E-Theses, Theses, Dissertations, possibly not the most exciting thing in the world (I’m more excited by rare newspapers and manuscripts but its a personal choice), however, they are of not only extreme value to the author, but also of value to current students, as well as external researchers.
When I attended the Cilip Cataloguing and Indexing Group conference last September, the issues of e-theses and self deposit were raised in a presentation* – most significantly the prospect of self deposit by the authors, and therefore the skill involved in making this information (text) searchable and retrievable. Ahem……a Librarians job of course, and more precisely, a cataloguing librarian don’t you think? All answers to High Visibility Cataloguing please! The presentation given by researchers from a particular University had chosen to purchase a repository that could be adapted to allow for assisted self-deposit; that is, a tool for generating what we would term as subject headings but also key words. In this way, it would take the responsibility of retrievability out of the authors (student) hands – it had been found that when the author could produce approximately 5 search terms, the repository tool could generate more like 15. This is great if you’re starting from scratch without a digital repository. But in this economic climate, what if you’re starting position is a digitial repository already in place, where the e-theses are usually uploaded by skilled library assistants and/or librarians?
Ok, so put aside the argument and frustration here that we’re all doing ourselves out of yet more work and degrading our own skills set, and we put the responsibility for information retrieval back into the authors hands, as long as the item is full text searchable. This is the position that I am working in. We have 2 digital repositories that are allegedly (sometimes!) searchable via Metalib – the Ex Libris metasearch tool. Firstly the Digital Collections: Masters Dissertations only available internally; just to our own students. Secondly a PhD repository accessible externally. The Masters Dissertations still being uploaded by skilled library assistants using Dublin Core and still quality checked for consistent and relevant information organisation and retrieval. Whilst in the process of making all of these digitally available (wow that was a mega retrospective digitisation project!) the skills of the assistant have moved from cataloguing the items using AACR2 to mastering several somewhat newer ones: Dublin Core, computer skills such as creating pdf items using particular software, and retrieving the information initially using Access reports and creating and manipulating spreadsheets. Quite a move! Of course that particular project was followed by organising a precise workflow to be able to delete all the bib records from the OPAC Voyager catalogue.
The PhD Theses are something else – always have been! It used to be frustrating to spend good quality time cataloguing and classifying these items knowing they were going straight to our Stores (stack storage facility) and possibily never to be seen again, but to know that for the next year whilst the trial for self deposit goes on, the full text digitial item is available both internally and externally, and yet we still have to cat and class the print items that will be boxed up somewhere in the storage facility due to ongoing changes with the loss of one entire storage facility off campus. So true cataloguers out there please don’t be annoyed but these print copies are having a record of class number, author, title and item type and thats all – 4 tag fields and no great shakes. I feel ashamed…….well not really, as unfortunately I belong to a progressive ‘enterprise’ institution, and cataloguing has been slowly trickling away for the last year.
So why ‘curating information’? If I think of a museum curator I think of organisation and retrieval of special items. I see the Theses as special items, not least as the British Library are in the process of digitisation of all theses, and we sometimes have requests from the BL for items to be sent to them for digitisation: ETHOS project. Unique research (PhD theses) is highly valuable and it seems such a shame for the author to have spent so many years composing the research to have the print item go straight to a dark dusty long forgotten and very grey place, therefore I for one, am finally glad to see the items become digitally available.
*PEARL is an open repository that can be searched by anyone. It can also be mapped by internet search engines and catalogues, which will increase the visibility of our research output and contribute to the enhancement of the University’s reputation.
These new procedures are the result of a collaboration between the Graduate School and Information and Learning Services. The system enables research students who have passed their ‘viva voce’ examination and gained their qualification to self-deposit an electronic copy of their thesis. The Graduate School administrators then approve the submission for online publication on the research repository.
*Apologies to the presenting University and researcher for not remembering names etc :0(