Do ETDs Deter Publishers?

Gail McMillan, director, Digital Library and Archives, Virginia Tech coverage from the 4th International Conference on Electronic Theses and Dissertations

A continuing topic of discussion in the ETD community, including Graduate School administrators, research faculty, and librarians, is whether or not publishers and editors of scholarly journals view theses and dissertations readily available on the Internet and through convenient Web browsers, as prior publications. At ETDs 2001 (, the results of a survey of journal publishers and editors were followed by a panel presentation by publishers' representatives and a lively discussion involving the audience as well as the presenters.

Using the Web survey initially developed by Joan Dalton (University of Windsor) and reported on at ETDs 2000, Nan Seamans (Virginia Tech) surveyed editors and publishers of science and technology studies journals. She chose this contingency because graduate students in the Science and Technology Studies program at Virginia Tech have been very vocal about ETDs since they became aware of the requirement in 1997. An STS student, querying her faculty and fellow graduate students, compiled a list of journals where they would consider submitting articles and monographs. Seamans contacted those publishers and journal editors about her survey (available at through their email addresses.

The majority of Seamans' respondents were not-for-profit publishers and reported that they had some kind of policy on prior publication and simultaneous submission. The majority did not, however, have a policy that referred to work that may have also been electronically accessible on the Web. Why didn't they have a policy? Because manuscripts are handled on an individual basis; or existing policy applied to web-based publications by implication; or editorial policy had not yet been set.

Seamans received completed surveys or email responses from 55% of the 141 journal publishers contacted. Only 15 of the survey respondents (18%) said that according to their editorial policy, ETDs constitute prior publication. She concluded that with 82% of the publishers of scholarly journals willing to accept articles from ETDs (slightly fewer than Dalton's 14%). Therefore, the problem is not so large as many seem to feel it is.

94% of Dalton's respondents stated that their journals had policies on prior publication explicitly stated in Guidelines to Contributors. However, 68% of the 1999 survey respondents stated that these policies did not specifically refer to works that were posted on the Web or made available electronically. 14% of those surveyed stated that they would not publish works derived from ETDs. With 86% potentially accepting articles submitted from ETDs, she concluded that there is more a perception of a problem, than actual evidence of a problem.

Following Seamans' presentation, the publishers' panel presented publication policies with particular regard to ETDs. Unfortunately, the publisher representative from Sage chose not to come just two days prior to ETDs 2001. However, representatives from Elsevier Science and Academic Press generated a lively discussion among the audience of 30.

Keith Jones from Elsevier stated emphatically that his company encourages its authors to link their articles in Elsevier journals to their personal Web sites and also authorizes their departments to provide such links. Jones reported that Elsevier understands the importance of getting new authors such as graduate students to publish in Elsevier journals early in their careers because they are then likely to continue to publish there. He pointed out the publishing in an Elsevier journal is an important source of validation for academics so that the subsequent availability of those articles from other non-profit and educational sources is not a threat.

The audience learned from John Elliott, the Academic Press representative, that this publisher has a similarly liberal policy, allowing authors to link their articles to their personal Web sites even though the authors assigned copyright to the publisher. Coincidentally, Elsevier Science may acquire Academic Press (i.e., Harcourt Brace) in the near future. Elliott also pointed out the importance of peer review that journal articles receive that is not at all the same sort of review that ETDs get.

Questions and comments from the audience included discussion of university press policies as well as a plea from BioMed Central to abandon over-priced academic journals for the new breed of online scholarly communications.

The majority of graduate student authors at Virginia Tech reported through a survey administered at the end of the ETD submission process that the decision to limit access to their ETDs was based on advice from their faculty advisors.

John Eaton, Virginia Tech Graduate School, has twice surveyed graduate student alumni (1998 and 1999) about publishing articles derived from their ETDs. He found that 100% of those who had successfully published had not had any problems getting published because their theses or dissertations were online and readily available on the Internet.

Therefore, if one looks at the results of the Dalton and Seaman surveys in combination with Virginia Tech's surveys of graduate student alumni, the ready availability of ETDs on the Internet does not deter the vast majority of publishers from publishing articles derived from graduate research already available on the Internet.