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Excerpted: Electronic Theses and Dissertations: Digitizing Scholarship for Its Own Sake

For most scholars, the graduate thesis or dissertation is the first major work of scholarship they produce. To make those works more readily available to other scholars, as well as to save money, many universities and libraries are now making digitized or electronic versions available. Following the lead of Virginia Tech, some institutions, moreover, are even beginning to require that all graduate theses and dissertations be submitted and published electronically; some even go so far as to completely eliminate printed copies.

Electronic theses and dissertations, or ETDs, are defined as those theses and dissertations submitted, archived, or accessed primarily in electronic formats. In this paper we briefly look at the move toward making theses and dissertations available in electronic formats and discuss some of the proposals that have been advanced for dealing with problems of production, storage, and dissemination of those works. The Move to ETDs Many libraries are now in the process of digitizing information in an effort to preserve it and to make it more widely available.

National Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations

The Library of Congress's National Digital Library Project plans to digitize five million items by 2000, and many university, public, and private libraries worldwide are currently working on digitizing their collections as well.

Department of Education, is a collection focused specifically on digitized versions of theses, dissertations, and technical papers that began in 1996 at Virginia Tech.

  • One is to use a standard editor, inserting tags, much like what is done by many HTML authors;
  • To register visit our registration information Web page;
  • If you are at a university, you can help build local consensus and devise a supporting infrastructure so the NDLTD is a key part of graduate education;
  • The NDLTD reports that more than twenty universities around the world have become official contributing members of the Initiative within just the past year, and nearly twice that number have expressed interest or are taking steps to participate;
  • Link removed August 2001 because article no longer exists.

The NDLTD reports that more than twenty universities around the world have become official contributing members of the Initiative within just the past year, and nearly twice that number have expressed interest or are taking steps to participate. Traditional methods of archiving and storing theses and dissertations are inefficient and unwieldy. Many theses and dissertations lie moldering in library basements, with no efficient way for researchers to locate the information that may be contained in them.

Further, the time and costs involved in procuring copies of those works may often be prohibitive. One effort to make those works more readily available has been to register them with University Microfilms International UMIa commercial service that, according to its Web site 1997"publishes and archives dissertations and theses; sells copies on demand; and maintains the definitive bibliographic record for over 1.

Copies ordered through UMI's Web site using a credit card arrive in no fewer than four days. Archiving theses and dissertations electronically can help to alleviate some of the problems involved in storage, and making full-text versions available either on the Web or as e-mail attachments would make access almost immediate.

Universities may opt to publish theses and dissertations produced at their own institutions on the World Wide Web, or individual scholars might publish their own works on the Web, thus allowing free access to full texts. Even if libraries decide not to offer the text of the ETD free, they could help scholars by allowing full-text searching. That would allow researchers to be sure that the documents they order or download actually contain the information they seek.

And many students want the freedom to experiment with these new forms. Although some schools have allowed students to produce theses and dissertations in non-traditional forms, most still require that students digital libraries electronic theses and dissertations etds them on paper as well, thus either precluding the use of multimedia or hypertextual elements altogether, or else forcing students to, in effect, produce two entirely different works for two entirely different media.

As Daniel Eisenberg, assistant to the dean for information technology at Northern Arizona University, noted in a listserv discussion on ETDS, I had a student who wanted to do a digital edition of a text for a thesis but the university insisted on a paper copy of the digital edition.

Almost every dissertation now, in the U. These disks are erased digital libraries electronic theses and dissertations etds recycled, or sit in the hands of the new Ph. This is a waste of a resource that future generations may well take us to task for. Eisenberg 1997 Some scholars fear that as new definitions of "writing" are developed, writers may be seduced into using new technologies to produce documents that offer more sensory appeal than substance.

Most ETDs, however, are still produced for print; multimedia applications are used only to enhance or supplement the arguments. Simply allowing or requiring that theses and dissertations be submitted electronically, therefore, is unlikely to effect radical change in the substance or the form of those works in the near future.

As electronic technologies develop, however, reading and writing may also change in as-yet-unforeseeable ways.

Theses and Dissertations

We don't know how much new technologies will change our conception of scholarship. Only by allowing graduate students and their committees the flexibility to experiment with new forms, and by developing guidelines that can sustain change, will we find out. More Problems to Consider There are, of course, problems as well as opportunities in allowing or requiring electronic submission, distribution, and archiving of theses and dissertations, including problems of access and distributionarchiving and storageand copyright and publication issues.

And, since reading lengthy works online is still a formidable task unless you have very good eyes, access to high-speed printers or plenty of time may also be necessary.

Printing large documents, moreover, can still be a costly venture. The cost of paper and toner can add up, and paying a commercial print shop to print out an ETD file can be as costly as or perhaps more costly than ordering a printed copy through UMI. Further, ETDs that make heavy use of audio and video may require faster processing speeds and expensive software or hardware.

To serve those without Internet access, it may be necessary for librarians or archivists to produce copies on disk or CD-ROM, which could require purchase of high-speed drives to facilitate duplication. Mailing disks or CD-ROM copies, too, takes time, the same amount of time now required to send paper copies. Some schools, however, do not participate in interlibrary loan, forcing some researchers to travel great distances to access those scholarly works.

Where dissertations and theses are archived by UMI, researchers can buy them in print, microfiche, or microfilm formats for a fee.

Electronic publication of theses and dissertations can make access and distribution faster and less expensive for most scholars.

NDLTD, for example, makes theses and dissertations available free on the Web, and many libraries and universities digital libraries electronic theses and dissertations etds computer access to the World Wide Web. Most universities also provide printing. As projects like the National Digital Library Project make more information available online, it is likely that the trend toward providing faster, cheaper, and easier public access to ETDs will continue. ETDs can help to make information more readily available to scholars and researchers by allowing quicker and more thorough search capabilities.

For example, the University of Virginia has begun testing and adapting a distributed storage and retrieval system [formerly http: Digital libraries electronic theses and dissertations etds system will also allow users to search and retrieve chapters or sections of a thesis or dissertation to home in on specific sections that are of interest to them. The NDLTD continues to add to its current base of both participating schools and documents, with more than five hundred selections now available at Virginia Tech alone.

Many scholars are already taking advantage of the service: During the 1996-97 academic year at Virginia Tech, ETDs were accessed "almost two orders of magnitude more than the number of circulations of the library copy. Archiving and Storage In all of the universities participating in the ETDs Initiative, libraries are responsible for maintaining accessibility by ensuring that files produced by outmoded or obsolete applications are translated into newer media as necessary.

That has resulted in the creation of new positions or added responsibilities for many library staff members and administrators. The move from paper to electronic versions of theses and dissertations has been possible only through expenditures of time and money on the part of library and information sciences programs. That need for more resources, however, is not unique to ETDs. Libraries are devoting resources to digitizing all kinds of information, not only ETDs, but traditionally published works as well.

While some fear that all the work being done to digitize information will be lost with the next major change in technology, in fact, software publishers in recent years have been careful to assure that newer versions of software usually accommodate files produced by older versions. Thus it is not likely that changes in technology will make ETDs inaccessible.

ETDs are easily backed up, so the risk of losing information is minimal. ETDs stored electronically are less likely to be damaged than their print counterparts, since they have no physical form to yellow and decay with age, and since loaning out a copy does not include relinquishing the original. And advances in technology have made possible increases in electronic storage capacity such as advances in file compression technology and the availability of larger hard drives that substantially lower costs.

The storage potential of libraries may increase exponentially. That one server could accommodate all existing theses and dissertations worldwide in just a fraction of its memory capacity. Copyright and Publication Publishers are concerned about the relationship of ETDs to other forms of publication. Often a dissertation becomes the basis for a scholar's first book. While most of those works are considerably revised for publication, some are published with relatively few changes.

Even though paper theses and dissertations are available, most academic presses are not as concerned that they represent prior publication, probably because of the barriers of time, distance, and cost. However, the prospect of having full texts available on the World Wide Web, given that the market for scholarly books is very small, may worry some publishers.

ETDs: Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations

On the other hand, greater access might be seen as a way to induce readers to preview a book. According to a recent issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education Winkler, 1997some academic publishers consider online publication to be "great advertising": And it costs money and time to download it. Universities in other countries digital libraries electronic theses and dissertations etds also looking at copyright as they move to put theses and dissertations in electronic formats and publish them online.

Kerstin Olofsson, head of the Teacher Education Library at Umea universitetsbibliotek in Sweden, writes, [T]he copyright issues are the most complicated part of the project. I guess you have the same problem in the States, that the author of the thesis or dissertation also sells the rights to it to a commercial publisher as well. So you would have to negotiate with every publisher for each commercially published thesis.

Then you have the problem with the other type of dissertation, mostly in science and medicine, which usually are made up of articles already given to scholarly journals. Olofsson 1997 To address potential conflicts over copyright, Virginia Tech has established a system where access to an ETD can be delayed temporarily to allow an article or book to be the only source of the author's material. Holding back electronic publication of an ETD can allow the paper publication to come out first.

  • Authors directly upload their submissions to a library server, where the graduate school can check for proper form; there is no longer a need to deliver to the graduate school and have them move completed works to the library;
  • That would allow researchers to be sure that the documents they order or download actually contain the information they seek;
  • For an introduction to Vireo, please download this brief presentation with screen shots of the Vireo system;
  • Registration is now open for the ETD 2018 Symposium.

Too, access to an ETD from outside the author's university can be blocked, ensuring the economic incentives required by many publishers Fox et al.

Those solutions, while not entirely foolproof, nonetheless offer a protection for both authors and publishers concerned with the risks of electronic access to ETDs. Another concern is the use of copyrighted material in an ETD. Scholars had sometimes included graphics and other copyrighted material in their theses and dissertations without acquiring permissions unless the work was accepted for commercial publication.

If ETDs are published on the Web, however, authors will need to ensure compliance with copyright law and fair-use guidelines. That may include acquiring permission to use copyrighted material, which can sometimes be costly. Although UMI and other services have long made theses and dissertations available to the public, the access was limited enough that inclusion of copyrighted materials did not seem to have been an issue in most cases. However, copyright issues and fair-use guidelines are being debated hotly in light of the explosion of electronic publishing.

See, for example, the list of pending copyright legislation at http: ETD authors must consider the impact of that debate on their ability to use copyrighted materials. That software creates an exact, digitized picture of a document, page by page, including any graphics and fonts.

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The file can then be downloaded and viewed using the Adobe Reader, available free on the Web. PDF documents retain all formatting and graphics and also allow the author to include links to other sites on the Web or annotations within the article.

In addition, Adobe files can be indexed easily and searched by keywords specifically chosen by the author or indexer. PDF documents available on the Web may also be searchable using words or phrases found anywhere within the document, thus greatly facilitating a researcher's task.

They are particularly useful for formatting complex mathematical equations in electronic documents. Those files are then converted to PDF format. SGML allows for the "exchange of information at any level of complexity among software, hardware, storage and presentation systems including database management and publishing applications without regard to the manufacturer's name on the label" SoftQuad.

That makes it portable across platforms.