Facilitating access to student research 

Institutional repository opens the way to digital thesis submission

By Karen Herland

Making students’ graduate work instantly available and entirely searchable as soon as they complete their final corrections is just one of the possibilities Spectrum, our institutional repository, offers.

Currently students have to return to the thesis office at least three times to submit and collect various versions of their thesis or dissertation. The process requires numerous, single-sided, properly bound pages to be produced at the student’s expense. Depending on the length of the work, the paper cost could easily slide into the hundreds of dollars, not to mention transit, shoe leather and the number of trees sacrificed for the sake of knowledge.

Overall, the process is inefficient, environmentally unfriendly and results in copies gathering dust in library stacks and departmental storage space. Space that is, increasingly, at a premium across the university.

“I’m not down in the trenches but my thesis team is,” said Ann Marie Blinkhorn, Thesis and Student Affairs Manager in the School of Graduate Studies. “Every student has to come through these doors with their submission in a white box, back again with final copies, and then to the Digital Store for printing and binding requirements. “She continued, describing the towering stacks of boxes with names in magic marker along the sides.

Blinkhorn has been in meetings since last fall to shift that process from analog to digital. Although the idea was first introduced to her when she took on her role over one-and-a-half years ago, Spectrum’s launch last fall was an important element, since digital deposits needed a place to reside.

Now that Spectrum is up and running, Blinkhorn has been working with representatives in the library to adapt the upload system for graduate students’ work. The system also has to work with Library and Archives Canada, which interfaces with Spectrum, so people searching through that avenue will find what they are looking for.

Currently, 20 students are participating in a pilot project (to be sure no one falls through the cracks due to a glitch, they are submitting the traditional way as well). Their experiences will be analyzed so the process can be expanded over the next year.

In addition to technical considerations, thesis deposit is the subject of numerous official regulations and procedures. When Blinkhorn sat down to map the process, she realized depositing was a multi-step process with various conditions at each stage. Reading the process chart is a little like participating in a board game (success = advance to the next stage, refusal = return to step one after six months). Blinkhorn stresses mapping of the process will allow us to see where we can increase efficiency via a digital process.

Currently, Spectrum contains theses and dissertations produced by Concordia’s students from the first Loyola College and Sir George Williams University deposits to 2003. Those files were purchased from ProQuest and catalogued for Concordia’s system. Available to anyone, they are only searchable by the keywords their digitizers provided.

“Once all theses are deposited directly, they will be fully searchable,” said Blinkhorn.

The digital format is also more adaptable. At least one of the students in the pilot project has a multimedia project involving film, as well as text. Submitting her work digitally is more appropriate, and better for those accessing it on the web.

“This is a project that the School of Graduate Studies has wanted to initiate for a few years,” said Joanne Beaudoin, Administrative Director of the School of Graduate Studies. “We are very excited to take the first step in a process that will allow us to join the ranks of the top institutions in North America.”


Concordia University