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AHA Statement on Policies Regarding the Embargoing of Completed History PhD Dissertations


AHA Statement on Policies Regarding the Embargoing of Completed History PhD Dissertations.

OK, this has been making the blog-rounds- have you read AHA’s policy recommendation?  I’m a relative neophyte to the scholarly communications field, particularly for non-medical discipline, so I’m less certain about who is exaggerating and who is seeing the truth.

I did a non-systematic content analysis of the comments – as of 7:30pm (CDT) on 7/24/2013, there were 15 comments in support of the policy to 35 against.  This on the AHA’s site.  Many of the anti-comments were unmistakably knee-jerk reactions, painting the AHA as “Luddite” and “stuck in the 19th century” and unwilling to move beyond the book.  Voices of support were, however, more likely to cite personal or anecdotal experiences, usually stuck between the publishers (who refuse to publish material based on freely-available dissertations) and promotion & tenure boards (who require publication of a book).

A few research reports were cited, including this article from College & Research Libraries (July 2013).  Reading the abstract only, you might think that it confirms AHA’s concerns, with only 53% of university press editors who responded (40% of those invited) would consider a book proposal based on a dissertation outright or on a case-by-case basis.  But the results are more subtle with no real distinction made between ETDs and print dissertations.

Based on the “pro-” comments and this article from The Chronicle (and my apologies to those without access), it seems that these uncertain times are making everyone skittish – publishers don’t want to invest in works that aren’t being bought, graduates don’t want to take a chance of not being published, libraries don’t want to buy something that won’t get read.  I’m not really sure what P&T committees are skittish about – their faculty not being taken seriously (because they published in other forms)?

One thing appears to be clear to me – library funds are dwindling (relative to university spending) at a time when doctoral graduates are increasing (awarding about 37% more doctoral degrees in 2011 than in 2001 (see NCES stats)).  This means libraries can no longer afford to support the commercial publication needs of its faculties.

Don’t get me wrong – libraries are still trying to support the needs of faculty, including publication, by providing non-commercial (lower-cost) venues for getting their ideas out.  But encouraging candidates and junior faculty to limit access to their work is merely feeding the anxiety and not solving the problem.

I wonder if libraries could work together with faculty to increase the impact of their work on the field.  Publishing a book is merely one measure of accomplishment – would a P&T committee consider publication the sole measure of impact?  The first comment on the AHA page was succinct, ending with: “citation should matter not publication.”  If a book is published but nobody reads it, does it make a sound?

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This entry was posted on July 24, 2013 by in Collections, Open Access, Publishing.
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