By Francesca Marsden
As a result of the generosity and ambition of Dr Leonard Polonsky, the Bodleian Libraries are beginning to digitise a number of Oxford theses, pushing the drive for Open Access and aiding the development and progression of the Oxford University Research Archive (ORA). ORA is in the process of being built, and although not wide in content yet, hopes to become a large repository for Oxford theses and other materials, available to anyone with internet access. ORA are appealing to pre-2008 D.Phil authors to give permission for their work to be digitised, whilst current D.Phil students must now submit a digital copy, as well as a hard copy, of theses’ to the University. (Note, however, that there is a three-year embargo on theses from the date of writing before the full text is available to read, unless the author gives permission for instant availability.) Here at the Law Library, we are lucky enough to have had 54 out of our 579 D.Phil theses approved for digitsation by their authors. This month will see me gather, pack and send the 54 theses to scanning company Hollingworth and Moss. Following this, they will have their correct bibliographic details added to them, and be uploaded to ORA. The hard copies will be unavailable until they are returned to the Library in the second-third week of February. If you urgently require to consult a thesis that has been sent for digitisation, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
How is ORA useful?
As said, ORA forms a part of the drive towards Open Access, giving free access to content for all. Most UK universities and those across the world now maintain something similar to ORA. Here at the Law Library we are excited that some of our collection of theses will begin to be available to the worldwide community, and not just to those with access to the Library. At the moment, hard copies are kept in locked cases and must be fetched by staff for use by readers. Requests for theses by inter-library loan cannot be satisfied since the Law Library cannot lend theses through the inter-library loan service. For readers not within access of the Law Library, this can be frustrating. ORA makes researchers’ work easily and widely accessible, and more likely to be read, cited and subsequently more relevant to contemporary research. The author benefits form the exposure of their material, and fellow researchers can benefit from the accessibility of the materials. The ‘Top Downloads’ list on ORA’s homepage is currently (viewed 14/01/2013) headed by a law theses, highlighting the exposure of material that the website provides for you, the author, or you, the researcher. ORA holds published and unpublished work, and is also available for the deposit of other types of material, including conference items, discussion papers and abstracts, things that are often annoyingly hard to find. ORA’s theses holdings are also found through SOLO searches.
ORA can be navigated through one of three options at the top of the home page: Search, Contribute or Browse. By clicking ‘Search’ at the top of the screen, an advanced search option appears in a panel to the left. The search options are numerous, including ‘faculty’, ‘theses type’ and ‘key phrases’. Start by typing some key text into the large search box, e.g. criminal law. Select ‘Social Sciences Division – Faculty of Law’, and ‘D.Phil’ from the ‘current search’ option boxes. ORA returns 27 records. Remember, however, that if the thesis is less than three years old, the full text may not yet be available. If it is, the word ‘Thesis’ on the right of each result will have a rectangle with a green symbol. Alternatively, you may choose to use the ‘Browse’ option if you are looking for something less specific. This provides a simpler search base, with 5 search options to start from. When selecting ‘subject’ as Law and ‘type of work’ as thesis, ORA directs through to the advanced search page and returns 72 records. The search can be narrowed again by using the panel to the left. Specifiying only D.Phil theses returns 20 results. The 54 theses to be sent for digitisation this month will significantly increase the number of theses available from Oxford Law D.Phil students, improving and adding to the amount and range of law material available in the archive. Since they are all over three years old, the full text will be available.
Once you have selected an article to read, the page provides key bibliographic details, an abstract and an ‘item description panel’ with keywords and subjects relating to the content of the material. This allows you to see whether the article is relevant or not before downloading it using the links at the top right of the page. See the Bodleian Libguide for more information on using ORA.
Eventually, ORA should hold a substantial and wide-ranging number of theses, across many disciplines. The 54 theses from the Law Library range in publication date, the earliest from 1965, with other works spanning the five decades since. Topics vary greatly, from the NHS in view of the public law, to international refugee law, to laws regarding Australian Aboriginal children. So, whether you’re an Oxford D.Phil author sitting on a pre-2008 thesis yet to be digitised, or a researcher looking for material to consult in your area of interest, be sure to take a look at ORA, and see how it develops in the future. Go to http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/ora/about or email ORA@bodleian.ox.ac.uk for further information.