Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Library and Archives Canada Sells Out Canadian Students to US Publisher

I've just realized that Library and Archives Canada, the provider of the repository of Canadian theses, has outsourced the work of scanning and publishing theses to the US academic publisher ProQuest. It seems I'm way behind the times as this has been happening for years. I have some problems with this maddening situation:

  • ProQuest sells the theses and keeps the royalties (this was agreed to by the CFS in 2002!)
  • There is a 'minimum' 6 month delay for a thesis to appear online, but probably 4 years
  • I have to pay to have ProQuest micofiche my thesis (Microfiche? What the hell is that?)
  • "Space is limited in ProQuest's database. Therefore, when writing your abstract, make sure that you don't exceed 150 words for masters theses and 350 words for doctoral dissertations" -- what century are we in? Arbitrary restrictions like 350 words for my doctoral dissertation abstract because ProQuest has a faulty database?
  • I can purchase my thesis from ProQuest at a discount later (thanks!)
This system seems very antiquated. My dissertation will be in full colour with lots of images -- why would I want anyone to receive a reprint from a scanned hard copy? While I know that microfiche is arguably a more stable archival format than electronic files such as PDF, there is a lot of work right now in digital preservation. I think we are far enough along to assume that a PDF can be an archival document. My thesis will be available as a PDF on my personal website for free in any case.

I investigated alternatives -- answer: there are none. Apparently Library and Archives Canada can accept electronic versions directly, skipping the ProQuest step. Luckily, U of T is switching to electronic dissertations as of August 31, 2009. However, they just told me on the phone that ProQuest is still involved even with electronic theses. This is confusing, as the LAC site seems to suggest otherwise.

I asked if I could opt-out of that, and they said no, but that I should feel some comfort because (a) no one will actually buy my thesis from ProQuest so in reality the effect is negligible and (b) they agree with me and tried to get out of the ProQuest arrangement early but could not. They expect things to change in the next couple of years, including the demise of microfiche.

Well, on principle, that's not much comfort. But, as I told the helpful administrator at SGS, at this point actually graduating trumps my principles regarding personal intellectual property rights.

If only I could write dissertation pages as fast as blog posts.

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