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The Egyptian Knowledge Bank Draws Western Publishers
Posted On February 23, 2016

With more than 20 educational and scientific publishers providing content, the Egyptian Knowledge Bank (EKB) is up and running.

Obviously, it will be a while before consistent user traffic figures are known for this new digital library from the Egyptian government, but enterprise software and systems specialist ASSET Technology Group, which implemented the EKB’s portal, records that on the first day the EKB was available (Jan. 9, 2016; Jan. 23 was the full launch), 5,000-plus users registered on the site, and there were more than 8 million sessions, with 13,400 running concurrently.

The EKB’s reach will be limited, because most of the content is in English, which is spoken by about one-third of Egypt’s more than 80 million residents. (How many of these people speak English at the level needed to understand scientific texts is another matter.) Nevertheless, the EKB is providing commercial opportunities for many Western publishers.

Who’s Providing Content

U.K.-based Emerald signed a 4-year agreement with the EKB that offers access to its eJournals Premier collection, eBook Series, and Emerging Markets Case Studies collection. There are 25 other publishing houses providing content to the EKB, which is available—in theory at least—to all Egyptian citizens. They include Elsevier, Springer Nature, Thomson Reuters, Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, National Geographic, and SAGE Publications (through its company Adam Matthew). Adam Matthew is providing EKB users with access to two of its primary source collections—Confidential Print: Africa, 1834-1966 and Confidential Print: Middle East, 1839-1969.

The former comprises papers and records held by the U.K.’s The National Archives, which were generated by the country’s foreign and colonial departments. They include telegrams, texts of treaties, dispatches from local officials, and other details related to the European powers’ 19th-century rush to colonize Africa, the apartheid era in South Africa, and local independence movements. The Middle East archive includes material related to issues that resonate loudly today: documents on the mandates for Palestine and Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq), the 1947 partition plan for Palestine, and the 1956 Suez crisis.

Adam Matthew’s EKB deal is a “multi-year” one. Oliver Stacy, head of international sales, says the agreement is “very exciting,” and “we look forward to being part of this drive to inspire learning and innovation in Egypt.” Otherwise, Adam Matthew is saying little about the deal.

Springer Nature is more forthcoming. William Mahfoud, corporate communications manager, says its deal with the EKB will run for 4 years and may be renewed if both parties agree. “The access rights will be expired [sic] if not renewed at the end of the … period.” He would not disclose how much the deal is worth.

Springer Nature will provide the majority of its publications to the EKB—journals, ebooks, and digital archives. “This includes all Nature journal content and all Springer e-books platforms,” Mahfoud says.

U.S. digital content supplier EBSCO Information Services is giving EKB users access to several of its content databases: Arab World Research Source, Academic Search Complete, MAS Ultra, Middle Search Plus, and PrimarySearch. Its deal with the EKB is for 4 years, which appears to be the standard term for content providers.

Training on How to Use the EKB

Of course, it’s not simply a matter of providing content and access to it. Interested Egyptians will have to learn how to use the EKB, and providers will play a role in this. Egypt’s Specialist Council for Education and Scientific Research will oversee the learning process.

Springer Nature says it will offer a range of services to help the council support the Egyptian scientific research community. Mahfoud says this means, among other efforts, “supporting relevant events and conferences organized by the Council as a sponsor; organizing workshops in collaboration with the Council to help develop scientific publishing, and assisting in developing the role of the Council in Egypt as a major supporter of scientific research, awareness and understanding; training members of the Egyptian scientific community and providing advisory support to the Council to promote and publish its journals.”

Springer Nature will help Egyptian scholars understand contemporary academic publishing. This will involve providing educational, training, and support services as well as advice on various topics, such as authoring tools, measuring research, the peer review process, how to submit works, publishing models, and guidelines on presentation. “The schedules and timings of these additional services will be announced later in co-ordination with the EKB,” Mahfoud says.

Emerald will provide help to EKB users through workshops. “[They] will be designed,” says corporate communications executive Nicolle Czternastek, “to help Egyptian researchers and authors improve their research and writing skills. The objective of these workshops will be to increase the impact of the research produced by the Egyptian scientific research community. Dates, content and locations for these workshops have not yet been finalized.”

Looking Ahead

According to the World Bank Group, Egyptian researchers published 2,515 scientific and technical articles from 2011 to 2015. This number is all well and good, but there is no getting away from the fact that much more Arabic content will be needed if the EKB is to be relevant for all Egyptians.

It remains to be seen what Western publishers will do on this front; it’s hard to believe they will translate huge banks of content into Arabic anytime soon. Springer Nature announced the launch of an online version of Scientific American in Arabic, so that’s a start.

“This freely accessible online Arabic Edition of Scientific American will bridge the gap between academia and the interested general public in Egypt, and the Arabic-speaking world, and will help to disseminate the voices of its most influential thinkers,” Springer Nature notes. “The editorial operations for this new edition will be based in Cairo.”

John Charlton writes about technology, law, and education for several publications.

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