Dissertations and Open Access


Your dissertation is complete. You have successfully defended it. Your advisors have signed off on it. Now, as part of your “obligation to make your research available to other scholars” (Graduate Division: Dissertation Writing and Filing) you need to submit it. Traditionally, it has been the responsibility of the University Library to make the work of its scholars available to the public. In the old days, this meant that the Library got a copy which they then cataloged and shelved in the dusty stacks. Anyone who wanted to read your major opus was welcome to come to campus, get a stack pass, page it at the circulation desk, then read the hard copy. Now, with dissertations filed electronically, the Library can make a digital version of your dissertation freely available for the whole world to read.

When you file your dissertation you must make a decision about whether to opt for Immediate Release (making your dissertation open access, and freely available to anyone, anywhere with access to the internet) or whether to Embargo it for up to two years.

A new guide on Dissertations and Open Access at UC Berkeley may help you answer the Immediate Release vs. Embargo question.

Opting for immediate release allows for greater dissemination of your work and has the advantage of allowing you to establish yourself as a scholar in your discipline. Some argue that this can protect against plagiarism by ensuring that others will discover your research prior to its publication as a book. By making it widely available, they contend, you are “staking your claim” on the research topic and its findings.

Others, however, most notably the American Historical Association (AHA), advise against making a dissertation immediately available because they believe that “university presses are reluctant to offer a publishing contract to newly minted PhDs whose dissertations have been freely available via online sources.” Some major university presses have weighed in on this topic, publicly declaring that they do not consider open access dissertations as “prior publications.” But there is no consensus. Opinion and practice vary from discipline to discipline.

In the end, your decision will be a personal one that you need to make for yourself in consultation with your advisor; see also the Grad Division guidelines.


Margaret Phillips, Education-Psychology Library
contact me at mphillip [at] library.berkeley.edu

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