform’s most-searched term in the UAE during April, May, and June. The term made up 15% of overall searches. Kardan says in the press release, “The threat of the pandemic has raised interest in the quality of scientific information available and questions about sources. The search results confirm our belief that people are starting to wise up to ‘fake news’ and now more than ever want to verify what they read and hear with credible, fact-based literature.” COVID-19 has made people more aware of other global threats, such as climate change, he notes. “For innovation to happen in these areas, science, medical and research professionals need to be able to access all available academic literature. … In the future, if we are going to find solutions to some of the world’s greatest problems, we need to remove barriers to information and democratise access to research.”
Kardan says that Zendy is currently concentrating on expanding into more countries and building up its list of publishers. It has big plans. “We are aiming to launch a free version of the platform globally and subsequently build an app. Eventually, we will launch the subscription option worldwide,” says Kardan. “In the meantime, we are also working towards adding magazines, summaries, making content more accessible and applicable to a wider audience to make the platform more appealing and trigger further use. Eventually, we would also like to move [Knowledge E’s] training programmes into the digital world and make them accessible to individuals. There is a lot planned in the pipeline and we have an extensive road map in hand.”
Photo of Kamran R. Kardan courtesy of Knowledge E