Theological Research Exchange Network
Theological Research Exchange Network


Acquiring Dissertations at

The Center 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

United Kingdom

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 (BRITS).

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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