Let’s talk about Theses, or “Fuds” as my manager calls them. Think about it…
Until I started at my present job, I never really thought about the fact that PhD and Masters theses were submitted to academic libraries and catalogued in the same way that books were. Obviously, I’d seen hard-bound theses before (at least, I think I had…) but I’d never really paid that much attention to them. People write their dissertations, I thought, and then just sort of handed them in.
Imagine my surprise when I found out this wasn’t the case!
In my present guise as a cataloguer, it is my responsibility to catalogue and process our theses submissions, and I actually rather like doing so. There’s something satisfying about opening up these grand texts, casting my eye over the research and tremendous commitment on display, before adding them to our system for others to peruse. It goes to the heart of academia, to the exchange of information and ideas, themes which sadly are becoming increasingly dismissed in favour of targets, money and statistics. Universities and libraries should be about something more than just churning out graduates.
Of course, I can’t lie, some of the titles I encounter look extremely boring. But every now and then, a little gem passes in front of me, with a catchy title or intriguing premise, and I marvel at the work and dedication needed to produce such results. My particular favourite so far was a music PhD.: a volume of research, plus CDs and a dozen pamphlets filled with scores and lyrics, beautifully illustrative and full of artistic ideas, experiments and above all passion for a subject.
What I actually do to/with the theses is rather clinical- tattling, barcoding, data-inputting. Sometimes, especially with the music ones, I actually feel a little guilty about writing and sticking things on other people’s work, like I’m flagrantly scribbling over canvasses in the National Gallery or defacing a textbook (things which of course I NEVER do).
What’s interesting about theses though is what happens afterwards. In many ways my role is secondary to the work of our Online Repository team, who receive the electronic copy and add it to our institutional resource. Suddenly, the tangible, physical thesis transforms into this fast, fluid, open access resource, available to researchers, students, academics and the public worldwide.
As a media studies student, I’m fairly familiar with some of the debates surrounding the evolution of new media technologies, and it will be interesting to look back in a few years time and reflect on the ways in which open access information has changed our world.
But for now, all I need to concentrate on is sticking, scanning and stamping, in the good old-fashioned library way.