Your Dissertation: Why Academic Works and ProQuest?

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The Graduate Center Library recently updated its deposit procedures for the dissertations, theses, and capstone projects of graduating students. The full procedures are on the library’s deposit guide, but the upshot is this: All culminating projects must be submitted to CUNY Academic Works (CUNY’s open access institutional repository), and all dissertations must also be submitted to ProQuest for inclusion in the ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global database. (Submission is mandatory, but there are embargo options — i.e., opportunities to delay release of the full text — in both Academic Works and ProQuest.) Here is how the policy is written in the Graduate Center Bulletin (page 17):

diss in bulletin

Why Does the Graduate Center Have This Policy?

First and most fundamentally, a dissertation contains original research that contributes to the author’s field. But if nobody can access a dissertation, it’s not actually a contribution to the field! In order to advance knowledge, a dissertation must be available to readers beyond the degree-granting institution. For this reason, universities everywhere require graduating doctoral students to submit their dissertations for archiving and publication. In this context, “publication” means “the act of making available to the public,” not “formal publication with a publishing house.” Historically, dissertations were made public in libraries and via interlibrary loan. Thanks to the internet, there are now easier and more effective ways to make them public.

Different institutions have different policies about where dissertations must go, but the two most common destinations are open access institutional repositories and ProQuest. Some schools require inclusion in one or the other; some require inclusion in both. The Graduate Center requires both. (In December, the Graduate Center joined the long list of universities that no longer collect print copies.)

Last year, we — the library, the administration, and a subcommittee of faculty — reexamined the issues surrounding inclusion in Academic Works and ProQuest, and concluded that there continue to be very good reasons to maintain both databases of dissertations. Here are some key considerations:

CUNY Academic Works:

  • Provides no-cost access to everyone, everywhere: students, researchers of all kinds, taxpayers that fund CUNY, etc.
  • Global public access in turn benefits authors. Academic Works offers authors increased online visibility, increased impact, and increased opportunity for feedback from and conversation with other scholars.
  • Respects author choice re: embargoes. Authors may set an initial embargo of up to two years and may also extend their embargoes two years at a time.
  • Optimized for discoverability via Google, Google Scholar, etc.
  • Included in the library discovery tool OneSearch, maximizing benefit to CUNY students and faculty.
  • Provides detailed download statistics, which help authors understand their work’s reach and impact.

ProQuest:

  • Pulls together many (but not all) dissertations from many (but not all) universities. ProQuest’s Dissertations and Theses Global database currently includes the full text of 1.7 million dissertations and theses.
  • Respects author choice re: embargoes. Authors may set an initial embargo of up to two years and can later contact ProQuest to extend the embargo or even make it permanent.
  • Shares metadata with 30+ major subject indexes (MLA, PsycInfo, ERIC, etc.), making dissertations discoverable to researchers using the standard research tools for their fields. These indexes receive dissertation metadata from ProQuest only, not from institutional repositories. Therefore, to withhold dissertation information from ProQuest would be to withhold it from these indexes — and to fail to treat GC dissertations as the public contribution to scholarship required for a degree.
  • Preserves submissions on microfilm, which helps to ensure the really long-term availability and readability of dissertations.
  • Limits access to those who have access to the ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global database or can afford to purchase a copy of the work from ProQuest.
  • Profits off student work. ProQuest gives authors small royalties from each sale but keeps most of the income from dissertation sales.

The last two ProQuest points don’t sit well with many (including students, faculty, librarians, and administrators), and understandably so. However, ProQuest does provide valuable services that the library cannot afford to perform itself. And, importantly, authors can choose long-term or permanent embargoes, which prevent ProQuest from selling or otherwise commodifying their dissertations.

All told, the pros of ProQuest still outweigh the cons, and inclusion in both databases ensures maximal discoverability across the broadest range of search tools — both research databases and Google.

What about Alumni Dissertations?

The benefits of inclusion in CUNY Academic Works are so overwhelming that we’re inviting alumni to make their dissertations open access in CUNY Academic Works too. Are you an alum? Want to open up your dissertation? We’ve already digitized it and would be happy to add it to Academic Works. To set your dissertation free, contact the Dissertation Office at deposit@gc.cuny.edu.

Related Question: Does Open Access Affect Publishing Prospects?

Many students wonder or worry: If a dissertation is open access, is it harder to publish a book based on that dissertation? It’s a complex question, but research performed to date indicates that, by and large, the answer is NO. One key reason is that dissertation-based books are massively different from the dissertations they’re based on.

For a thorough analysis of this question, see “Open Access and the Graduate Author: A Dissertation Anxiety Manual” by Jill Cirasella and Polly Thistlethwaite, to be published (and posted on Academic Works) in 2016. (Or email Jill now at jcirasella@gc.cuny.edu for our latest draft!)

Another Related Question: What about Digital Projects?

Only static files can be submitted to Academic Works and ProQuest — PDFs, image files, video files, audio files, etc. What about dissertations that have dynamic digital components (e.g., websites, apps) or are entirely digital? How does the library capture those?

We do our best to capture them using Archive-It (Internet Archive’s website archiving service) and webrecorder.io (which creates a WARC file that we upload to Academic Works). Learn more.

About the Author

Jill Cirasella is the Associate Librarian for Scholarly Communication and Digital Scholarship at the Graduate Center, CUNY.