Two decades ago, Scientific Electronic Library Online (SciELO) was developed from Brazil as a way to increase visibility and access to their national scientific literature. SciELO demonstrated to the world that open access was possible for journals produced locally and regionally. The distributed publishing platform, over time, increased the visibility and discoverability of scientific research produced in Brazil and fourteen other countries that became part of the growing SciELO network. At the same time, the platform has become an important source of bibliometrics and citation data, while enhancing the quality of the journals that have been able to take part in the portal. More importantly, SciELO has been a shining example of a government agency’s (FAPESP in the State of Sao Paulo) foresight in understanding that publicly supported infrastructure is crucial to the growth and vibrancy of locally generated research that may have limited international appeal and circulation. This has had significant influence on other countries around the world.
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of SciELO, it is timely to reflect on the achievements and also challenges remaining. Journals in the SciELO system are free from permission and price barriers, and a good portion of the database is now indexed in the Web of Science and Scopus from which they were previously excluded. But an important question remains: has SciELO redrawn the unipolar and northern-centric nature of the global publishing system, enabling a multi-polar intellectual and linguistic diversity to flourish, or has SciELO itself being redrawn in the image of the global north?