Digital scholarship blog

Enabling innovative research with British Library digital collections

27 September 2016

Multimedia PhD Research and Non-text Theses

This is a guest post by Coral Manton, PhD research Student with i-DAT at the University of Plymouth funded through the 3D3 Centre for Doctoral Training

There is a growing trend towards PhD students producing multimedia and non-text research outputs. Some students are able to include these outputs in their thesis but generally in appendixes. The inclusion of multimedia work is dependent on thesis format guidelines decided by individual universities – and to some extent the practicalities of handling big data, software etc. This means that for many PhD students recording multimedia outputs, in the way they would choose, is not possible and compromises must be made. This often means representing multimedia work in descriptive text or low res images. Many PhD students and supervisors are showing a desire to rethink the traditional thesis to include multimedia research including video, audio, data, games, apps and web pages.

EThOS File Types
Data visualisation of various multimedia file formats stored on EThOS other than the standard PDF

As we shift theses from bound volumes to digital downloads the possibilities for innovation seem endless. Yet for librarians, storing and making accessible multiple file formats in an ever changing digital landscape, poses a tremendous challenge. I was employed on a PhD research placement by the British Library to explore these issues and opportunities for the EThOS web service to adapt to meet the challenge of supporting pioneering PhD research.

The reason I applied for this placement was that I wanted to answer some of my own questions about the legacy of my research. My professional background is in museums, libraries and archives. I am doing a practice based PhD in which I am developing a visual museum collection database to enhance curator and visitor understanding of the collection in storage working with Birmingham Museums Trust. For me the knowledge that my thesis will become part of a collection on EThOS is important, but as half of my thesis is made up of multimedia practice I am keen to find solutions for recording that significant element in my thesis for future researchers.

EThOS is the UK’s national theses service, managed by the British Library. EThOS aims to bring together a record of all doctoral theses awarded in the UK. The service works closes with university libraries. Individual universities can decide whether to deposit the full thesis text in the EThOS digital repository or just the metadata (title, author, abstract, university etc.); in any case EThOS signposts to the institution’s online repository where the full text can usually either be read online or requested.  EThOS provides researchers with the opportunity to search 90% of UK theses in one place showcasing to the world the wealth of knowledge being generated in UK universities.

Another strand of EThOS is digitisation of print theses. I was excited to find on my first visit to the British Library’s Boston Spa site, home of EThOS, that print theses were coming into the library containing floppy discs and cassette tapes, housed in the back in holes made by cutting out pages reminiscent of thrillers in which books held secret keys! So innovation through multimedia outputs in the PhD is not a new thing, it has just been hiding in pages at the back.   


“Computer applications to special education”, R. Collins, Keele University, 1989. Two Volumes; vol 2 full of computer code. Brochure and user manual. 5 x 5.25 floppy disks, some using BBC Education software

The best way to investigate multimedia in theses was to go and meet the researchers producing the work, find out exactly what kind of things they are producing and start conversations about how best to represent multimedia work for future researchers to access. I have spent the past three months travelling to various universities to meet researchers working in diverse disciplines and recorded the best of what I found in case studies that are currently being uploaded on the British Library website. In my next blog post I will analyse some of the themes coming through in these case studies.

 I have organised an academic workshop for PhD students and supervisors to discuss issues, which I will report on in a future blog post and furthermore there is a public Digital Conversations evening event, taking place at the British Library in London on the 29th September showcasing some of this amazing multimedia research which you can sign up for here: