Introduction to ETDs and Guidance Documents

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ETD Introduction Outline

Introduction, Audience, Purpose & Scope

These Guidance Documents for the Lifecycle Management of ETDs are the product of multiple contributors, including generous funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), advice and input from the Networked Digital Library of Theses & Dissertations (NDLTD) and the MetaArchive Cooperative, and two years of research and writing by a cadre of leading experts from ETD programs across the United States--including those from the University of North Texas, Virginia Tech, Rice University, Boston College, Penn State, Indiana State University, and the University of Arizona.

The documents are geared towards a broad range of ETD Program stakeholders, including student authors, graduate school faculty and staff, library curators and technologists, as well as scholars. Their purpose is to assist each of these stakeholders with understanding their role in the overall curation lifecycle of ETDs. Each of the individual documents cover a specific facet of curation for ETDs including:

  • Implementing ETD Programs - Roles & Responsibilities
  • ETD Copyright Issues and Fair Use
  • Access Levels and Embargoes of ETDs
  • Collecting Usage Metrics & Demonstrations of Value for ETDs
  • Formats, Complex Content Objects, and Format Migration Scenarios for ETDs
  • Metadata & Lifecycle Event Record-Keeping for ETDs
  • ETD Program & Cost Estimation Planning
  • Options for ETD Programs

Below we offer a roadmap for reading the documents in both thorough and targeted fashions and call attention to those stakeholders that seem likely to benefit most heavily from reading specific documents. The rest of this brief Introduction is intended to explain what it is meant by the terms lifecycle management and curation, as well as to define ETDs for the sake of the documents, and provide a bit of background and context for ETDs and ETD programs.

The authors wish to thank the Institute of Museum and Library services for funding this research. It is our hope that readers find these documents useful and timely for improving and enriching their ETD programs. The documents build upon a wealth of preexisting expertise and publications (please see the Bibliography for a full list of sources). The documents are hereby being made freely available through a creative commons Attribution- NonCommercial-ShareAlike license [pending].

[Maybe need a note or two about how the documents are potentially going to be updated over time, and how they can be used in conjunction with a set of workshop modules]

Defining Lifecycle Curation

Information lifecyle management has become an important concept (set of concepts really) for helping archival collection managers, business records managers, and curators of many types focus their activities and properly assign technological resources toward making information accessible and usable over time. Lifecycle management takes into consideration the reality that information assets follow a somewhat natural progression of creation, dissemination, use, update and re-use, storage retention or archiving, and sometimes even destruction or disposal.

Some lifecycle management models present themselves as being simple, straight-forward and linear with fairly discrete phases of activity (Federal Law 44 U.S.C. 2901 and ISO 15489).


Other models are more cyclical in nature with overlapping phases depicted (DCC Curation Lifecycle Model).


Regardless, most models acknowledge that processes, particularly with respect to electronic documents, do not always occur in sequence and that multiple processes can sometimes occur simultaneously or in different order.

The Lifecycle Management of ETDs project recognizes that ETDs can be complex digital objects that have very unique circumstances of creation, and follow a trajectory of active and vibrant curation that pulls on multiple experts, stakeholders users, and even technologies. For example:

  • Student authors create ETDs with relevant software applications
  • Graduate schools approve, embargo and update ETDs over time via online submission systems
  • Libraries archive and disseminate ETDs through institutional repository systems
  • Scholars and scientists use and re-use ETDs via web browsers, download applications, and analysis tools

Each of these stakeholders and users approach ETDs with different needs and objectives. It is the job of the overall ETD program at an academic institution to understand the lifecycle span of these needs and objectives and put in place the resources and technologies to meet and support them. Understanding the lifecycle needs of ETDs gives ETD programs the capacity to curate these unique and complex digital objects.

Curation is a term finding popularity these days outside of cultural heritage sectors, particularly in the sciences and digital humanities where researchers are interested in discovering and making use of rich data sets and the individual data elements contained therein. Both researchers and librarians have recognized that the use of these data sets require close and active interactions between their creators, their maintainers, and their users if healthy scholarship is to emerge.

Curation in this sense is about actively stewarding, through policies, staffing, resources and technologies, a set of unique resources over time to both ensure and enrich their access and use.

In the Guidance documents that follow, curation for ETDs as a unique data source will be addressed holistically and will encompass each of the important stewardship elements mentioned above and do so, again, in the context of a lifecycle for ETDs. The documents will provide both a series of non-prescriptive strategies that ETD curators can adapt for their ETD programs, as well as pointers to real world examples and demonstrable resources.

Defining ETDs

The stakeholder audience for this helpful set of guidance documents on the lifecycle management of ETDs in all likelihood needs no long-winded definition of what is meant by the term itself. Regardless, nothing can be taken for granted and it can be invigorating to revisit what a unique and complex genre ETDs, or electronic theses & dissertations, truly are and can be. ETDs are really nothing more than:

Research work that has been placed in an electronic form and which has been submitted for support of candidature or degree (honors undergrad,
masters, or doctorate). 

They encompass both born-digital theses & dissertations as well as retrospectively digitized paper versions.

As basic as that may sound, ETD program stakeholders have come to think of ETDs as so much more than just another contemporary format for holding scholarly information. Indeed, ETDs have come to embody a forerunning set of institutional assets that can be used to bolster the academy’s reach and influence within the broader scholarly landscape. ETDs have also come to serve as a representative and symbolic content genre for university libraries and graduate schools in their ambitious embrace of the digital age—with all of its ephemeral challenges.

As works, ETDs are deceptively simple and fascinatingly complex. In many cases they are ultimately nothing more than a ubiquitous PDF (Portable Document Format) filled with text, tables, charts and graphs. But as any ETD program manager or curator will tell you, they are and can be so much more. They often start their lives as simple word processing documents and grow up to acquire embedded multimedia (sound, video, graphics), hyperlinks, supplemental recorded works and documented objects, and maybe even a computer virus or two.

All that being said, a number of diverse yet authoritative definitions for ETDs are in circulation, all of which are helpful, and none of which really step on each other’s toes. Many of them underscore a particular facet of ETDs that the others do not and work nicely together to get the overall picture across. For example, George Washington University boils the definition of an ETD down to its essentials when they explain that:

In the simplest terms, an ETD is a thesis/dissertation created as an electronic document (or set of electronic documents). [Note that
this wording mildly implies only born-digital theses/dissertations and could perhaps be strengthened to better encompass paper
theses/dissertations that have been retrospectively digitized]

The international Networked Digital Library of Theses & Dissertations (NDLTD) and the United States ETD Association (USetdA) both approach the definition from a slightly different angle and suggest that an ETD is an:

Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD) that can be accessed on the Internet (Web) in full- or partial–text [Thereby emphasizing a key
motivation for moving from print to digital for theses & dissertations, i.e., making scholarly output more accessible in a networked digital

Virginia Tech, a long-time leader in promoting ETDs, takes a bit more of an elucidated approach to defining ETDs by explaining:

ETDs can be similar to their paper predecessors in that they may have figures, tables, footnotes, and references. The title page has the
author’s name, the ETD title, the official name of the university, the degree sought, the names of the committee members, date of the defense,
keywords, and often a statement of copyright. The ETD is different, however. It provides a technologically advanced medium for expressing the
author’s ideas.

Virginia Tech goes on to highlight the dimensions of not only access, but the savings to both authors and libraries that the shift to electronic submission has brought, as well as the improved presentation of the research—placing ETDs in their broader social and institutional context.

History of ETDs

  1. Big picture—what is an ETD, where did ETDs come from, how have they developed
  2. Organizations, conferences, and process maturation
  3. Survey findings (quick comparison over time)

Stages of development

  1. Legacy
  2. New
  3. Reconfiguring
  4. Other

Interest issues (philosophical and political components)

  1. Digitized vs born digital
  2. Outsourcing vs inhouse ownership/control
  3. Centralized vs distributed preservation options
  4. Publication concerns and their implication for curation/preservation
  5. Lifecycle curation & challenges (calf path, lifecycle)

Guide to the Guidelines

  1. Background and purpose
  2. Overview of sections
  3. Guide to reading and using


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