Guide to Options for ETD Programs

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If you are an academic decision-maker considering implementing or overhauling a service program for managing electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs), this document is for you! The range of options and pace of developments in the ETD arena may seem daunting, but there are many resources to provide well-informed advice and perspectives on the many possibilities and choices to be made in depositing, accessing, and managing ETDs over time.

In fact, many institutions are delayed in ETD program planning simply because they do not have a clear understanding of the range of options to consider in implementing an ETD program. Restricted or open access? Implement an ETD repository or lease a commercial service? Who has responsibility for what functions?

Purposes of this Document

This document (Guide to Options for ETD Programs) is part of a series of briefings that were prepared by a groups of professionals from many universities, all of whom have long-term interests and experience in managing ETD programs. Like the other documents in this series, this guide is a descriptive (rather than prescriptive) information resource that seeks to explain the relevant decisions institutions must make and to clarify the pros and cons of different options. This document will reference and integrate all the other documents in the series.

This document is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to implementation of an ETD program. Rather, it is intended to serve as an executive briefing for decision makers on the broad options for implementing ETD programs in the United States. It is also intended to serve as a guide to further information on ETD programs, especially the other documents in this series, each of which delves into key aspects of ETD programs.

Definitions: What ETDs are, key institutional stakeholders, and the life cycle of ETDs

To clarify this discussion, here are some basic definitions of terms. These definitions are taken directly from or informed by the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD) and sources listed in the bibliography at the end of this guide (for a more complete list of terms, see these resources).

ETD: Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD) that can be accessed on the Internet in full‐ or partial‐text. (For international readers, note that the terms "thesis" and "dissertation" often have different meanings in different countries. In the U.S. a thesis typically refers to a document produced in fulfillment of requirements to attain a Master's degree, and a dissertation is a requirement for a Doctoral degree.)

ETD Program: A process whereby a university requires or makes an option available for graduate students to file ETDs either in an institutional repository or through other academic databases.

Author: (elaborate on Student/Graduate distinctions...)

Levels of Access: Because ETDs sometimes present intellectual property concerns, there may be requests or requirements by various stakeholders to either restrict or ensure various levels of access to ETDs. These levels of access may range from open access to permanent embargo (see below). Levels of access may be enforced categorically across all ETDs in a repository or applied to specific ETDs, depending on decisions made... Who has access? 1) Public. 2) University (Current University Community) only. 3) Withheld/embargoed. (In case of patent application, open after patent received. Or creative fiction theses, so that can be published.)

Originating Institution: (with elaborations/definitions)

Graduate School: (with elaborations/definitions)

Library: (with elaborations/definitions)

Lifecycle: and lifecycle terms (I am considering using the DCC model:

Open Access:



Curate: (invoke the DCC model...)

Choices in Implementing ETD Programs

When planning or considering the implementation of an ETD program, decision makers should know that there is now a significant body of research on this topic that may be consulted. This briefing will summarize key categories of choices that planners should initially consider, as well as referencing more detailed resources. Perhaps the most comprehensive clearinghouse of information on ETD programs is the international organization known as the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD). The NDLTD website provides a range of informative resources and planning documents at to consult. This briefing was developed in consultation with the NDLTD leadership, and will reference many NDLTD resources.

To understand the key choices in implementing ETD programs, recent descriptive surveys of such programs are a good place to start. A 2010 survey by Joan Lippincott of the members of the Coalition for Networked Information (cited in the bibliography, and hereafter referred to simply as the CNI survey) concerning ETD programs resulted in 88 responses from 142 institutions contacted. (Lippincott, 2010) This survey documented the widespread implementation of ETD programs and reported that the majority (73%) of responding institutions had already instituted an ETD program of some sort, with 5 additional institutions indicating that they were planning such an implementation. In 89% of the institutions, ETDs were reported to be a subset of larger institutional or consortial repository holdings. An implication of these figures is that institutions that are now considering ETD program implementations are likely to be in categories that the CNI survey did not focus on, including smaller institutions, or institutions that to date have had significant reservations about ETD programs. Wherever possible, this briefing will attempt to address the anticipated concerns of such institutions.

The CNI survey examined a range of factors and perceptions concerning ETD programs, including system implementation strategies, access and embargo considerations, format options, and other ETD services and policies to best serve graduate students. While these are certainly not the only decisions that must be made in planning an ETD program, these categories of options are a useful frame of context and will be used for the purposes of this briefing. The CNI survey is also not the only source that will inform this briefing; other reports will be cited as appropriate.

Options in Decision Making, Roles and Responsibilities

System Implementation Options

The CNI survey identified three main system strategies for implementation of ETD programs: locally developed systems, consortially developed systems, and agreements with commercial firms. The CNI survey and several other sources identify distinguishing characteristics of these strategies as follows.

Locally Implemented Systems: Many institutions implement a local system for ETDs....

Consortially Developed Systems:

Hybrid Systems combining Options:

Distinction of Access and Preservation Systems:

Agreements with Commercial Firms:

Access and Embargo Options

Philosophical Concerns

Options for Open Access to ETDs

Pre-ETD Capture...

Options for Embargoes to ETD Access

Format Options

Text Format Options

Options for Non-Textual ETDs or ETD components

Other ETD Services and Policy Choices

ETD Submission Policy Options

43% of institutions reported that the ETD program was mandatory for both doctoral and masters students

Service Options for Improving Graduate Completion through ETD Programs

Case Studies

Other Documents in This Series

This project will produce the following documents, which will address areas of special interest identified by ETD program planners, managers, and stakeholders. These documents will be made freely available through a creative commons license (either the Attribution- NonCommercial-ShareAlike or other license acceptable to IMLS).

All of these documents will be carefully researched by working groups led by members of the project steering committee (as indicated below), and notable experts will be interviewed where appropriate.

  1. Briefing on Access Levels and Embargoes of ETDs
  2. Briefing on ETD Copyright Issues and Fair Use
  3. Guidelines for Implementing ETD Programs - Roles & Responsibilities
  4. Guidelines for Collecting Usage Metrics & Demonstrations of Value for ETD Programs
  5. Overview of Formats, Complex Content Objects, and Format Migration Scenarios for ETDs
  6. Overview of PREMIS Metadata & Lifecycle Event Record-Keeping for ETDs
  7. Guide to ETD Program Cost Estimation and Planning


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