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  • Editorial:ETDs and Digital Repositories—a Disciplinary Challenge to Open Access?
  • Charles B. Lowry (bio)

The University of Maryland Libraries have managed a repository using D-Space software for over two years, providing faculty a service for posting their research work and a foundation for moving the labor intensive management of paper dissertations and theses to the digital environment. Close cooperation with the Graduate School has been an essential feature of moving to a uniform requirement that theses and dissertations be presented in PDF format and posted in the Digital Repository at University of Maryland (DRUM). At an early stage, intellectual property issues began to emerge as an important policy dimension of managing DRUM—as they have for virtually any institution that gets into the digital repository business. I believe that these issues are indicative of some of the essential differences in the nature of information exchange among the disciplines and shape their reaction to open access. They arise particularly in the case of electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs) and have at least three dimensions:

  • • For the university, the potential legal impact of providing access to copyrighted information included in ETDs by students

  • • For authors, the potential impact of posting on patent disclosure

  • • For authors, the potential impact of posting on later publication

I will not address issues of faculty-posted research but concentrate instead on ETDs that provide a sufficiently characteristic set of problems. Our experience with ETDs has surfaced deep fissures among disciplines in their attitudes about the electronic medium and has resulted in some unanticipated reactions to DRUM that reflect a certain [End Page 387] free-floating anxiety that caught us by surprise. It raises the fundamental need, indeed obligation, to educate our faculty and our graduate students about the realities they and we face. What must be achieved is a balancing act that honors two important academic traditions—the copyrights of authors and the research mission of broad access to the scholarly research output of the university. I believe that it is a balance we can achieve and still remain within the fundamental traditions of the academy.

Disciplinary Differences

In the UM campus debate, as elsewhere, the disciplinary point of view is distributed across a spectrum characterized roughly by the science and technology disciplines on the one end and the humanities and fine arts on the other, with the social and behavioral sciences falling somewhere in between. The two extremes are hardly surprising but still illustrative. Scientists and engineers readily accept, even insist on, the pre-publication posting of dissertations. Anything less is viewed as a breach of the scholarly canon of sharing new knowledge quickly and building on it. When they have concerns, they resolve them directly and pragmatically. For instance, at the University of Maryland if there are patent disclosure issues, they ask only that a brief embargo of no more than a year be provided. In the case of publishers who decline articles that are drawn from dissertations, they ask for a year embargo and insist that it be based on explicit publisher policy such as that of the American Chemical Society.

At the other end of the spectrum there is a high level of concern about posting, in some cases any posting at all. The arguments are varied and often anecdotal—that some unidentified book publishers decline posted dissertations, that posted dissertations are fair game and will be ripped off by unscrupulous scholars, and that posting itself places too much burden on students to clear copyright of materials they use in their dissertations. I have heard the case made for embargoes of 20 years and more. I am not making an invidious comparison among the disciplines but merely paraphrasing the positions taken in our debate, neither am I unsympathetic to the concerns of the humanities and fine arts since I am a humanist by training. Moreover, the UM Libraries have partnered with the College of Arts and Humanities in founding the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) with an NEH challenge grant, which is committed to the migration of humanities scholarship to the digital world.

I believe these rather stark differences among disciplines are the result of the relative penetration...


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pp. 387-393
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