JISC09 – Moving from print to digital: e-theses highlight the issues

I’m chairing this session, so may be a bit difficult to blog (since I can’t see the screen from the front). The session goes from the international (DART), to the national (EThOS/EThOSNet), to the institutional (the From Entry to EThOS project at Kings College London)

First up, Chris Pressler (from the University of Nottingham) talking about DART:

DART-Europe – started as an 18 month project between a small group of academic institutions and Proquest. The first phase focussed on the creation of a simple search service to e-theses.

In the first phase the technology wasn’t too difficult, but some question about the business model. Proquest have a commercial service in the USA – but it didn’t seem suitable in Europe.

DART-Europe is now in the second phase administered by Nottingham and UCL – it is no longer a project, but an ongoing service. All partners have a seat on the DART board (really, there is a DART board). Although a UK led project partners (and potential partners) from across Europe.

  • DART now providing access to over 100,000 full-text e-theses. The thesis records come from:
    • 34 data sources (national, consortial or institutional)
    • 13 countries
    • 150 institutions
  • Daily updates
  • Data collection using simple OAI Dublin Core – but MODS and MARC also supported. Took an extremely simple approach to metadata – just 5 pieces of information per thesis.
  • Takes a pragmatic outlook
    • aims to keep things simple – minimise barriers

DART exposes theses to Google (wasn’t very clear how though?)

Although DART takes a simple approach, metadata still needs work.

DART now supports RSS, alerts, export results, multilingual interfaces, and provides usage statistics

How much does it cost to run DART? Not clear – need to look at this, and also benefits. Need to answer the question of whether this can run as a institutional supported service.

DART-Europe has other technical insterests – digital preservation, retrodigitisation…


  • No dedicated funding means progress incremental – but has produced tangible results
  • Time to start marketing portal to academic community
  • DART-Europe provides a networking organisation for partners – not just about thesis issues

Next up EThOS/EThOSNet (declaration of interest, I’m the Project Director for EThOSNet):

EThOS aims

  • single point of access for UK HE Doctoral theses
  • Support HEIs in transition from print to electronic theses (via a toolkit)
  • digitise existing paper theses

Different participation options supported by EThOS

  • Open Access Sponsor – institution makes ‘up front’ payment to cover digitisation of a set number of theses
  • Associate Member Level 1 – institutions pays as it goes – each time a thesis is digitised, billed monthly
  • Associate Member Level 2 – the first researcher pays, then the digitised version available free
  • Associate Member Level 3 – EThOS simply routes the requester to the awarding institution (where the institution does not want EThOS to digitise theses)

EThOS takes an ‘opt-out’ approach – will put up theses without seeking author permission, but have strong rapid takedown policy so that if an author does not wish their thesis to be made available via EThOS it can be removed immediately.

98 UK HE institutions have signed up for EThOS.

Now Tracy Kent from University of Birmingham talking about the impact of EThOS on Birmingham.

  • University of Birmingham – is an Open Access Sponsor
  • From old ‘microfilm’ service, Birmingham used to supply 5-6 theses per week. In the first few weeks of EThOS going into public beta, providing 5-10 per day
  • University of Birmingham already had some theses in its institutional repository UBIRA – these are harvested by EThOS in order that they can be supplied via EThOS
  • Costs shifted from handling document supply requests to converting and loading etheses into reposityr to facilitate ‘front loading’ of e-thesis content
  • University of Birmingham took decision that if one of their users wanted a thesis from EThOS from a ‘Level 2’ member (i.e. equivalent of ILL) then this would have to be covered from researchers budgets, not from the library ILL budget

Birmingham contacted about 500 authors – only 5 got in touch to say that they would not want to be part of EThOS. A further 10 said they’d like to be included but couldn’t because of publisher restrictions (i.e. they had published, or were going to publish)

Birmingham have a number of procedures in place to check theses before they go to be digitised and believe that this due diligence approach combined with EThOS rapid takedown policy means that they are acting is a responsible way – and so far have had no requests for takedown from authors.

Birmingham have seen that once a thesis is on EThOS it is usually downloaded many times.

The service means that

  • Birmingham University thesis content is being seen and accessed
  • There is a changing role for document supply staff
  • There is a need to train authors to seek out necessary permissions and to ensure that submitted theses have the necessary permissions

Finally in the EThOS section Anthony Troman from the British Library. British Library run the EThOS service – they use a digitisation suite to digitise the paper theses, and make available to the end user by download, or (for additional payment) in other formats such as CD-ROM or paper.

Some questions that have come up:

  • Why not continue with microfilm service?
    • Requests for this service have been declining over the last few years – and was costing the BL large amounts of money
    • The system was not economically viable or sustainable
    • In 2 months usage 8517 individual theses requested for digitisation – well over a years worth under the microfilm service
    • In 2 months 17000 downloads
  • Popularity causing some problems with demand
    • New scanner installed
    • Double shifts – digitisation running 8am-midnight every day
  • Increase in quality between microfilm and digitised

Unfortunately this all costs money! However, a fundamental principal was that ideally theses should be free at point of use. Unfortunately the popularity means that some institutions who have made an upfront contribution are already running short of funds – but there are several options for institutions in this situation and they should contact the BL to discuss options.

Once a thesis is digitised – noone has to pay again – not the institution or the researcher.

Finally (running late which as chair is my fault!) Patricia Methven and Vikas Deora from Kings talking about Entry to EThOS:

Patricia reflecting how many different parts on the institution that needed to be involved in the move to e-theses. Now Vikas saying that Entry to EThOS about the ‘born digital’ theses rather than digitisation.

At Kings e-thesis submission is not mandatory. The Exam Office was keen to test student takeup and to streamline administration. The library was keen to see born-digital deposit due to storage issues and EThOS participation as important drivers. Vikas says with feeling (as a PhD) “The last thing you want to do once you have finished your thesis is to go to a website and fill out hundreds of pieces of information”!

The project looked at creating an e-thesis submission workflow
– how to capture the metadata, integrate with existing workflows, integrate with the repository (Fedora in this case) etc.

Found the student record system as a key source of data – this captures a lot of information about the title of thesis, names of tutors, status of student (e.g. writing up) – and the status of the student was seen as  the driver for the workflow. Because the data is coming from within the institution, the Exam Office don’t need to do further checking – so there were real benefits to the Exam Office which came out of the project – you need to convince them that this is going to save them work!

Bibliographic services had concerns about the metadata – assigning subject headings and keywords etc. So the project tried to integrate this into the workflow, so that the library could still classify the theses. They harvest back  information from the library system (e.g. subject headings) – they weren’t allowed to write into the library system (sounds like there is double entry going on here?)

Student doesn’t have to enter any information when they upload the thesis – just upload the pdf, check the information and it is submitted to the repository.

Kings recommend that the file the student submits is the ‘source’ file – e.g. Word doc or LaTeX etc. They can also submit PDF, or the conversion will be done for them – this allows for more flexibility in terms of long term preservation.

Literally takes 25-30secs for a student to submit an ethesis. Vikas sees this as absolutely key.

What’s next?

  • Move from e-thesis to Virtual Research Environment
  • Policy decision with exam board – does e-submission become mandatory? (Vikas sees this as key to adoption)
  • Embargos

Q: Has EThOS considered changing approaches to Intellectual Property rights after 2 months?

A: No – lots of issues around the IP issues, but must manage issues. Some institutions taking a ‘trial’ approach where they agree with legal advisors to try it out for a short period, subject to review, as a way of starting out, and hopefully getting agreement for long term committment if no legal problems come up. Also mention that institutions may well be insured against legal action.

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