So, imagine you’re a student or researcher, and you need to do a literature search to find papers and other literature on a topic that you’re researching. As well as the usual sources on information on books, articles and suchlike, you may also want to find out if there are any theses or dissertations that have been written on the subject. If you’re a researcher, other people’s theses are likely to be an important source for you.
The Emerging Technologies Librarian (Patricia Anderson) has written an excellent post on sources of information for theses, but what strikes me is how dreadfully complicated the whole process of finding theses has now become. Patricia writes that there used to be a couple of fairly well-known indexes for finding theses, and that was that. Nowadays there’s host of unconnected websites and ways to find and obtain theses. If you look at her 3rd September response to my comment on her post, you’ll see even more sources.
The process of doing a fairly exhaustive search to find theses is nowadays far too complicated. There are too many sources. There’s duplication. There’s confusion. The average student doesn’t want to spend hours searching in so many places. No wonder so many of them stick to only one or two familiar sources, such as Google Scholar or ScienceDirect for most of their information needs. We’ve let down students and researchers by allowing the information environment to become too complex. Institutional repositories, especially, have added to the ‘noise’, and there’s not even one place you can go to find materials in the thousands of institutional repositories.
Several years ago, I was involved with the Jisc-funded Subject Portals Project, which attempted to create “…service(s) that bring[s] together content from diverse distributed resources using technologies such as cross searching, harvesting, and alerting, and collates this into an amalgamated form for presentation to the user” and thereby simplify the process of undertaking a literature search. What happened to the portals? Where are they? As far as I know, the only continuing service partially arising out of the project is TechXtra, which cross-searches a lot of sources in engineering and technology, including several containing metadata about theses. TechXtra is unfunded. It’s been unfunded for years, and suffers from lack of investment. What a shame!
At the same time, Jisc is still talking and planning to do something about the overall problem! And they’re not talking user services, but merely making metadata available openly on the web which will permit anyone to build innovative new services that use the information.
IMHO, not enough, and progress is too slow!