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The week before last, I attended (and spoke at) the US ETD Association annual conference, in Claremont, California. This is an organization that works to improve the policies and practices involved in managing electronic theses and dissertations.

ETD people tend to be strong supporters of open access, so there was a lot of discussion of the American Historical Association’s July 19 Statement on Policies Regarding the Embargoing of Completed History PhD Dissertations, which “strongly encourages” universities to offer a six-year embargo on history PhD Dissertations. [And if your professional association says you should have that option, they’re sending a strong message that you should take that option.] Phrases describing the AHA statement at USETDA included “conservative”, “myopic”, “enforcing the status quo”, and a good old barnyard epithet starting with “bull____” (this by a historian, in the middle of his plenary talk). IMO it is at the very least a narrow, outdated view of what History PhDs might want to do in life (get tenure as history professors) and how they might accomplish that (slap a glossy binding on their warmed-over dissertation and call it a book). Mostly thoughtful comments on both sides of the issue at #AHAgate.

That plenary was the highlight of the conference for me. Char Miller, director of the Environmental Analysis Program at Pomona College, talked with great feeling about a sea change in both the nature and evaluation of undergraduate pedagogy, strongly de-emphasizing what faculty teach and emphasizing what students learn (so, measuring–and accrediting–based on outcomes rather than inputs). This makes it vital to have access to student works, including their theses. Miller talked in particular about undergraduate theses, and contrasted the situation at Pomona today with his experience: two [print] copies of his undergraduate thesis existed once, but other than a vague suggestion that one is in the Pomona archives, somewhere, no one has ever read it or could currently lay their hands on it. By contrast, one of his recent advisees called him, excited that her senior thesis has been downloaded hundreds of times.

Other highlights: what you have to consider if you’re serious about giving your ETDs (or any electronic documents) a lifespan of, say, 100 years; using a private LOCKSS network for archiving locally created content; and results of a survey of book and journal publishers that helps to refute some of the FUD propagated by people like the AHA. In an interesting bit of finger pointing, some publishers say they won’t touch a book based on an OA dissertation because libraries won’t buy them. Which really translates as: in the face of shrinking monograph budgets, a lot of libraries decline to buy based-on-dissertation books automatically on approval, because, well, they’re based on a dissertation, not because the dissertation is open access.

Oh, and Yrs Trly presented on OATD, the harvested finding tool for OA ETDs around the world.

BTW, the slides for my presentation are at My major points:

  • Making ETDs discoverable is an essential component of the ETD publication process (else, why bother?).
  • The ETD discovery tools we rely on either point to for-pay closed access ETDs when free, open access copies are avaialble, or have major user interface issues. This makes open access ETDs less discoverable than they should be, at a time when academic libraries are making incredible investments of time, energy, and money into increasing the discoverability of almost every other type of scholarly literature. OATD attempts to address these concerns, and is also intended to follow a community-driven enhancement path (other ETD search services a take-it-or-leave-it vendor solutions).
  • OATD harvests metadata from repositories using the OAI-PMH standard. OAI-PMH has major advantages over Googlebot-style web crawling for distributing metadata: it is more precise, puts less of a load on servers, and is already built in to all major repository platforms. I gave a very brief, very non-technical overview of OAI-PMH and how it makes a collection’s metadata avaialble.
  • In addition to harvested metadata, OATD uses a very lightweight web crawler to pull full text files. These are used to show highlight search terms in context and to pull sample images into search results.
  • A tool for sharing high-quality metadata really benefits from having high-quality metadata to work with. Improviing metadata quality and sharing it via OAI-PMH takes a little attention to detail, but pays off by better articulating what is in your collection and how it can be used, and by anticipating questions a researcher is likely to need answers to. (I was told I sounded like a cataloger, which I will take as a compliment.)