Thursday, March 13, 2008

Institutional Repositories & the U of Iowa

The Chronicle has an article on student protests over the University of Iowa's policy that makes all student theses part of a freely available institutional repository. Of particular concern are "theses" created by graduates from the University of Iowa's Master of Fine Arts program. As noted by C. Max Magee on, "In so many words, their [the graduates'] fiction, poetry, and non-fiction will be given away for free before they have the chance to get it published, thus wrecking opportunities for remuneration and resume-building." Magee goes on to ponder whether the University of Iowa's MFA program suffers from "an inferiority complex" and is overcompensating by calling fine arts projects "theses" when they should really be identified as something else.

To my mind, this is an interesting parallel to Harvard's decision to encourage faculty to only sign publishing contracts that give Harvard the right to post a copy in their institutional repository.

Both schools are making an effort to increase open access to scholarly information as well as to maintain some institutional branding of the academic work that flows out of their ivory towers. Harvard's faculty, however, can receive exemptions from the Dean if a publisher will not agree to Harvard's terms. University of Iowa students can at best get a two year embargo that delays the release of their work for up to two years.

Institutional repositories are a significant feature of the open access movement and can do much to unfetter scholarly information from the control of commercial copyright. There still are many unresolved issues, however, not the least of which is individual freedom to opt out of participation in an institutional respository.

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