Metadata towards an e-research cyberinfrastructure: The case of French PhD theses

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Jacques Ducloy(i),, Jean-Paul Ducasse, Muriel Foulonneau, Luc Grivel, Diane Le Hénaff, Yann Nicolas
  • (i) INIST / CNRS
This paper analyses metadata practices and needs in the French research community. It focuses on PhD theses whose life-cycle is totally controlled by the academic institutions. It uses information treatments dealing with setting up research policy as samples for an eresearch orientation. Several case-studies illustrate the fundamental role of various repositories containing affiliations, authorities or linguistic items. ARTIST, the collective author of this paper, is introduced.

Archived version


This paper is the result of a collaborative work and was written by a networked team of people, engineers or librarians, working in different organisations, in the framework of ARTIST[1] (Appropriation par la Recherche des Technologies de l’Information Scientifique et Technique) project. Our first experience was based on various contributions on a terminological forum, about a translation[2] of “What Is a Digital Library anyway, anymore”, a paper written by Carl Lagoze, and whose subject deals with the deep structure of a Digital Library[9]. This paper is a new cooperative experience which would like to analyse how metadata could help the French academic community in building a federative Digital Library.

The annual issue of the “Academic Ranking of World Universities” [6] is causing discomfort in those in charge of setting up research policies. Improving the quality of metadata items such as affiliations is now considered as a key issue for improving the visibility of universities. The researchers themselves are now permanently looking at impact factor. The “publish or perish” notion is now used as a strong incentive for author self-archiving in institutional repositories [4].

Academic librarian and research communities begin to feel that metadata are not only useful for information retrieval but could play a more strategic function. This new way of viewing is perhaps a first step towards a more global analysis about the role of scholarly publishing in what is called “cyberinfrastructure for e-science or e-research” [10].

In this context, this paper will explore how metadata could be used in some activities dealing with research policy in a francophone[3] environment. We have chosen to focus on PhD theses because their life-cycle is fully controlled by academic institutions; but a large part of the discussion could be applied to all items of scholarly publishing.

We will show that a precise research policy requires sophisticated metadata. In an open archiving framework, the most popular among technical solutions, such as DSpace [12], or Eprints[4], do not require a depositor to provide strongly structured metadata. Most requirements are limited to a basic set of Dublin Core elements in order to be easily harvested. PhD theses are naturally concerned by this goal of improving visibility [5]. We will show that their initial life-cycle requires that metadata should not be merely descriptive but should include some management elements. Indeed, most of the time and more specifically in a French context, several institutions or organisations are concerned and must cooperate.

As for all published items of research, theses metadata must be usable in any portal (national, international, thematic…) that could increase their visibility. They should also be easily handled by informetric tools in order to be picked out in a scientific or strategic watch or for research policy oriented studies. At this level we will show that a key issue is the handling of vocabularies and affiliations.

In the first part of this paper, we will start by introducing the francophone environment. Then we will present several structuring initiatives dealing with PhD thesis production, union catalogues and institutional archives. Finally, we will discuss three case-studies showing various aspects of metadata and vocabularies.

Digital libraries for e-research: an overview of European, francophone and French contexts

Francophone research institutions must position themselves in relation to a variety of existing national and international frameworks.

They take part in international standardisation initiatives. They have to take into account the evolution of standards and practices in the United States and worldwide. Additionally, they are part of both linguistic and regional networks. France and Belgium for instance are part of both Europe and the francophone area (Francophony). Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia are part of Francophony as well as of the Arabic language community.

As a result, francophone research actors must coordinate with a number of initiatives in multiple areas of cooperation. The metadata strategies adopted for scholarly publishing must ensure interoperability of francophone scholarly material in all those networks. They must reflect very diverse administrative situations in the different countries as well as in the regional and international network infrastructures.

International context of e-research

The open access movement and the Open Archives Initiative have encouraged research institutions to make available theses and dissertations on the Web. On the technical side, the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH)[5] makes it possible to share and exchange metadata about scholarly material. This has allowed the creation of an open framework for publishing theses and dissertations. They are integrated into open repositories and shared in larger networks. In France, this led to the creation of the Centre for Direct Scholarly Communication[6] (CCSD), a major initiative aiming at reengineering the processes of scholarly communication, as illustrated below (section 3.2).

In the United States, efforts to create an open digital library framework in the scope of the Digital Library Initiative DLI-I and DLI-II funded by the National Science Foundation have led to such major projects as the National Science Digital Library[7]. NSDL has contributed to the promotion of standards and the development of services based on an open architecture for digital libraries. The Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD)[8] [13] has developed an infrastructure, including processes and workflow for electronic publishing of theses and dissertations. It has raised IPR issues related to ETD (electronic theses and dissertations) publishing. It has also improved repositories technical interoperability by encouraging the use of OAI-PMH and SRU servers. Finally it has improved metadata-related interoperability by adopting the ETD metadata set (ETDMS) [4] developed as a Dublin Core application profile. ETDMS is notably used in the Cyberthèses project (francophone portal for ETD) further described in section 3.1. Alternative metadata formats such as MARC and MODS (Metadata Object Description Schema maintained by the Library of Congress)9 are also used. The Metadata Working Group of the Texas Digital Library has developed a descriptive application profile for electronic theses and dissertations in MODS10. Finally, a number of libraries embed descriptive metadata in METS wrappers (e.g. The Florida Center for Library Automation11, or Uppsala University12).


The European context


The francophone context


The French context


Several structuring initiatives



CCSD: open archive with institutional views


STAR: logistic intermediary between local actors and wider actors.



[1] Y. Bakelli and S. Benrahmoun. Long-term preservation of ETDs in Algeria: discussion through the CERIST Deposit system. In Proceedings of ETD2003. Berlin 2003. < >

[2] BiodivERsA. Compendium of Biodiversity Research Funding Agencies in Europe < ev.doc >

[3] L. Grivel,  H. Fagherazzi, P. Fourneret and A. Zerouki. La conception de bases de données infométriques hybrides : analyse de la pratique de trois observatoires européens. In Journées SFBA proceedings Ile Rousse 99. <>

[4] S. Harnad. Publish or Perish - Self-Archive to Flourish : The Green Route to Open Access. In ERCIM News January 2006 <>

[5] D. Le Henaff,  and C. Thiolon. Gérer et diffuser des thèses électroniques : un choix politique pour un enjeu scientifique. In Documentaliste - Sciences de l’information. 42(4- 5):272-280. October 2005.

[6] Institute of Higher Education . Academic Ranking of World Universities - Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 2005 < >

[7] M. Kaiser. New Ways of Sharing and Using Authority Information. In D-lib Magazine, September 2001 <>

[8] K. Jeffery. CRIS + open access = the route to research knowledge on the GRID. In 71st IFLA General Conference and Council proceedings, Oslo, Norway, 2005 <>

[9] C. Lagoze, D. Krafft, S. Payette and S. Jesuroga,  What Is a Digital Library anyway, anymore? In D-lib Magazine. November 2005.


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See also