Thesis Resources‎ > ‎Manage ETDs‎ > ‎

How to Set Up an ETD Program

Author: Sharon Reeves

The development of an ETD submission program is not the responsibility of a single group in the university. It requires the joint and cooperative work of the university administration, the university library staff, the information technology staff, and the Graduate School Faculty and staff, as well as participation from the university's graduate students.

To successfully implement an ETD program it is important to get high-level support from your university administration. A good way to do this is by writing a proposal to do a pilot project and submitting it to the appropriate senior administrative officers (i.e. Provost, Dean of the Graduate School, etc).

Pilot projects allow universities to put in place the proper infrastructure and procedures and to communicate the importance of these changes to the university community. Communicating the benefits clearly and frequently is an important step. Many universities have identified changing the culture at their institutions as the most difficult challenge in establishing an ETD program. The Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD) offers online resources which outline strategies from various universities around the world that have already implemented successful ETD submission programs. These strategies can decrease an institution’s implementation time and make for a smoother process. You should also check to see if your state, region, or country has developed ETD support at the consortium level, and explore the possibility of joining a cooperative (if applicable) to save you time and money.

Steps in Setting Up an ETD Submission Program


It's a good idea to start by reviewing the information in various documents listed on NDLTD's Resources page.

Another basic source of information is the publication, Electronic Theses and Dissertations: a Sourcebook for Educators, Students and Librarians, edited by Edward Fox, Shahrooz Feizabadi, Joseph M. Moxley and Christian R. Weisser. ISBN 978-0824709730

Assemble the Team

Set up a project team with representatives from the library, the IT department, the Faculty of Graduate Studies, senior administrators from the university, and the Graduate Student Association. It is important to have cross-institutional representation in order to develop a balanced initiative.

Develop a Proposal

Prepare a pilot project proposal for consideration by the appropriate university administrators. This is the stage during which you should work out policies specific to your university. You may want to include information about ETDs providing increased exposure to the university and graduate students’ research and scholarship, publication potential, intellectual property and rights management, plagiarism, orientation and training, standards, costs, archiving and preservation, and restrictions on access.

Preservation is a very important issue for ETDs. This issue should not be overlooked. One way to ensure preservation is to use the LOCKSS methodology. For more information see the MetaArchive Cooperative

Decide on Software and Metadata

This is also the time to decide which technical infrastructure you plan to use. These days most universities are implementing institutional repositories (IRs), which include ETD collections. There are any number of choices of institutional repository software available, both open source and proprietary. Some examples of open source systems include:  Archimede, DSpace, EprintsFedora, and ETD-db. The latter is specifically designed for theses. Examples of proprietary systems include: Digital Commons, CONTENTdm, DigiTool, Open Repository, and Vital. Smaller institutions that have no IR may choose a remote-host option, such as Open Repository through BioMed Central. Digital Commons provides a total beginning-to-end submission package. Other non-IR options include: the ETD Administrator from ProQuest/UMI and VALET for ETDs from VTLS. 

The NDLTD highly recommends use of ETD-MS, the metadata standard specifically for electronic theses and dissertations. This standard includes minimal basic descriptive information related to an ETD. Other popular metadata schemes include Dublin Core and MARC.

Create an ETD Website

Once the project is approved, set up a website for ETDs. This can be done by the IT staff at your university or by the university library or graduate school. Information on the website should include an overview of your ETD program, submission guidelines, ETD procedures, policies, information on tutorials, etc.

Check out some universities with ETD websites. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Below are links to examples of ETD documentation pages from several institutions:

Train Graduate Students

Implement an orientation and training program for graduate students. They may need training on all aspects of ETDs, including creating the word document, application of styles, use of templates, conversion to PDF, and submitting online to the institutional repository. Some universities offer in-person training sessions and/or online training resources. Ohio State University has a tutorial on Creating a PDF. The University of Victoria, Canada, has developed the online tutorial How to Submit an ETD.

Set Up the ETD Workflow

Establish the ETD workflow, deciding who is responsible for the various stages of the process from submission to approval, preservation, and access. In the most common scenario students upload their ETD files to the Graduate School office where they are reviewed, approved, and released to the Library for preservation and access. The metadata is then made available for harvesting by other organizations, such as Google Scholar or the NDLTD. 

Establish a Pilot Project

Run a pilot project either with a limited number of students or with one or two specific departments for a semester or another limited time period. This will allow you to fine-tune your procedures and workflow.  As few as 20 or 30 ETDs are sufficient to run a pilot project.

At the end of their pilot projects some universities adopt a voluntary e-theses submission model for a set time period before moving to mandatory submission of electronic theses and dissertations.  If possible, the best practice is to recommend mandating ETDs at your institution as soon as you begin your ETD submission program (by decree by the Provost or Graduate School Dean, on recommendation of faculty governance).

Prepare for OAI Harvesting

Once your ETD submission program is established, have your IT staff prepare your ETD collection for Open Access Initiative (OAI) harvesting. The IT staff should read the Technical Requirements in order to implement the IR as an OAI data repository. Some systems have a built-in OAI interface. An open source version called OAIcat from OCLC is available online.

Evaluate and Enhance the Program

Like any program, your institution’s ETD submission program should be periodically evaluated and enhanced.
  • Software should be upgraded.
  • Graduate School staff should always be aware of policy changes and how copyright impacts the program.
  • IT staff must monitor appropriate listservs in order to become aware of upgrades, enhancements, and security issues.
  • Library staff can implement enhancements to the program, such as creating catalogue records automatically from the ETD-MS metadata.
  • Administrators should be aware of changing standards (e.g., PDF/A) and legislation (e.g., copyright, privacy issues, etc.).
  • To stay informed about ETDs, your institution may want to become a member of NDLTD, subscribe to the ETD Forum, and network with NDLTD via Facebook, Twitter, and/or Linkedin.