Suzanna Conrad

Information Professional

USETDA & Open Access: Who knew you could talk about ETDs for three days straight?

Last week I attended the USETDA conference in Claremont, California. I don't currently deal with ETDs (electronic theses and dissertations) at my institution since we're still on a paper process, however this conference made a lot of things clear that I hadn't thought about in the workflows for ETDs (and for institutional repository workflows in general).

One of the key themes and topics that was continually revisited at the conference was the idea that many scholars mistakenly believe that publishing early scholarship in an institutional repository might inhibit book deals and potential publishing opportunities. The two keynote speakers Char Miller and Sarah Shreeves gave great examples of cases where the opposite happened - that a book deal came to fruition because the thesis or dissertation received so many hits in the repository, which justified the book deal from the publisher's perspective. This was particularly relevant in light of the American Historical Association's recent statement recommending six year embargoes on dissertations, a policy which is backward thinking and not respective of the modern realities of scholarly publishing. More and more traditional publishers are opening up their licensing to be less restrictive about inclusion of publications in IRs. It's disappointing that an association like the AHA sticks to the past rather than accepting or embracing the possibilities of open access.

The perspective that publishing has to remain absolutely secret until the book goes to press is a thought pattern that seems outdated and lacks perspective in the modern world. Think about a new musician trying to make a name for himself - the musician creates pages in social media to try to garner likes from friends, acquaintances and eventually fans. The musician allows his music to be streamed to also build this fan base. While there may be movies and Cinderella stories about musicians being discovered by an artist relations person from a label, the truth is that the label representative in this market follows a musician over a longer period of time to determine if a marketing investment in the musician would make sense. If the musician has no fans, no one coming to even small concerts, no hits on social media, no streaming hits on SoundCloud or video views on YouTube, it is unlikely that this musician would get signed. The Internet provides the best use case for whether or not a musician would be successful. Why should scholarly pursuits be any different? The grad student can create some usage and recognition through an institutional repository thereby making the case for the book deal.