Independent policy strategist for open access to research, including Berkman Fellow at Harvard University, Senior Researcher at SPARC, the Open Access Project Director at Public Knowledge, and Research Professor of Philosophy at Earlham College
Nov. 12, 2010
Theses and dissertations are the most useful kinds of invisible scholarship and the most invisible kinds of useful scholarship. Because of their high quality and low visibility, the access problem is worth solving, and nothing solves the access problem better than open access (OA).
Fortunately OA for electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs) is easier than for any other kind of research literature. Authors have not yet transferred rights to a publisher, no publisher permissions are needed, no publisher fears need be answered, and no publisher negotiations slow things down or make the outcome uncertain. Virtually all theses and dissertations are now born digital, and institutions expecting electronic submission generally provide OA, the reverse of the default for journal publishers.
Universities that expect OA for ETDs teach the next generation of scholars how easy OA is to provide, how beneficial it is, and how routine it ought to be. They help cultivate lifelong habits of self-archiving. And they elicit better work. By giving authors a real audience beyond the dissertation committee, OA gives authors real incentives to do rigorous, original work.
Universities require that theses and dissertations be new and significant works of scholarship. Works meeting this high standard reflect well on the institution and would benefit other researchers. Universities should do what they can to help students produce good work, and then, by providing OA, do what they can to help others find it, use it, and build on it.
For more, see Peter Suber, "Open access to electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs)," SPARC Open Access Newsletter, July 2, 2006. (Based on my keynote address, "Open Access for ETDs," at the 9th International Symposium on Electronic Theses and Dissertations, Quebec City, June 7-10, 2006.)