Acquiring Dissertations at
For Research Libraries
by Kennith L. Slagle
(Used with permission from the Center for Research Libraries)
The Center for Research Libraries
(CRL) has a collection of over 700,000 foreign doctoral dissertations.
The titles are from every country in the world except the United States
and Canada and come in hardcopy, microfilm and microfiche formats. The collection
was built by deposits from CRL member libraries and the Library of Congress
and by gifts and exchanges (which we also call"deposits") from
the universities and colleges of the world who wish to have their scholarship
available to researchers outside their own countries. CRL
annually receives deposits of dissertations from over 100 universities.
Additionally, the Center acquires any title requested by our patrons which
we did not already hold. During 1994-95, we ordered 1,808 dissertations
in the demand purchase program.
From CRL's beginning, the
foreign dissertations collection has been uncataloged by policy and, therefore,
is not visible in the major bibliographic utilities; the scholarly community
depends upon ILL librarians to inform them that this vast gray literature
is available at CRL. However, with the increasing on-line world, the Center
has gained a greater visibility due to its patrons now having the ability
to access our catalog through Internet and finding there skeletal bibliographic
records for the titles which we are ordering.
This article describes the process and pitfalls which the Center
for Research Libraries must face in obtaining copies of foreign Ph.D. dissertations
in the demand purchase program.
Sources for Dissertations
The bulk of CRL's requests are for English-language dissertations
from the United Kingdom. Unlike the UMI (University Microfilms International)
program for North American titles, there is no one place from which we can
order this material for our patrons. There are two major services that do
have access to most of the titles. These are the British
Library Dissertation Service Centre (BLDSC) and the British Theses Service
However, this process is not as easy as it may seem. BRITS holds
for sale theses from the University of London and its numerous schools.
But, if the title we seek is before 1971 or, sometimes 1972, we must go
directly to the university. BLDSC holds for sale the rest of the dissertations
for the United Kingdom, except for Cambridge,
which is the third largest school for requests from our patrons, and Leeds. These universities
must be contacted directly. Leicester, on the other hand, does deposit some
of its dissertations with BLDSC, but any that they do not deposit cannot
be ordered from them as they will not sell them directly.
These paths may seem simple variations, however, there is more.
Copyright Considerations for UK dissertations
Copyright law in the United Kingdom admits to the author of a dissertation
still having rights to its use: the author must give his permission for
copies to be made for sale or even lending. This permission is applied for
when the patron submits a Thesis Declaration Form (TDF), sometimes known
as a CD (Coppyright Declaration form) with each title requested. However,
these forms are valid only for BLDSC and BRITS, as Cambridge has its own
form which must accompany requests for its dissertations. Further, while
BLDSC and BRITS
have in their own files the permission of each of their authors, Cambridge,
if have have not obtained permission, requires CRL to contact the author
and get his permission, which we must then send to Cambridge along with
the dissertation order.
This cumbersome activity once led from Cambridge, to Nigeria, Massachusett,
Cambridge, to the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. The author was found
living within walking distance from the Center, yet it took close to a year
of correspondence to find him. Also, because BLDSC does not always know
that it has a title, it may return a request without the TDF which we sent
out in the first place. When BLDSC says that it does not have the dissertation
we requested, we then contact the university which awarded the degree. If
the university does have the title, they may require prepayment, which makes
for another round of correspondence. In an increasing trend, the university
itself may want the TDF which was not sent back from BLDSC; CRL then must
ask for another form from our, by now, impatient patron. In addition, the
awarding university may say that, indeed, BLDSC does have the title and
give us the number under which it is held. The university may also lose
the TDF which we sent.
Dissertations from other countries than UK
Outside the United Kingdom there are other challenges we face. Next
to English titles, German, Scandinavian, and French dissertations are the
most requested. The publishing practices in these countries lead CRL into
some murky areas. Particularly in northern Europe, most dissertations which
are written do not remain unpublished for very long. They go from university
to publishing house in good order. While we do get many of these titles
on deposit, those that are not sent are subject to local booksellers. Our
policy of collecting only unpublished dissertations is at odds with these
foreign publishing practices. If we have a request for a title that is only
available through a bookseller, and we have attempted to get a copy of the
unpublished manuscript and failed, we buy a published dissertation because
it is the only path left us to satisfy our patron.
While we get most of our French dissertations from the Atelier National
de Reproduction des Theses de Lille (ANRT) through deposit on fiche, any
title not deposited must go through much the same process as for BLDSC in
the United Kingdom. If ANRT does not have the dissertation we request and
the awarding university is not one of the University of Paris institutions,
we then send an order to that school. However, if the school is a University
of Paris and ANRT does not have the title, we must cancel the request as
none of the University of Paris universities will provide information on
how we can contact the author for copying permission. Also, many of our
requests to ANRT are returned because the author will not give permission
to reproduce his dissertation.
Some universities will only lend individual titles. Australia is
usually easy to buy from, but they are catching the British TDF problem.
Most of Africa and Latin America do not have reproduction capabilities.
Although accessible, dissertations from China and Asia take longer to acquire.
We do get Russian dissertations from the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute
of Scientific Information in the Social Sciences (INION), but it took almost
two years to get six dissertations out of Moscow.
Verification of Titles
In order to insure that we get the correct dissertation, CRL goes
to some lengths to verify the titles for which we receive requests. Our
printed reference material is useful for many titles through 1991. The Inventaire
des theses de doctorat covers French dissertations to 1991. Jahresverzeichnis
der Hochschulschriften references to German to 1987. ASLIB is the British
Library Lending Division's publication for higher degrees in the United
Kingdom and, we have in our collection to 1987. There are other titles which
do help us, but, they are sporadic, at best, and many times we must contact
our patrons and member ILL offices for clarification.
With the coming of the Internet, we are now able to access the library
catalogs of foreign universities, and our verification rate has increased.
However, there are problems with slow response time, hardware incompatibilities,
and charges for database access.
We continue to search out new ways to serve our patrons. We hope
that this article has provided you with some insight regarding how CRL handles
foreign doctoral dissertation requests, the countries from whom we request
this material, and the protocols we must follow to obtain them.
For more information on dissertations, readers are referred to John
B. Rutledge's article, "European dissertations: production, access,
and use, " Collection management, 19 (1994): 43-67.
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