Let me start off by saying I’m a little torn. I think the proposal by the AHA is necessary and an option that all new PhDs should have. That is not to say I do not support open access, because I think that is a great growing method of dissemination as well. However, open access is pointless if it is not done willingly. To be forced into open access has the potential to create resentment and a tendency to shy away from it in the future. I’m not so sure Kathleen Fitzpatrick would agree with me, as she says in her book, “The production of knowledge is of course the academy’s very reason for being, and if we cling to an outdated system from the establishment and measurement of authority at the very same time that the nature of authority is shifting around us, we run the risk of becoming increasingly irrelevant to the dominant ways of knowing of contemporary culture.” She makes a point to note the outdated nature of the traditional monograph and how it is still needed, despite that. However, she seems to see the real problem being with the publishers and how they need to start moving to being a service to the universities instead of a place of business. I think that is not going to happen any time soon and is not even reasonable since she herself states how little financial support the university presses receive from the universities. Disseminating knowledge is not free, and it never will be.
I think this is one of the main issues with requiring students to make their completed dissertations open access. The university presses are not a service to the universities, they are their own entity, a business. I can see why William Cronon took the time to defend allowing the option for an embargo. While I have no way of knowing just based on his post whether his claims are all true, it is certainly enough to make you think. Are there publishers out there who would think twice about publishing my revised future dissertation if the original was open access? How many publishers out there truly do not care? Is the difference here truly between open access journals and open access books? Are students better off leaving certain evidence out like he suggests?
It’s all quite frightening for someone considering going into academia. As much as we would all love for digital work to mean as much to institutions as the traditional monograph, the vast majority are much more impressed with a published book than a published article. And if having the original dissertation online would hinder my chances for having a revised version published, I would certainly want the option to embargo it.
However, I would agree with the AHA in that an embargo would not mean completely restricting access to the work. Having the book available through inter-library loan (1 or 2 copies) seems completely reasonable. Even the option of having a digital copy available only at the institution would be viable. Would this slow the sharing of said scholar’s work? Absolutely it would. Is this a problem? I can see how it could be, even a step backwards. The best point Cronon made, though, is how this choice should be in the hands of the writer. Giving the option of open access to new PhDs promotes the method without forcing it into their careers.