Our previous newsletter included an update on the number (now up to 3,077!) of UC Davis theses and dissertations in HathiTrust that have been opened up as a result of an outreach strategy that encourages authors to use a Creative Commons Declaration Form (CCDF) to sanction that use. But did you know that more than 90,000 University of California dissertations and theses across the 10 campuses and spanning the life of the University have been digitized by Google and deposited in HathiTrust? The first were sent to Google from UC San Diego in 2011, and since then many campuses have made a concerted effort to send their older, print dissertations and theses to be digitized for preservation and discovery purposes. As of 2023, there were roughly 50,000 from UC Berkeley, 24,000 from UC Davis, 11,000 from UC San Diego, and 3,000 each from UCSF and UC Santa Cruz.

Beginning in 2005, some UC campuses began implementing electronic submission processes, enabling the creation of Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETDs). By 2007, most campuses were receiving some or all dissertations and theses in electronic form. These ETDs are now universally deposited to the UC Curation Center/CDL’s Merritt preservation repository and then submitted to eScholarship, UC's open access institutional repository and publishing platform, with almost 60,000 openly available to read and download. For more on ETDs, see FAQ: Theses and Dissertations in eScholarship.

Whether and under what circumstances a work like a dissertation can be copied and shared online is determined by copyright law. Generally, permission from a copyright owner is required unless the work has fallen into the public domain or an exception, like fair use, applies. Sometimes just determining who the copyright owner is can be difficult. In the case of UC theses and dissertations, however, copyright ownership lies with the author. Other potentially research-intensive questions may remain, however, that are specific to the particular work, including: year of publication, permissions granted by the author to the university, and whether “copyright formalities” were followed (or not). For those who want to delve into some of these issues, and more, the article “Copyright and Publication Status of Pre-1978 Dissertations: A Content Analysis Approach” is a recommended read. For everyone else, “it can be complicated” is a good summary.

In general, HathiTrust intentionally takes a conservative stance when it comes to copyright status. If a work is not determined to be in the public domain, it can only be opened for full view in HathiTrust (i.e. available for reading and download) if a copyright owner is available to sign the CCDF mentioned above. As a result, fewer than 10% of the dissertations and theses digitized by UC and deposited in HathiTrust are full view.

Some libraries (the University of Florida, CSU Northridge, and UMass Amherst, among others) have undertaken a legal, institutional, and policy analysis that has resulted in opening broad swaths of their institution's historical dissertations and theses in their own institutional repositories. In some of these cases, but not all, the libraries have contacted authors to give them the opportunity to opt out. For a variety of reasons, single institutions have more flexibility and variability in the approaches they can take for making theses and dissertations available in their own institutional repository than HathiTrust has, with its multi-institutional partnerships and a broad collection.

Theses and dissertations are a valuable and important part of an institution's legacy, and yet it can be challenging for a library to make them easily discoverable and open for broad public use. For this reason, UC Davis' recent efforts and success in getting theses and dissertations open in HathiTrust are truly laudable and point to a tenable, low-risk strategy for libraries to to open their institution's theses and dissertations in HathiTrust.

For More Information

The following are resources of potential interest to those who want to learn more about opening historical theses and dissertations for public access. For a UC campus library who wants to explore opening historical theses and dissertations in HathiTrust or eScholarship, send us an email.