LAC: Theses Canada decline

If you haven’t searched for theses on a topic of interest for your family history you haven’t done an exhaustive search.

Theses Canada, launched in 1965 at the request of the deans of Canadian graduate schools, is a collaborative program between Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and Canadian universities. It strives to:

  • acquire and preserve theses and dissertations from participating universities
  • provide free access to Canadian digital theses and dissertations in the collection
  • facilitate access to non-digital theses and dissertations in the collection.

The number of theses in the collection grew steadily from 2005 to 2012. Subsequently, it has fallen precipitously. What happened?

I doubt universities are producing theses at one-tenth the rate they did at the peak. Could it be the universities are less interested in making them available? Is LAC no longer interested and diverting resources needed to keep the system going? Whatever the reason, Theses Canada has declined in value as a research tool in recent years.

2 Replies to “LAC: Theses Canada decline”

  1. At one time, LAC was the place to go for a Canadian thesis. After all, as “unpublished” research, theses were on paper and rare. Upon graduation, the author was obliged to place one copy in their own institution’s library, and another went to LAC to be microfilmed. No double thesis-deposit, no graduation.

    In 2015, LAC stopped using “a private company” to acquire and distribute theses. It looks like they are re-tooling for the modern age. https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/news/Pages/2021/update-theses-canada.aspx

    But what of the researcher with thesis needs right now?

    During the period identified, Canadian universities began to build and host their own open-access thesis portals. And, once created, they began to digitize their back-catalogues of paper theses.
    Some local examples close to me, now all available for free, online:
    UBC https://open.library.ubc.ca/cIRcle/collections/ubctheses
    SFU https://summit.sfu.ca/about
    UVic https://dspace.library.uvic.ca:8443/

    Today, when undertaking “hot-off-the-press” thesis research, one might undertake multiple searches. Or, you can just use your favourite university-library search-tool (for North American theses).

    The one holdout, duplicating the single-source LAC-model that you seem to seek, is possibly ProQuest, the former UMI collection. They persist because ProQuest earns money by selling institutional subscriptions, and perhaps they also sell a few individual theses to internet users not affiliated with a university. (I suspect that ProQuest is the private firm mentioned by LAC, above).

    If one accesses the ProQuest thesis tool through a university library, for those with institutional borrowing privileges, there is no charge to the researcher.

    I hope that this is of some assistance. The shift that you identify is, I think, not a symptom of any deterioration or negligence at LAC. Rather, quite quickly, the world of theses has changed in radical ways.

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