Am I missing something, or is this disturbing?

(oops, how did this end up a ‘page’? I wrote this a couple weeks ago but posted it wrong).

Google publishes Stanford dissertations online

“Stanford doctoral students will now be able to post their dissertations on Google as the university replaces the traditional bound volumes of acid-free paper with e-files of scholarly work.” “Until now, Stanford has used ProQuest” ” The problem was solved by allowing the graduate students to embargo their work for up to five years, to give them time to get it published. They also will be allowed to decide whether to release either 20 or 100 percent of their dissertation to Google.”via Siva on twitter

Tell me if I have this right.

Traditional: Every Stanford dissertation is available in print at the Stanford library. You can go there and view it for free. You quite likely can get it (for free or nominal cost) in full or in excerpted photocopy via ILL. You can do these things right after publication, there’s no embargo (right? Or are traditional print dissertations sometimes embargoed?). If you want it electronically, then you (or your institution) has to pay Proquest, and there may be an embargo. But the paper copy exists and can probably be accessed by you one way or another right away.

New: There is no print copy. You can get it electronically for free from Google, only if the author’s optional embargo has expired, and only 100% if the author allows it, 20% otherwise. For some dissertations (how many this ends up being is significant, but hard to predict), there might be NO access to the full dissertation EVER. 20% after five years is all you get, and the Stanford library doesn’t even have a copy of the whole thing.

Am I missing something, or is this disturbing?


2 thoughts on “Am I missing something, or is this disturbing?”

  1. Jonathan,

    It’s not really as bad as it sound. The Stanford dissertations will be kept in the Stanford IR so they *will* be available for free. The Stanford IR is responsible for preservation of the dissertations. What students get from (voluntarily) submitting the works to Google Dissesrtations is greater visibility and easier access compared to what you get now when UMI publishes your dissertation. Instead of having to search the Proquest dissertations index via your library’s subscription, you simply go to Google Dissertations and look it up for free. Basically what this says is that they are pulling out of the ProQuest product and going with Goolge for their access. Students can probably still submit their dissertations to ProQuest/UMI if they want.

    As for the embargo, that’s not new to the Google deal. UMI allows students to embargo their work for, I believe, up to 5 years. The reason is that there are great differences in what a dissertation is and how it works in different fields. In some science programs you complete your dissertation requirement by publishing a certain number of articles. The work is already published before you graduate so there’s no need to keep it under wraps. It works differently in humanity programs. In that case the dissertation is often a kind of first draft for the foundation for the first book you write after you graduate. And that book is an important piece of the portfolio that you’ll need for promotion as a faculty member. It will likely take you years to finish it and you don’t want people taking your ideas before you’d had a chance to publish your own version.

    One thing to remember is that dissertations *are* the intellectual property of the students who write them. And those students have the right to limit access. I believe Stanford encourages students to take a creative commons license to the work. Check out this interview.

    And paper copies aren’t the be all and end all. Try to read a Harvard dissertation. They aren’t available electronically. You have to call the library a day or two ahead of when you want to read it and then go to their library to read it. If you don’t live in or near Cambridge you’re out of luck.

    This also means the IR actually has content and you’re deciding to go with Google vs ProQuest — but another conversation or two.

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