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Dissertation Dilemma: To Embargo or Not to Embargo?

(Déjà vu? This post is a very slight reworking of a post by Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz that appeared yesterday on the Graduate Center Library blog.)

fork in road

Photo is © Daniel Oines, used under a
Creative Commons Attribution license.

Now that the first batch of dissertations is available in Graduate Center Academic Works, the Graduate Center’s new open access institutional repository, students and faculty are once again wondering whether it’s better to make dissertations open access immediately or embargo them (keep them private, unavailable to readers and researchers) for a year or two or more.

The GC Library takes this issue seriously — in fact, so seriously that last spring we co-hosted “Share It Now or Save It For Later: Making Choices about Dissertations and Publishing,” an event that tackled the question of whether making a dissertation open access affects the author’s ability to publish the work as a book. For background information and relevant readings, see the handout distributed at the event.

Below are highlights from the speakers’ remarks:

Jill Cirasella (Associate Librarian for Public Services and Scholarly Communications at the Graduate Center) introduced the moderator and co-sponsors.

 

Polly Thistlethwaite (Chief Librarian of the Graduate Center and moderator of the event) provided some context for the conversation, discussing student anxieties about releasing dissertations and announcing the arrival of the GC’s institutional repository.

 

Kathleen Fitzpatrick (Director of Scholarly Communication, Modern Language Association) discussed the difficulty of deciding what to do with a dissertation at “a moment of peak anxiety” but argued that “the thing that’s deposited might get somebody started being interested in the question that you’re working on, but it doesn’t detract from the desirability of that final, really polished well-thought-through project [i.e., a book based on the dissertation].”

 

Philip Leventhal (Editor for Literary Studies, Journalism, and U.S. History, Columbia University Press) discussed the economics of publishing authors’ first books and analyzed the differences between a dissertation and a first book. He described what he looks for in proposals for first books and concurred with Kathleen that a dissertation-based book is a “different entity” from the dissertation itself. Students and advisers will likely be comforted by his statement that “[i]n my time at Columbia, it’s never come up that we’ve decided not to publish a book because it was available online.”

 

Jerome Singerman (Senior Humanities Editor, University of Pennsylvania Press) sided with the embargo. He reminded the audience that university presses are subject to market forces, summarized historical changes in library purchasing patterns, and argued that the market for a dissertation-based book is smaller if the dissertation is available open access. He also discussed the role of approval plans in library book acquisitions. (For a contrasting picture of how dissertations factor into approval plans, see the reprinted message from Michael Zeoli from YBP, aka Yankee Book Peddler.)

 

Gregory Donovan (Assistant Professor, Sociology and Urban Studies, Saint Peter’s University [now Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University] and Graduate Center alumnus) discussed why and how he made his dissertation open access. He began with a reminder that a graduate’s first goal is getting a job, which requires getting your name and your work known — which is facilitated by making your work open access. (Please note that the Graduate Center has deactivated the ProQuest paid open access option that Gregory referred to. Students now make their dissertation open access simply by choosing not to embargo it in Academic Works.)

 

Colleen Eren (Assistant Professor, Criminal Justice, LaGuardia Community College and Graduate Center alumna) reported that the fact that she embargoed her dissertation did not, in the end, affect the interest of publishers in her work. Her closing line summarized the view of most of the panel: “[t]he lesson of my experience is that perhaps embargoing is not as big a deal as it’s being blown up to be because the final product that you’re going to negotiate with the editor is going to be so vastly different that it perhaps won’t make that much of a difference.”

1 Comment

  1. Since there is at least one “publisher” that specializes in publishing dissertations as is, with few if any editing, that would probably be the only publisher that would have a problem if the dissertation was not embargoed. However, the advice of many is to avoid that publisher.

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