Boston College Libraries Faculty Newsletter


FALL 2009

Graduate Scholarship at Boston College: Open Access to Theses & Dissertations

The online system for submitting electronic theses and dissertations at Boston College, eTD@BC, has now been used successfully by well over a hundred graduate students; their feedback has been quite positive. eTD@BC consists of two parts: first, the student is asked whether they want their document to be posted on BC’s institutional repository; second, the student goes to a ProQuest website where they submit a PDF of their thesis (or dissertation) along with some descriptive key words and related information, and they make a number of decisions about which ProQuest services they desire.


KeyboardFor more than 90% of these submissions, students have availed themselves of the Open Access (OA) service that is provided by the Libraries of Boston College. By agreeing to OA, students request that their scholarly work be posted on BC’s institutional repository where it can be accessed for free by anyone who has an internet connection. The author, i.e. the student, retains copyright to the work. If there is a need to delay access for a specified period of time, an "embargo" option exists. For example, if the author or his faculty advisor needs time to apply for a patent, or if there is a need to protect proprietary or confidential information, or if the author plans to submit their dissertation "as is" to a book publisher who proscribes any prior disclosure, then the student can specify an embargo of six months, one year, two years, or even longer. During the embargo period, the dissertation title, the author’s name, the school affiliation, keywords, and abstract are visible to the public. At the end of the embargo period, the full text of the dissertation becomes available online as well.


Given this opportunity to disseminate one’s research rapidly and freely to a very broad audience, what issues should a graduate student ponder before deciding about OA?


Why should I?

In conducting your own research, you have probably been able to discover and access scholarly work without paying any fees. In many cases, Boston College has already paid for an institutional subscription, as it does for the ProQuest Dissertations & Theses database, thereby making it seem like your access is "free". In other cases, it is because the article has been published in a peer-reviewed Open Access journal — many examples can be found at the Directory of Open Access Journals website. Your opting for Open Access will promote free exchange of ideas within the scholarly community; it will also have a social justice benefit, viz. much of the world can not afford to pay for access to knowledge and will depend entirely upon Open Access.


Will the online availability of my dissertation jeopardize its publishability?

It depends. Articles based on doctoral research are usually so different from the dissertations from which they originated that they are essentially new works --- "prior publication" would not apply, so publishers would have no reason to be concerned that they are publishing something that is already available for free. For books based on dissertations, it may be that there have been extensive revisions that would again make the book essentially a new and different work. Nevertheless, some publishers may be reluctant to publish such books if the dissertation is available for free. In fact, even if a dissertation has been made available by ProQuest on a cost per download basis, some publishers may balk; so it is incumbent on each author to be familiar with prospective publishers’ policies.


What if I forego Open Access — won't my dissertation still be available online through ProQuest?

Eventually, after any embargo that you have specified expires, ProQuest will make the full-text of your thesis available online on a pay-per-download basis. However, you can specify during the submission that you need an extra long embargo (more than two years), even a permanent embargo. This is done by inserting such a request as a "note to the administrator" which in turn becomes an "administrator note" to ProQuest so that they are informed as to special requests. That said, we expect that the need for extremely long embargos will be quite rare.


Can I make my dissertation available via Open Access but not allow it to be found using search engines such as Google?

Yes, during the online submission, you will have the option of requesting "No search engine access." In effect, the "metadata" describing your thesis that enable it to be discovered by an online search are not shared with search engine companies. Scholars could still find your dissertation by searching the Boston College repository. And, in the future, there will be a "Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations" with which scholars will be able to search repositories throughout the world for theses, but access will still be provided only through the institution whose student was the author.


Bill DonovanBill Donovan

Digital Imaging Librarian, O'Neill Library

Questions, comments? Contact the BC Libraries Newsletter Review Board.