Author Archives: Polly Thistlethwaite

About Polly Thistlethwaite

Prof. Polly Thistlethwaite is CUNY's Interim University Dean for Library Services.

Share It Now or Save It For Later: Making Choices about Dissertations and Publishing

Join JustPublics@365 for the Information Interventions @ CUNY series:

Share It Now or Save It For Later:
Making Choices about Dissertations and Publishing
Thursday, May 1, 2014
2-4 p.m.
Graduate Center Room C198

Join us for a lively panel debate on the sharing versus embargoing of dissertations and theses. We’ll explore the pros and cons of this nuanced issue with a panel including representatives from Columbia University Press, Penn Press, and the Modern Language Association, as well as recent GC alums who made different choices about their dissertations. (We’ll also tell you how to change your embargo settings if you’ve already deposited!)

Should you put your work in a secret bunker?

Should you put your work in a secret bunker?
Photo is © marcmo, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license.


Our panelists:

  • Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Scholarly Communication, Modern Language Association
  • Philip Leventhal, Editor for Literary Studies, Journalism, and U.S. History, Columbia University Press
  • Jerome Singerman, Senior Humanities Editor, University of Pennsylvania Press
  • Gregory Donovan, Assistant Professor, Sociology and Urban Studies, Saint Peter’s University and Graduate Center Alumnus
  • Colleen Eren, Assistant Professor, Criminal Justice, LaGuardia Community College and Graduate Center Alumna
  • Polly Thistlethwaite, Chief Librarian, Graduate Center (Moderator)


Last summer, the American Historical Association made headlines when it issued a statement encouraging universities to allow their history Ph.D. graduates to embargo, or keep private, their dissertations for up to six years, claiming that “an increasing number of university presses are reluctant to offer a publishing contract to newly minted PhDs whose dissertations have been freely available via online sources.” Meanwhile, a survey of scholarly publishers revealed that a majority of university press editors are happy to consider proposals for books based on open access dissertations. And the executive director of the Association of American University Presses reported, after talking to the heads of 15 university presses, “I haven’t found one person who has said if it is available open access, we won’t publish it.”

These statements generated a raging debate that has left many graduate students unsure of their options and unsure how to proceed:

  • Are open access dissertations really less likely to be published as a book? Or are they more likely to be found, read, and responded to, thus demonstrating to book publishers their appeal and marketability?
  • Just how similar is a dissertation to a book, anyway? How much does it change between graduation and publication?
  • Is the real problem tenure and promotion committees that expect applicants to have authored scholarly books, which, as the landscape of scholarly publishing evolves, seem to be increasingly difficult to publish? Do they need to adjust their expectations in response to current publishing realities?
  • Do universities have a responsibility to share with the world the research produced in their graduate programs? Are long embargoes antithetical to scholarly values? Do they hinder disciplinary advancement? How long is enough?
  • And where does this leave graduate students — in all disciplines, not just history or the humanities? Should they make their dissertations and theses open access, or should they embargo them — and if so, for how long?

Details and how to register:

Light refreshments will be served.
Space is limited! Please RSVP by April 23.

This event is co-sponsored by the Office of Career Planning and Professional Development, the LACUNY Scholarly Communications Roundtable, the Graduate Center Library, and Just Publics @ 365.

Reposted from the Graduate Center Library Blog

FutureEd Recap: Neoliberalism and Higher Ed

Our Valentine’s Day noontime #FutureEd discussion transcended MOOC platform and performance commentary and got on to the topic of neoliberalism and higher education.

See the JustPublics@365 near blow-by-blow captured in Storify mini-documentary format, featuring live tweets from the discussion.

As you can tell from the Storify, we identified neoliberal ideas and imperatives that shape and reflect our work in higher education, for example:

  • Return on Investment (ROI) is expected, researchers must demonstrate excellence in a framework that factors in profit
  • Some higher ed initiatives profit while others do not; administrators balance this
  • Higher Ed rewards transcend a likely (or promised) higher salary (and taxable income)
  • Education hides its value; benefits are elusive, unpredictable, uncertain
  • a recent LSE Impact Blog points to the limits of neoliberal argument; the greatest imperative to open access (OA) scholarship isn’t that it will save higher ed $$
  • Is the move to “massify” higher ed necessarily neoliberal?
  • Digitization and OA scholarship has opened medieval studies to new, larger audiences
  • How do we resist the influence of money in higher ed?

Additionally, we circled back a couple times to the multiple choice test, reading the course’s perpetual correct answer “all of the above” as critique of a flawed form.

And, we admired Michael Wesch’s and students’ A Vision of Students Today that crafts a student-reported survey into a cohesive narrative critique of higher ed’s lecture format. Form=content.

A final tip: the free Coursera mobile app offers an additional platform for the course. It’s perfect for watching videos and linking to most readings, but it doesn’t fully support all forum interactivity on all devices.  Download it to experience another MOOC platform and to do your course work on the subway.

Coursera app from iTunes

Coursera app from iTunes

Join us next Friday, 2/21 at noon in the GC Dining Commons (8th Floor) when the word on the street is that Cathy Davidson may, in fact, visit with us in person for our lunchtime chat.

You might also follow the #FutureEd CHE weekly student-centered blog . This is the first time that we know of that the Chronicle has created a blog for students, inviting the 21st century learners to talk about their experiences with the massive, open, online platform.

FutureEd Needs Open Access Publishing

Open access publishing is crucial for higher education to reach larger publics. MOOCs without strong content can’t draw decent audiences. And as much as we can love a charismatic sage-on-the-stage, decent higher education requires, well, doing the homework.



(Image source)

Our #FutureEd lunchtime discussion last Friday focused for a while on MOOC politics. Cathy Davidson’s Coursera experiment allows registered students access to the texts supporting the course, but students can’t link to them from elsewhere else (say, from a blog), and there’s no access to the readings after the MOOC is over. MOOCS vary in their degree of openness.

Coursera is a licensed xMOOC platform designed to extend higher ed by lowering costs of delivery and eventually developing a profitable business model. xMOOCs, mostly funded through venture captial now, anticipate income from student consumers, someday, somehow. xMOOCs license text books and library databases to registered Coursera students. Registered students provide a limited audience of readers with limited access to course readings – the articles, books, book chapters, film, and videos assigned. How far can higher ed extend if essential reading continues to be tightly regulated, locked behind paywalls? Not far.

cMOOCs (the 1st “c” is for “connectivist”) , on the other hand, involve open source, home-designed platforms that require no course registration. cMOOCs intend to extend peer-to-peer contact and learning without barriers. They are usually wholly accessible in every way without tiers or time-limits to content. cMOOCs have the greatest potential to extend higher education to new audiences. Open access scholarship is at the heart of this effort.

Last spring’s JustPublics@365 Participatory Open Online Course was an academic project close in shape and spirit to a cMOOC. Organizers wanted everybody engaged with the course Reassessing Inequality and Reimagining the 21st Century: East Harlem Focus  — those with a CUNY affiliation or not, those who registered for course credit or not — to have free, complete access to the entire body of presentations, discussions, articles, books, and film. We also wanted the readings and videos to stay available for those coming along after the course finished, here. GC librarian colleague Shawn(ta) Smith performed the journal literature review; I covered the books and book chapters. Out of 117 assigned readings (film, articles, book chapters, books), 65% were either found or forged open online, at least for the duration of the course. 48% of those 117 are now in permanent, permissible open access contexts —  in open access journals, posted on author websites, self-archived in institutional or subject repositories. Another small percentage of the 117 are posted on the open web in violation of publisher’s licensing agreements. These “rogue postings” are freely discoverable until a publisher decides to issue a take-down notice, as Elsevier did recently in response to articles authors self-archive on 65% is pretty good, I guess, but open access work has got to become the norm, not the exception, for higher ed to reach new citizen audiences. For MOOCs to work, open access scholarship must work.

(Open Scholarship for Open Education: Building the JustPublics@365 POOC
a presentation by Shawn(ta) Smith, Polly Thistlethwaite, and Jessie Daniels)

Authors and librarians can work together to make scholarly work free and available to larger publics, without violating publishers’ contracts. Help yourself to our presentation on the topic, and watch this space for more.


Open Access Publishing: Promise and Uncertainties


Librarians have been too successful. We have made it seamless for faculty and students to get to licensed electronic books and articles that are, in fact, locked behind paywalls. We render paywalls completely invisible to searchers in library IP-space. And off-site users are guided through proxy servers to their information destination with minimal interruption, sometimes only once the first time we login.

We’ve made it easy, then, for those within academic institutions to not realize that anyone outside, without a research library to go to, without university credentials to unlock access, is blocked from the databases, books, and articles we in higher education enjoy for free.

GC Library proxy login

Well, it’s not really free. University readers pay for access with taxes and tuition, not with a credit card like unaffiliated readers must.

PurchaseAccess Paywall

Universal, open access publishing is essential to extending the works and benefits of higher education. Publishing “open access” allows authors to connect with the widest possible audiences, locally and globally.

We in higher ed must rethink how we produce, distribute, and value scholarship. Why do scholars write? Why is scholarly publishing out of reach to so many readers? What evidence signals that scholarship is meaningful?

Some of the pressing questions about open access publishing and scholarly communication include:

  1. Can MOOCs succeed without open online scholarship?
  2. Does open access publishing threaten university presses, learned societies, the peer review system, and academic life as we know it?
  3. How do I guard against predatory publishers trying to make a buck off of OA publication fees?
  4. How does an author find an open access journal or publisher?
  5. How does an over-extended public university academic actually self-archive work that is already published? Is any good?
  6. How does an over-extended public university academic editing a peer-reviewed journal make that journal open access without sacrificing all free time to the effort?
  7. What started this open access craze, and why are librarians smack in the middle of it? Is it just a fad?
  8. How can a CUNY scholar negotiate with a prestigious publisher to retain copyright to a work, and live to tell about it?
  9.  What are Creative Commons licenses, and what does copyright have to do with open access publishing?
  10. What the heck is metadata, and what does it have to do with open access publishing?
  11.  Do social scientists and humanists really have to worry about open access scholarship? Our journals are not so expensive.
  12. If a publisher’s prestige isn’t as important as the impact of scholarship, how do we evaluate faculty for tenure and promotion?

In this topic series on scholarly communication, I and my CUNY librarian colleagues, will explore open access publishing – its promise and its uncertainties.



Publishing and the POOC, or, why we need open access

Isn’t everything up on the internet for free? Yes, most new books and articles appear in digital format, but NO-O-O they’re not (yet) mostly free. Libraries pay big bucks to license them, and the licenses require libraries to restrict access to narrow audiences (students, faculty, or people physically inside the library).

  • Publishers sell journal articles for $15, $20, $35 or more, but people affiliated with a licensing library get them for free. U.S. copyright law enables restricted access and constructs a formidable barrier to information for anyone without a university affiliation. Some publishers profit mightily from this arrangement. Elsevier, Springer, and Wiley all routinely clear around 30% profit by selling journal articles back to universities through library expenditures.
Elsevier clears more profit than Walmart, Apple, and Disney. Data from Mike Taylor, The obscene profits of commercial scholarly publishers, 2012Chart by Stuart Shieber, 2013.
  • U.S. copyright law as applied in traditional scholarly publishing protects publishers interests at the expense of readers and authors.
  • Online digital display of most post-1923 American book titles is limited to a few pages, unless you buy a licensed copy yourself or access it through your library license.
  • Challenging U.S. copyright law and scholarly publication practices, activist Aaron Swartz drew a civil lawsuit for downloading a ton of JSTOR articles using a computer surreptitiously stashed inside a MIT’s library IP-space.

The required readings for the Graduate Center’s Spring 2013 JustPublics365 POOC are selected not only because they’re interesting and relevant, but also because they’re available in a free and open digital format. Lots of what we want to read is still locked up behind digital pay walls; we were only able to liberate some of it. For this course, many of the suggested readings are marked with an asterisk. This means that to reach them online, you have to be a Graduate Center affiliate (with an active GC network userid/pwd) or an affiliate with another subscribing institution.  For example: restricted licensed article from the POOC suggested reading list:

example: restricted licensed article


The Open Access (OA) movement seeks to change this. OA advocates ask writers, particularly academics who give their work to publishers for free, to publish open access with a Creative Commons license so readers everywhere can at least read/view it for free, then re-use and re-mix according to the author’s rules. Scholars want the widest possible impact by reaching the widest possible audience. Librarians want to stop spending insane amounts of money to publishers for academic work the university has already subsidized with faculty salaries. Readers want to read for free.

Academic authors and activists have to make it happen. Publish in a journal that is all (or “gold”) open access with Or use a SPARC sample contract to negotiate with your publisher to retain author copyright. Or, use the Sherpa/Romeo tool to find a journal’s standing permission for open access author archiving (“green” open access). About 95% of academic journals have standing permission for authors to post already-published articles on the web after a 6 – 24 month embargo. If every academic would post their articles for following publisher guidelines already in place, there would be lots more reading available for our Spring 2013 POOC.

A few academic book publishers experiment with open access, but there are relatively few new open access books. Books published in the USA prior to 1923 may be in public domain (unless publishers extend copyright protection), but post-1923 US books can’t be distributed on the web without tempting copyright litigation. Nearly all the books available free online are so old that the copyright protections have expired, or, they’re government works-for- hire, or, the authors subscribe to the principle that academic work should be free to the public. Posting anything online from a copyright-protected book, even a single PDF book chapter password-protected for “reserve” reading by traditional university course, can tempt litigation.

A team of CUNY faculty, students, and librarians select and review every reading for this course. We’ve done our best to point you to the finest open access reading available, but we wish we had more to choose from. It’s up to all of us to transform the academy, to support open access scholarly publishing, and to make the work of public higher education a greater force for the common good.