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Access and impact barriers to academic publications: a global study of thesis and dissertation embargo policies

Behrooz Rasuli (Information and Society Research Department, Iranian Research Institute for Information Science and Technology (IranDoc), Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran)
Joachim Schöpfel (Department of Information and Document Sciences, University of Lille, Villeneuve d'Ascq, France)
Michael Boock (Libraries, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, USA)
Brenda Van Wyk (Department of Information Science, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa)

Online Information Review

ISSN: 1468-4527

Article publication date: 31 January 2023

Issue publication date: 13 October 2023




Many Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) allow students or their advisors to restrict access to theses/dissertations (TDs) by applying embargoes. This study aims to identify why Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) allow embargoes.


One hundred HEIs were randomly selected, representing seven geographic regions. The authors imported policies/guidelines for embargoing TDs into MAXQDA software and coded the qualitative data.


Among the 100 studied HEIs, 43 HEIs (43%) have policies/guidelines on the web for embargoing TDs, most of which are from North America. For the majority of HEIs, embargoes are a voluntary option for students/advisors. Content analysis of the 32 embargo policies showed that embargo reasons (18 key reasons) can be categorized into six broad themes (commercialization, publication, ethical issues, funding contracts/agreements, security and safety, and miscellaneous).

Research limitations/implications

In this study, only those policies are reviewed that are available, discoverable and accessible on HEIs' websites.

Practical implications

Highlighting the detrimental effect of not managing stipulations towards embargoes clearly, the findings could be useful for national/institutional policymakers and administrators of research departments, academic libraries, institutional repositories and graduate offices.


This is the first study to investigate rationales for TDs embargo practices. It creates awareness of how embargoes are managed and reflected in policy. Ultimately, it recommends further interrogation on how embargoes influence the principle of openness to scholarship.

Peer review

The peer review history for this article is available at:



Parts of the current study's findings were presented at the 17th International Conference on Open Repositories (6th - 9th June 2022, Denver, Colorado, USA). The authors thank all participants in the ‘Traditional Repository Implementations’ section for their helpful questions and insights.


Rasuli, B., Schöpfel, J., Boock, M. and Van Wyk, B. (2023), "Access and impact barriers to academic publications: a global study of thesis and dissertation embargo policies", Online Information Review, Vol. 47 No. 6, pp. 1208-1222.



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