1. Questions at the launch of JLPCA
2. How it all began
3. ... and how it will continue
Because of the ever growing number of journal titles and published scholarly articles, keeping up with the literature pertaining to one's interests has long since become impossible, no matter how efficient and hardworking one is. Over the past ten years, we have also seen a dramatic rise in the number of online journals1, some of which have gained the status of prestigious and authoritative forums of publication, while others were short-lived or lead an obscure existence in those parts of the Word Wide Web where all information is to be treated with a high dose of skepsis. In light of this, two questions impose themselves: Why do we need yet another scientific journal publishing on a very specific object of research, in this case language and popular culture in Africa? And why does it come in the form of an online electronic journal?
In this editorial, I will try to answer both questions paying special attention to the issues that are often discussed in the context of online publishing: the scholarly quality of these publications and the long term preservation and accessibility of online journals.
JLPCA is an integral part of the LPCA web site. LPCA was set up in July 1998 as a web based electronic archive or depository of texts that express, and are part of, African popular culture. Materials in the LPCA Texts Archives consist of primary texts accompanied by brief contextualizing introductions, translations, and explanatory notes. The editors of LPCA, Johannes Fabian and myself, also wanted the LPCA web site to host a forum for publication on materials archived at LPCA or comparable materials in public and private collections elsewhere. These publications would differ from the materials deposited in the LPCA text archives in that they would go beyond annotating and contextualizing popular texts, focussing more on detailed analysis (cultural, linguistic, literary, etc.) and interpretation of textual data. In other words, these would be instances of academic research and writing that would normally be published in scholarly journals. That is why we named the new forum for these publications Journal of Language and Popular Culture in Africa.
The advantages of online publication over paper publications are well-known (see e.g. Roberts 1999 and the LPCA Editorial Where are we?). I will briefly deal with two of them that are particularly relevant to JLPCA. Online publications such as JLPCA are fully searchable in contradistinction to paper publications. In other words, JLPCA articles and the popular texts that make up an essential part of them can be systematically searched for the occurrence of key words, collocations, and phrases. This is ideal for readers interested in learning more about syntactic, lexical, and stylistic features of popular texts presented in JLPCA articles. Moreover, being published to the WWW, JLPCA content is automatically indexed by the major internet search engines (in my own experience, Northernlight, Alltheweb, and Google give the best and fastest search results). This has the great advantage that anyone typing in one or more key words in a search engine that occur in a JLPCA article's text or in its HTML source code2 will be presented with a hyperlink to that paticular JLPCA article. Any combination of the key words or phrases 'popular culture', 'popular language', 'Africa', should return hits to all JLPCA articles, since these phrases occur in the source code of each JLPCA document.
The second advantage of online publishing is that compared to print publishing, production and distribution costs are considerably lower while accessing free online journals such as JLPCA is easy and (relatively) cheap. Against this, one may argue that access to the internet is limited or unavailable to many people in Africa (and other parts of the world). It is certainly true that internet penetration in Africa is still low but it is also rapidly increasing. So-called internet café's become widespread in many African cities and the number of internet users is many times higher than the number of computers connected to the internet.3 One also has to realize that downloading an issue of an free online journal is much more affordable than taking out a subscription on a print journal. A free online journal such as JLPCA can be read at minimal expense: the costs of a local telephone call or time spent online in an internet café. In view of African literacy practices, it is to be expected that copies made of JLPCA articles will circulate within a large group of readers. JLPCA thus has the potential to attract a large readership among the people who are the creators of the texts that are the focus of JLPCA articles. This is perhaps the major reason why we do not have a problem with publishing 'yet another new journal devoted to a specialized area of research'. We feel that contributions to JLPCA are accessible, affordable, and of interest, to a very wide audience consisting of scholars and 'lay' persons alike. To lay persons, JLPCA will, on average, be a 'harder read' than the documents in the LPCA Text Archives but contributions to JLPCA will always contain integral texts or extensive text fragments while analysis and interpretation will never loose sight of the textual data. Promoting a better understanding and appreciation of language mediated African popular culture remains one of the central aims of JLPCA.
JLPCA articles are among the huge amount of potentially valuable documents accessible through the World Wide Web. Because of the uncontrolled and anarchic nature of the World Wide Web, many people, especially in academia, tend to distrust online publications and to some extent this is understandable and justifiable. Online journals that are not clear on reviewing procedures and selection criteria are asking not to be taken seriously as academic publications. JLPCA is very clear on selection criteria and on the aims of the journal (see the JLPCA info page). All manuscripts submitted to JLPCA are peer reviewed in order to guarantee the scholarly quality of articles published in JLPCA. In judging the suitability of manuscripts for publication in JLPCA, two main criteria are used. First, manuscripts have to deal with popular culture in Africa as mediated through language, and secondly, manuscripts should present (selections of) text materials that are thoroughly contextualized and subjected to interpretative analysis. Stating that JLPCA manuscripts should deal with popular culture in Africa does not mean that JLPCA does not consider publishing studies of popular culture in African diasporic communities. Many Africans living in Europe and America maintain intensive and frequent contacts -through visits but also through letters, video-tapes, e-mail, and telephone- with their native communities. Therefore, restricting JLPCA's notion of language and popular culture in Africa to what goes on on the continent Africa would completely ignore the lived realities of translocal communities consisting of Africans living in and out of Africa.
In terms of publication standards
and reviewing procedures, JLPCA does not differ from any other scholarly print
journal. It does, however, differ from these other journals in several other
respects. The most important difference is perhaps that JLPCA is not owned by
a commercial publisher. Since it makes free use of computer facilities offered
by the Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences
of the University of Amsterdam, and is run by
staff paid by the same institution, it does not need to 'make money'. Being
a non-commercial journal, JLPCA can be published in a manner that is unthinkable
for a commercial title.4 Journals owned by
commercial publishers have a maximum and minimum number of pages for each yearly
volume and come out in a set number of issues each year. Needless to say, commercially
published journals have to be paid for and, as we all know, subscription prices
to scholarly journals increase year after year forcing many academic libraries
to cancel subscriptions to important journals for budgetary reasons.5
Last but not least, commercially published journals put severe restrictions
on the author's use of his/her intellectual property. JLPCA, on the other hand,
fully exploits the possibilities offered by its non-commercial status and its
online form of publication. Manuscripts that have been reviewed, edited, revised,
and approved for publication in JLPCA will appear as separate issues without
unnecessary delay (l would like to emphasize that JLPCA will also publish special
issues consisting of several articles on a specific topic commissioned by (guest)
editors). The first issue of JLPCA -Priya Narismulu's fascinating study "Our
strength comes from poisoned wells": the literature of self-criticism in
the South African resistance struggle- is an illustration of the principle
publish without unnecessary delay: this editorial was scheduled
to appear as the first issue but as it was not finished by the time Narismulu's
article was ready to go online, it now appears as the second issue. There are
also no strictly enforced limits on the length of JLPCA articles although contributions
should preferably not exceed a length of 16.000 words. The copyright of articles
published in JLPCA remains with the authors. In return, JLPCA expects authors
to use the possibility of republishing their work elsewhere sparingly and expects
them to duly acknowledge prior publication in JLPCA. And, lastly, JLPCA's electronic
format makes it possible to integrate text, sound, and image in ways that create
new 'reading' experiences.
Finally, I would like to address in this editorial the problem of preserving and assuring future access to online publications such as JLPCA. Print publications on good quality paper have a life span of at least one century. This means that books and journals published in 2001 can still be used in 2101 (if people are still able or willing to read a printed text). Digital information is stored on a wide variety of storage media: floppy disk, hard disk, computer tape, CD(-ROM/R/RW, etc.), and DVD to name the most important ones. These different media have one thing in common: we simply do not know what the quality of the data stored on these media will be in thirty, fifty, or one hundred years from now. What we do know is that digital information, just as anything else, is subject to decay over time. What the rate of deterioration of digitally stored information is, is less important that the naked fact that loss of digital data is a reality. It is, therefore, vital that publishers of online journals refresh backups of current and back issues of their journals on a regular basis. If not, one may be in for an unpleasant surprise if one or more back issues of the journal need to be restored from a backup made many years ago. In brief, it is important to realize that digitally stored information needs perpetual maintenance. Of course, the same goes for information that is 'stored' in conventional ways (on paper, analog audio/video tape, etc.) but digital storage media such as floppies, and CD-ROM's in particular, are all too often regarded as safe and invulnerable to decay.6 Digitally stored information also confronts us with the problem of rapid change in computer hard- and software: what was once state-of-the-art may be obsolete within one or two decades. As a result, data saved in older versions of software and/or stored on obsolete media may become inaccessible relatively quickly. An excellent example is of course the 5,25" floppy. Many people buying a new computer system without a 5,25" drive still have 5,25" floppies the contents of which was never, and probably never will be, copied to 3,5" floppies. The CD's we use today may become practically unusable in 10 years time if the hardware to use them is no longer available and if operating systems discontinue support for by then obsolete hardware. I realize that this may sound odd but considering the major changes in hardware and software development we have witnessed during the past ten years we should at least be aware of this possibility, and prepare ourselves for its consequences.
These problems call for a carefully thought out maintenance policy. JLPCA, as well the LPCA web of which it is a part, is backed up daily. Back ups are availbale on tape, hard disk, and floppy disk (soon on CD-R). In the event of server problems, the web site can easily be restored from back up. It is also important to know that the editors of JLPCA will apply for an ISSN number. As soon as JLPCA has an ISSN, the Royal Library in The Hague will keep copies of all JLPCA issues. So, even in the unlikely event that JLPCA will be discontinued in the future and will be deleted from the web server, there will always be the possiblity to acces JLPCA through the Royal Library in The Hague. I should also mention that together with other European National Libraries the Royal Library has developed the Deposit System for Electronic Publications (dSEP) designed specifically to ensure the long term preservation and future acces of electronic publications.7 It should be clear, therefore, that online or electronic publications are not decaying more rapidly than paper publications.
Related to the issue of preservation and access is JLPCA's choice of publishing in the HTML file format. HTML is a universal platform-independent file format: it can be read on any computer, regardless of operating system. The only requirement is that a browsing program such as Internet Explorer or Netscape is installed on the system. HTML is a rigorously defined SGML8-based markup language. Recently, the advantages of publishing in another SGML-based markup language, XML (eXtended Markup Language), have been widely acknowledged. For now, however, universal browser support for XML is still lacking.9 But as soon as JLPCA thinks the moment is there to start publishing in XML we will not hesitate to do so. We have deliberately not chosen to publish in PDF format because PDF files are meant to be printed and read from paper and not from screen. Moreover, most internet search engines still do a very poor job on indexing, let alone analyzing, PDF documents published to the World Wide Web. Finally, the Acrobat Reader software is not installed on all systems forcing the end user to download and install it before being able to view PDF files. For those who are connected through a slow analog modem, this may be too big an obstacle.
To conclude this editorial, I would like to state once more that JLPCA is committed to publishing studies on language and popular culture in Africa in ways that conform to the highest possible academic standards. JLPCA is further committed to bringing studies of lanugage and popular culture in Africa to a wide audience consisting of scholars and interested lay persons. Reactions to JLPCA publications are expressly invited. You may contact JLPCA authors directly, write to the editors, or subscribe to the LPCA discussion list and post your opinion there.
Y. (1999). Preservation of scientific serials: Three current examples. Journal
of Electronic Publishing 5(2) (December 1999). Retrieved 20 July 2001 from
Arthur, Charles. (2001). Scientists discover fungus that eats CDs. The Independent, 16 June 2001. Retrieved 22 July 2001 from <http://www.independent.co.uk/story.jsp?story=78409>.
Bosch, Xavier. (2001). Fungus eats CD: Spores bore holes in compact disks, rendering them useless. Nature - Science Update, 27 June 2001. Retrieved 22 July 2001 from <http://www.nature.com/nsu/010628/010628-11.html>.
Hunt, Jim. (1999). Quality computing: Fend off data degradation. Quality Online, May 1999. Retrieved 22 July 2001 from <http://www.qualitymag.com/articles/1999/may99/0599qc.html>.
Jensen, Mike. (2001). The African Internet - A Status Report (May 2001). Retrieved 13 July 2001 from <http://www3.wn.apc.org/africa/afstat.htm>.
Mogge, Dru and Peter Budka (eds.). (2000). Directory of Scholarly Electronic Journals and Academic Discussion Lists. Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries.
Roberts, Peter. (1999). Scholarly publishing, peer review and the internet. First Monday 4(4) (April 5th, 1999). Retrieved 12 July 2001 from <http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue4_4/proberts/index.html>.
Sosteric, Mike. (1998). At the speed of thought: Pursuing non-commercial alternatives to scholarly communication. ARL Newsletter 200 (October 1998). Retrieved 13 July 2001 from <http://www.arl.org/newsltr/200/sosteric.html>.
Kodak Imaging in Action: Eastman Kodak Company. (1997). Permanence, care, and handling of CDs including CD-ROM, Writable CD, and Kodak Photo CD. In Audiovisual archives : a practical reader, edited and compiled by Helen P. Harrison. Paris: General Information Programme and UNISIST, UNESCO. Retrieved 22 July 2001 from <http://www.unesco.org/webworld/ramp/html/r9704e/r9704e12.htm>.
1 On 23 July 2001, New Jour's archive of electronic journal titles listed 10,731 items (this figure includes scholarly as well as non-scholarly journals). The First Edition of the Directory of Scholarly Electronic Journals and Academic Discussion Lists (Mogge, ed. 2000), lists 3,915 peer-reviewed electronic journals, almost quadrupling the 1997 figure of 1,049 while there were only seven peer-reviewed electronic journals in 1991. It should be noted that many scholarly electronic journals are published on paper and online.
2 In the source code of an HTML document, so-called META tags may be used to help search engines index and categorize a document. Meta tags used in JLPCA articles include the name of the author, title of the article, topic(s) of the article and a list of relevant key words identifying the contents and nature of the article.
3 For recent trends and figures on internet infrastructure in Africa, see Jensen 2001).
4 On the advantages (and problems) of non-commercial scholarly publishing on the internet, see e.g. Sosteric (1998).
5 Some figures on journal pricing can be found in Scholars under siege on the website Create Change: A resource for faculty and librarian action to reclaim scholarly communication, see also Appendix A of Declaring independence: A guide to creating community-controlled science journals. One way to subvert publisher's pricing policies is to stimulate online publishing by universities and research institutes which will also have the advantage of keeping the copyright on articles with the authors or institutions to which they are affiliated. Initiatives to explore and experiment with alternative forms of scholarly publication and communication include SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) and the Open Archives Initiative.
6 Estimations of the the life expectancy of CD-R vary from 50 -100 years (Hunt 1999) to more than 200 years (Kodak 1997), the latter estimate being based on accellerated aging tests of Kodak writable disks. CD quality loss may set in much sooner as a result of hot, humid, and changing climatic conditions or careless handling of a disk (Hunt 1999, Kodak 1997). A spectacular case of the desastrous effects of heat and high humidity on the physical decay of CD's was reported by Arthur (2001): Victor Cardenes, a Spanish scientist, found that a CD he brought home from hot and extremely humid Belize was infested with CD 'eating' fungi. A fuller report including photographs is given by Bosch (2001). A full scientific report on the CD-eating fungi by Victor Cardenes, Javier Garcia-Guinea, Angel Tomás Martinez, Maria Jesus Martinez entitled 'Growing of Fungal Bioturbation Paths in a Compact Disk' will be published in Naturwissenschaften (see the authors' announcement at http://tierra.rediris.es/pro/CD-fungi/info.html).
7 dSEP is the main end result of the Networked European Deposit Library (NEDLIB) project.
8 For a brief definition of SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language), go to whatis.com.
9 For a brief definition and links to XML resources, go to searchMiddleware.com.
© Vincent A. de Rooij