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Should You Make Your Thesis Available Online? Part 4: Introducing EthOS by Sara Gould
dusty-bible

Today’s post, which contributes to our series about publishing dissertations and theses online is written by Sara Gould. Sara is the EThOS Service Manager at the British Library, UK. She is managing the transition of this e-theses website to a sustainable Higher Education shared service.

Anna has been wondering whether to publish her thesis. Or if not ‘publish’ then put it online somewhere to share the results of her work more widely, and gain the benefits she mentions, like raising the level of interest in her research and making connections with like-minded researchers.

EThOS is the UK’s e-theses website that gives instant access to 55,000+ doctoral theses. Pretty much all UK universities have their theses listed in EThOS so there’s around 300,000 records in all, with a variety of routes to get hold of the full text if it’s not already available.

That’s a fantastic resource for students and all researchers, not just to be able to dig deep into research that’s already happened, but to see who’s researching what and who the key players are – individuals, departments, institutions, even funders.

It almost goes without saying that open access to research theses is a ‘good thing’ for new researchers, for those looking for source material. But what about for thesis authors themselves? Should Anna try to make sure her PhD thesis appears in her university’s repository and/or EThOS, or not?

Here are a few frequently expressed concerns:

1.    It’ll spoil my publication chances later

Well, it might, but in a recent survey only 7% of institutions cited this as a frequent concern amongst their students, and no concrete examples were found of publication being refused because the PhD thesis had been added to an open access repository. If reassurance is needed, then an embargo period can be applied, with may be the record plus abstract still being available to all.

2.    My work will be plagiarised

It’s possible, but then again people can plagiarise from printed theses too, and in those cases there’s no automated way to detect the crime.

Allowing open access to your thesis does open it up to all sorts of people who may come along and use the content in whatever way they like. But plagiarism detection services can help to mitigate the risks, and in EThOS at least, users have to register their details, so we could if necessary track all users of a particular thesis. So far that’s never been needed. And as people get more and more used to open access and theses become increasingly available in institutional repositories, it may be that the login process is becoming a tiresome deterrent to use and has had its day.

Brown J. (2010) Influencing the deposit of electronic theses in UK HE: report on a sector-wide survey into thesis deposit and open access. UCL. http://eprints.ucl.ac.uk/116819/

3.    All that hassle with third party copyright

We do need to take copyright ownership seriously and it can be really time-consuming to seek permissions from any third party for permission to publish. Some university libraries are able to support their students to make sure any third party copyright is managed properly, but most don’t have the resources to undertake such a massive task. Take-down policies and embargoes come into play here, and digitisation services, whether through EThOS or another route, will carefully redact any sections, diagrams etc that aren’t copyright cleared on instruction from the institution.

List of redactions from a 2002 thesis held in EThOS.

The world of repositories and open access is moving fast. EThOS celebrated its third birthday last month. When it launched – on the same day as another auspicious event – theses were held in paper format in the university library and a microfilm copy held by the British Library. Now those microfilms have been packed away, and an average of 450 people a day download a copy of a full-text thesis from EThOS. With possibly the same number again accessing copies held directly in university open access repositories, it appears that full-text open access is here to stay.


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