Theses: ETHoS and non text formats

This theses break out session centred on the work done by ETHoS and developments in non-text theses.  Sara Gould from ETHoS, presided over a number of interesting metrics carried out by the ETHoS team.  What is clear from the statistics is that the majority of theses held in EThoS (around 96% of all UK theses) are from the last few years and that the number of works produced before 1950 is dwarfed by the number of theses over the last decade.  In terms of digitization, around 56% of UK theses are now available for immediate download.

The number of PhD theses with an orchid id is on the rise and the University of Cambridge has the largest participation.  Other institutions are looking to encourage their own PhD students in taking up an orchid.  More and more theses now have DOIs, meaning they are more discoverable and accessible to researchers. However, one person highlighted that tools such as CrossRef don’t pull in thesis DOIs, so more work is needed on maximising their discoverability.

scene of doors opening into a wide horizon

Opening doors to non text theses

The BL have carried out studies on non-text theses, this is when the examination copy is outside of the standard textual format. These formats include multimedia, augmented technology, digital objects, software codes and an assortment of data files. These types of theses are still a small minority, but are growing and one main concern is how researchers get support, particularly from the Library.  The breakout session formed into smaller groups to discuss how the Library could support these students and to share experiences.  The main points from these discussions were:

  • Any changes to submissions policy can’t be unilaterally made by the Library. Registry, Research Offices or some sort of Examination committee would need to be involved too. As one person said, it is sometimes very difficult to open communication with these units.  Library staff must be more proactive in getting other parties on board in shaping submission policies.
  • Support has to come at an early stage of the student’s PhD, not just before they submit. Some places have been able to work with their Research programmes team to build in Library training throughout the student life cycle.  One person was adamant of the importance of continual engagement with students to give them the right support.
  • Storage and accessibility of non-text formats is problematic, sometimes it is a large array of data files which cannot be easily downloaded, or online exhibitions or even sculptures made of icing sugar. The Library isn’t equipped with the technical expertise or resources to maintain these in their repository.  But as someone pointed out the repository should be holding the digital representation and not the entirety of the work.
  • Accessibility regulations around PhD theses is a concern to most institutions and this was raised at the session. However, this wasn’t fully addressed in the discussion, so more understanding of the technical solutions are needed to meet the new legislation.
  • Everyone agreed that it would be useful to create a platform to share ideas on best practise, this could be co-ordinated by the ETHoS team at the BL.

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