Theses and Dissertations Gain Visibility and Context through SHARE

There has been a lively discussion on the American Library Association SCHOLCOMM Discussion List in the the past few weeks about how higher education institutions are handling electronic deposit of theses and dissertations—namely, whether graduating students are required to submit their completed work to ProQuest or the university institutional repository, or are given choices. Central to these discussions on campus, and in the library community, is the university’s responsibility to archive its graduate student work, the accessibility of the work, and its discoverability.

We are gratified to see a trend toward the institutional repository as the entity universities are naming to collect, preserve, and provide access to university work, including graduate student work. As Clifford Lynch of the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) notes, “Today there is new interest in scholarly communications—including theses and dissertations—that integrate multimedia, data, interactivity, and similar components. This pushes the boundaries of traditional scholarly communication genres, and is a development long overdue and important to encourage. But just as with other efforts pushing the boundaries, these new, genuinely digital, theses and dissertations may be challenging to curate and preserve. To me it seems best to keep these close to home, in institutional repositories, where the supporting institutions can develop specialized approaches to respond to innovation in their own scholarship, and engage hard but critically important problems of curation and preservation.”

At the Association of Research Libraries, SHARE is aggregating metadata about research activity across the life cycle from institutional, disciplinary, and other digital repositories. In a free, open data set like SHARE, theses and dissertations in institutional repositories can be linked to subsequent work by early career scholars, and to networks of mentors and collaborators. Phase I of SHARE built a working system of research metadata aggregation, openly available via search interface, feed, or application programming interface (API). SHARE’s current focus is on metadata enhancement—adding, imputing, and inferring the rich context of research objects through robust, linked data.

Claudia Holland and Jeri Wieringa of the Mason Publishing Group at George Mason University Libraries offer their perspective from a university that contributes its institutional repository’s metadata to the SHARE database, “As a new contributor to SHARE, George Mason University Libraries welcomes the opportunity to increase the discoverability of our students’ and faculty’s intellectual work. From the perspective of finding theses and dissertations across institutions, SHARE offers a noncommercial platform through which users will more easily find this scholarship. Moreover, it serves to connect users with the data and subsequent works produced by these junior researchers. The value of SHARE will undoubtedly grow as more institutions contribute their data. We are thrilled to be part of this significant initiative.”

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) has demonstrated, since its founding in 1931, a solid commitment to making graduate scholarship widely discoverable and accessible. Thanks to the leadership of the historic ARL Committee on the Publication and Recording of Dissertations, universities have been impelled to make this unique genre of high-impact scholarship publicly available to advance scholarship and education for all of society (see “Publication and Distribution of Dissertations,” in Minutes of the Thirty-Seventh Meeting of the Association of Research Libraries, Chicago, July 6–7, 1951, 16–17, 35-40.)

In the 20th century, the ARL-sponsored index American Doctoral Dissertations (portions of which have been digitized by EBSCO) was the most complete bibliographic tool enabling discovery of this genre of scholarship. The comprehensive coverage of the ARL index was assured by harvesting dissertation data directly from universities, using commencement programs among other sources.

In the Internet age of the 21st century, ARL has renewed its landmark efforts to ensure discoverability of graduate scholarship through SHARE. Most universities now manage, preserve, and publish their theses and dissertations via institutional repositories (see Joan K. Lippincott and Clifford A. Lynch, “ETDs and Graduate Education: Programs and Prospects,” Research Library Issues, no. 270 (June 2010): 6–15). By including theses and dissertations in SHARE, ARL is once again helping universities provide a single comprehensive access point for finding and accessing the unique and rich scholarship held in graduate works. And the Phase II work that SHARE is currently doing to enhance its metadata will provide the additional benefit of linking theses and dissertations to related works.