A gathering place for UK Research

I’m the project director for EThOSNet – which is establishing a service, run by the British Library, to provide access to all UK PhD and Research Theses. The service itself is called EThOS (Electronic Theses Online Service).

Today, EThOS has gone into public beta – without fanfare, the service is now available, and can be found at http://ethos.bl.uk. The key parts of the service are:

  • A catalogue of the vast majority of UK Research Theses
  • The ability to download electronic versions where they exist
  • The ability to request an electronic version be created where it doesn’t already exist

I’m incredibly excited about this  – of all the projects I’ve been involved in, although not the biggest in terms of budget (I don’t think), it has the most potential to have an incredible impact of the availability of research. Until now, if you wanted to read a thesis you either had to request it via ILL, or take a trip to the holding university. Now you will now be able to obtain it online. To give some indication of the difference this can make, the most popular thesis from the British Library over the entire lifetime of the previous ‘Microfilm’ service was requested 58 times. The most popular electronic thesis at West Virginia University (a single US University) in the same period was downloaded over 37,000 times. If we can even achieve a relatively modest increase in downloads I’ll be happy – if we can hit tens of thousand then I’ll be delighted.

The project to setup EThOS has been jointly funded by JISC and RLUK, with contributions from the British Library, and a number of UK Universities and other partners, including my own, Imperial College London, which leads the project. The launch of the service is the culmination of several projects, including ‘Theses Alive!‘, ‘Electronic Theses‘, ‘DAEDALUS‘, ‘EThOS‘, and the current ‘EThOSNet‘.

With so much work done before and during the EThOSNet project, my own involvement (which started someway into the EThOSNet project, when I took over as Project Director from Clare Jenkins in autumn 2007), looks pretty modest, so thanks to all who have worked so hard to make EThOS possible, and get it live.

One of the biggest issues that has surfaced several times during the course of these projects, is the question of IPR (Intellectual Property Rights). EThOS is taking the bold, and necessary, step of working as an ‘opt-out’ service. This is based on a careful consideration of all the issues which has concluded:

  • The majority of authors wish to demonstrate the quality of their work.
  • Institutions wish to demonstrate the quality of their primary research

In order that authors can opt-out if they do not want their thesis to be made available via EThOS there is a robust take-down policy – available at EThOS Toolkit

As an author, you can also contact your University to let them know that you do not wish your thesis to be included in the EThOS service.

By making this opt-out and take-down approach as transparent as possible (including doing things like advertising it on this blog), we believe that authors have clear options they can exercise if they have any concerns about the service.

Finally, the derivation of the word Ethos (according to wikipedia) is quite interesting ™. There are many aspects of the word that felt relevant to the service – the idea of a ‘starting point’, and the idea that ‘ethos’ belongs to the audience both resonate with what EThOS is trying to do. However, for the title of the post I decided to draw on Michael Halloran’s assertion that "the most concrete meaning given for the term in the Greek lexicon is 'a habitual gathering place'." – which I believe is what EThOS will become to those looking for UK research dissertations.

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3 thoughts on “A gathering place for UK Research

  1. Any general stats on turnaround times so far for digitization? Ordered a thesis on 3 February, and status is still stuck at “University contacted for paper copy.”

  2. @sean
    I know that the service has met with extremely high demand (I think the figures are something like in the month that the service has been in public beta, the team have received more requests than they did in the previous 6 months using the previous thesis request mechanism). I know that the British Library have invested considerably in more equipment and staff to cope with this demand at the digitisation end.
    However, what the BL can’t control is how long it takes for a University to supply the thesis to them. In theory the University will have agreed to supply the thesis to the BL within a working day of receiving the request. In reality we know that this is not always possible for a wide variety of reasons. However, you have had to wait much longer than I would generally hope for.
    The only practical suggestion I can make is that you contact ethos-help@bl.uk who hopefully will be able to investigate further.

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