Scholarly communication is always of interest to me, but the conversations ensuing from #ahagate have really stirred the pot this summer, revealing a variety of perspectives, practices, and relationships within the academic community and prompting reconsideration of some basic assumptions about the development, dissemination, and evaluation of scholarship and the systems that support and depend on it.
Basically, what happened is that the American Historical Association issued a statement calling for “graduate programs and university libraries to adopt a policy that allows the embargoing of completed history PhD dissertations in digital form for as many as six years.” This triggered heated discussions as historians, digital humanists, librarians, publishers, Open Access advocates, and others debated the implications and repercussions of electronic theses and dissertations (ETD) systems, such as the one in place at the University of Alabama. The fracas even made the New York Times, although that article overlooked the academic library’s role in the scholarly communication ecosystem.
I have long wondered about the shift to using a proprietary database for the archiving and distribution of theses and dissertations and what that means for different academic communities and constituencies, especially in the arts and humanities. Like many, I value the idea of making research accessible and discoverable through digital networks, but this new modality represents a sea change that could, in conjunction with other aspects of the digital transition, profoundly affect the way scholarship is practiced moving forward.
To my knowledge, there has been little discussion about the possible ramifications of all this in Alabama’s higher education community, at least beyond departmental and disciplinary silos and ETD training sessions. I propose we change that at THATCampAlabama.