Libraries find million ways to educate the world

Special to Western News

Western graduate Kaylen Wheeler’s thesis was ‘worth a million’ to Western Libraries.

Western Libraries hit a big milestone at the beginning of the New Year, with the one-millionth download from the Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD) hub of the Scholarship@Western repository.

The ETD was designed to provide a free, open-access way for people around the world to view a variety of materials created or endorsed by the Western community. On Jan. 3, the master’s thesis of Western graduate Kaylen Wheeler, Representing Game Dialogue as Expressions in First-Order Logic, was accessed and, as close as library staff can tell, became the one-millionth download since the ETD went live in January of 2011.

Wheeler, who graduated with his MA in Computer Science in 2013, is currently working as a software developer for Microsoft in Seattle. He was surprised to learn his thesis had been accessed at all, let alone in such a monumental way.

“I had this really cool idea, but it didn’t turn out to be feasible. The paper is more about the idea than anything else,” Wheeler said.

Despite his surprise, Wheeler said sharing information in the way ETD does is essential to facilitate broader research and actually helped him in his own work.

“It’s extremely important,” Wheeler said. “The fact I found anything at all that other people had done in this field is due to this kind of information sharing.”

In an interesting turn of events, Wheeler can thank Western’s information-sharing practices for giving him this new accolade after programming blogger David Nolen posted a link to the thesis on Twitter. This, in turn, saw a surge in people accessing Wheeler’s work.

Matt Dumouchel is the manager of information systems for Western’s School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and one of those responsible for developing the ETD. To him, this proves why the repository is both necessary and effective.

According to Dumouchel, between Oct. 1, 2010 and Oct. 1, 2011, 116 PhD theses were published at Western. During the same period, paper versions of these theses were accessed 35 times. That works out to an average circulation of 0.3 per thesis. Looking at these numbers, it was decided that a new system was needed.

“The main goal, originally, was to get theses distributed in an easy-to-digest manner,” Dumouchel said.

When the project first launched, it was optional for students and only included doctoral theses. However, its instant success expanded it to include all MA and PhD theses and is mandatory for program completion.

The government of Ontario makes it the responsibility of Western, like other publicly funded institutions, to ensure that research conducted on campus is readily available to the public.

“Lots of schools took different approaches on how to collect, house and store this information. Western has the best methods in the country for making the research of its’ students accessible worldwide,” Dumouchel said.

Being the best hasn’t stopped those behind the ETD from trying to find new ways to further improve the system, however. Currently in the works is the institution of the Western Innovative Thesis Award, which will be an annual recognition of graduate student efforts to push the boundaries of their digitally published and distributed work by integrating multimedia platforms in their research.

Further, library staff working under Joanna Paterson, Scholarship@Western coordinator, has begun digitizing previous theses through scanning in order to expand the ETD database. The oldest thesis currently on file was published in 1909; it is the second doctoral thesis ever produced at Western.

Paterson says this is not only providing greater exposure for the work of existing students but also attracting new ones by opening a window into the many different kinds of research being done on campus.

As for current students, the submission of a graduate thesis to the ETD is now a mandatory step for completion of a degree. However, in cases where commercial publication or patent protection is an issue, students can place a publication embargo of up to two years on their work.