Scanning theses from microfilm: University of Warwick

University of Warwick Microfilm Cases

The British Library worked with the University of Warwick on a project to convert more than 1000 doctoral theses from microfilm to digital using the Library’s state of the art microfilm scanner.

Published date:

“It was really easy working with the BL to get our older theses scanned"

Around 20,000 PhDs and other doctoral degrees are awarded every year in the UK. The resulting doctoral theses together represent a vast body of often unique, cutting edge research. The Library’s EThOS service offers a one-stop shop for all doctoral theses awarded by UK universities.

Until recently most theses were produced as printed bound volumes and researchers wishing to read a thesis would need to visit the awarding university and read it on site. The research value of PhD theses is increasingly being recognised and theses are rapidly becoming crucial reading for new researchers to build on. Most universities now require students to submit an electronic copy of their thesis on completion, and many are undertaking digitisation projects to convert their older print theses to electronic and making them free to read online.

The British Library holds a collection of around 200,000 theses held in microfilm format, created as part of an earlier longstanding Thesis Loan service. The Library has worked with the University of Warwick on a project to convert 1000 Warwick theses from microfilm to digital.

Microfilm boxes

As a first step, the Library produced a list of all Warwick theses held on microfilm with details of the title, author, subject area and year of award. Many older print theses have already been digitised through the EThOS digitisation-on-demand service, so the list was limited to the ones which did not already have a digital copy.

Warwick were keen to make as many of their theses available electronically as possible so they chose to have the entire list of 1000 theses digitised.

Yvonne Budden, University of Warwick’s Head of Scholarly Communication, says “Making digital copies of our older research theses means we can open up the research to new generations of researchers, saving them time by avoiding repeating research that has already been done, and pushing the boundaries of new research even further. It also increases the visibility of Warwick as a top research university in the UK – which we hope in turn would attract top postgraduates to Warwick and to the UK.”

SunRise Microfilm Scanner

Using its SunRise microfilm scanner, the Library produces cost-effective copies of the theses in a fraction of the time it takes to copy from print. The microfilms are already held in the Library’s Imaging Services department so there are no transport costs either.

The University of Warwick needs to make sure author permission and other rights have been obtained before making the theses available, but Yvonne hopes they will eventually all be downloadable from Warwick’s e-resources platform WRAP and searchable in EThOS too. The original print theses can now be moved to Warwick’s low-use storage facilities, and staff time is saved by not handling requests for paper theses.

The British Library’s Imaging teams can use their 20 scanners to make digital copies of virtually any print or manuscript material of any shape, size or complexity. Many universities are taking the opportunity to digitise their older theses held in the Library’s microfilm collection, as well as having their print theses gradually converted through EThOS digitisation on demand.

Yvonne says, “It was really easy working with the BL to get our older theses scanned. The metadata in EThOS is excellent - we received a comprehensive list of the thesis details and were easily able to match them to our records. The scans are obviously dictated by the quality of the original microfilming but the BL’s Imaging team has all the right skills – and equipment – to convert anything to digital, and the accurate work is top quality. I’m really grateful we were able to secure the budget to have them all converted! Our theses are some of the most popular items in WRAP and have already been downloaded hundreds of times by researchers all over the world.”

Search EThOS now to explore and access over 450,000 UK theses.

Find out more about the Library's digitisation and scanning services.

Key points

  • The Library’s Imaging Services converted 1000 PhD theses from the University of Warwick from microfilm to digital
  • The digital theses will be openly available for researchers worldwide to use for their own research
  • The theses are discoverable in Warwick’s WRAP repository and the Library’s EThOS thesis service.

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