All entries for Wednesday 02 September 2009

September 02, 2009

Theses from the past

Writing about web page

We have added over 200 theses to WRAP, including those digitised through the BL EThOS project, as well as those submitted electronically in the last year.

We chose not to contact former students in advance of allowing the BL to digitise theses, and since adding content to WRAP we have had three requests to take the content down, all of which we have dealt with within 24 hours of receiving the request. Two out of our three requesters were unaware of the EThOS copies and I believe that this is because WRAP content is indexed by Google and hence is easily findable, whilst EThOS content is not picked up by Google (at present).

Are we right not to contact the former students in advance? Well I think it is worth following the approach that we have done because we are trying to assist in scholarly research and to raise the authors' academic profiles through the availability (and longer term preservation) of their work, and we are not attempting to make a profit from their work.

I do have experience of trying to contact former students from a secondment I did to our Careers Service, where I ran one year's Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey. It is an extremely time consuming and resource intensive process, involving letters, e-mails and telephone calls (some in foreign languages as we got through to family) to chase the former students, at both UG and PG levels, in order to achieve something close to an 80% response rate. That is just to get a response at all from either the student or someone related to the student, who knew their career progress, which of course is a different matter than attempting to get permission to digitise a thesis.

In comparison, our three requests represent only just over 1% of requested theses not available to the scholarly community, if I don't count those which we already refuse because there are embargoes against photocopying in place.

Note that these theses are not all recently written: one dates back to 1983. The chances of us being able to track down that author through either the details they left behind on our records or even through the former supervisor are very, very slim indeed.

I am very pleased that so much quality work is now available for the scholarly community, to assist in academic research. However, I will continue to monitor whether we have taken the right approach or not, in not contacting authors directly.

September 2009

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