Monday, August 3, 2009

ETD 2009 -- Bridging the Knowledge Divide

ETD 2009: Bridging the Knowledge Divide, the international conference on electronic theses and dissertations organized by the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD), was held June 10-13. Hosted by the University of Pittsburgh,
the symposium was cosponsored by West Virginia University (WVU). Other sponsors included ProQuest/UMI, Open Thesis, and EBSCO. Right: photo of downtown Pittsburgh.

Travel fund freeze or no, I attended because I had a poster to present. Along with the inherent exposure and networking opportunities, I gleaned plenty of information on current developments in the field. A few highlights:

Keynote speaker Stevan Harnad (Universite du Quebec a Montreal, University of Southampton (UK)) was introduced as the "leader and theoretician of the green open access movement." As Harnad, a cognitive scientist, explains on his blog, open access (OA) is the free, immediate, and permanent full-text access to scholarly articles. Green OA is the self-archiving of all published journal articles, as opposed to Gold OA in which articles are published in only OA journals. I didn't realize that authors pay a fee to publish in a Gold OA journal (with Springer, for example, $3000 per article.) Southampton was the first university in the world to mandate open-access publishing for faculty in 2005; Harvard, in 2008, was the first US institution to do so. Freely available research has been shown to have a 25-250% greater impact across all disciplines. For students, open access (as in our IR NC DOCKS) can similarly increase the impact of an ETD, and early downloads of a paper correlate with its higher citations later.

Harnad recommends immediate deposit for even embargoed ETDs but with only the title and abstract displayed, along with a button to "request a copy" once the embargo has expired. Theses for creative writing are frequently embargoed because writers fear their work won't be picked up by a publisher if it has appeared online. One speaker's solution: allow the creative work itself to stay hidden, but require a thesis containing an academic analysis of that work to be made accessible.

The retroactive digitization and posting of older theses and dissertations is a growing trend, but must you obtain author permissions first? UNCG's lawyers advised us to do so, but several speakers' institutions do not -- they take down any whose authors object, which happens rarely.

We enjoyed welcoming speeches from conference co-chairs Rush Miller, Hillman University Librarian for the University of Pittsburgh; John Hagen, ETD Program Coordinator at West Virginia University; and Ed Fox, Director of the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD). In addition to organizing the symposium, Hagan has created a thorough blog. All conference papers, posters, and presentations can be accessed at the conference web site. There are also NDLTD groups on Facebook, Flickr, and of course Twitter.

Each day included a choice of three breakout sessions in addition to the plenary sessions. Wednesday I chose "Practical Solutions for Workflows, Training and Systems," in which "ETDs, IRs, and open access" discussed a survey of ETD practices at small to medium sized institutions in the US and UK. Done two years ago, it found that the UK was way behind in moving to ETDs; many of its institutions have made the switch since then. A major factor: "outspoken academic departments" demanding greater accessibility of ETDs. Only half of US respondents had an institutional repository for ETDs; many of those used DSpace or Virginia Tech's open-source system. Also interesting: 25% of US institutions in the survey include bachelor's theses (we do not) while none do in the UK. Only half put ETD catalog records in their OPAC (we do) and those that do, say their IR and OPAC records are "equally detailed." Other topics: the creation of ETD training tools for students, cataloging and metadata migration, and ExLibris's Digitool.

The first two days included an hour-long poster session. I enjoyed the opportunity to discuss my poster, "Current ETD practices and workflows in North Carolina," distribute handouts to all who would take them, and peruse the other posters.

Like any good conference, ETD 2009 included great meals and celebrations. The first evening featured a welcome reception with hors d'oeuvre and drinks, live music, and speeches in the incredible Cathedral of Learning. (It has 2,529 windows!) We heard from Rush Miller and James Maher, University Librarian and Provost at U. Pittsburgh, and Frances O'Brien and E. Jane Martin, Dean of Libraries and Provost at West Virginia University.

The next day's program was packed with more fascinating presentations and panels on topics such as new trends in scholarly communication and repository building, inter-departmental collaboration, and the future of open access. After a "networking lunch" in the Pittsburgh Athletic Association, we had two plenary panel sessions. Highlights:

The NDLTD Union Catalog is a collection of metadata for over 600,000 ETDs from universities around the world. It also does "focused crawling" of selected university repositories (like ours), and has developed a categorization system inspired by Library of Congress classifications and Wikipedia, to "organize the ETDs semantically."

ProQuest reported on their recent, "first large-scale survey of dissertation information-seeking behavior." Survey says -- almost half of users searching their database are working on their doctoral or master's degree, meaning that a majority are not studying for an advanced degree. Academic library websites are an "extremely important" influence in accessing the database; and the disciplines most often associated with these searches are the social sciences, business, and education.

The explication of the "Semantic Electronic Scientific Thesis" was simultaneously fascinating and baffling to my word-oriented brain between a "journal-eating robot that extracts semantic chemistry" and the technical arguments in favor of replacing the PDF with Scholarly HTML.

Thursday night's dinner at the Carnegie Music Hall was delightful. The incredibly ornate and beautiful Foyer (Photo, right) was the setting for the annual awards ceremony with live music provided by WVU's Samba Nova Quartet, featuring conference organizer John Hagan and speaker Dr. Daniel Ferreras.

Friday's program included more on global outreach, regional approaches, and open access, another networking lunch, and discussions of lessons learned. Disappointingly, I had to leave before the Gateway Clipper River Boat Cruise dinner banquet -- and the next day's optional tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater -- as I was staying over only two nights to minimize expenses.

I was not disappointed, however, to leave the dorm where I had spent those nights ... Panther Hall (photo, right) offers "amazing views" of Pittsburgh and the surrounding campus, thanks to its location atop a steep climb of maybe 200 steps. The first night, I made the climb fully laden with suitcase and bags, via the hairpin-curving streets; after that I used the stairs, never yielding to the temptation of the convenient shuttle bus. The dorm itself was a bargain and a great place to stay -- except that it was nearly empty. The eerie, deserted atmosphere was exaggerated by an invisible suite-mate, sheets with no blankets, the awkward height of my upper-bunk bed on the floor, and a malfunctioning window that couldn't seal out the noise of all-night construction and some very loud birds. (I knew someone was sharing my suite -- I heard her in the shower and saw the necklace she left briefly in the bathroom. I looked for that necklace on conference attenders all the next day, but our paths never crossed!)

Aside from the climbing and creepiness, attending the ETD 2009 conference was personally and professionally a wonderful and worthwhile excursion!