Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Winter 1998

Conference Reports

STS General Discussion Group: Summary of ALA MidWinter Meeting, January 10, 1998

Jill Newby
Co-Chair, STS General Discussion Group
Weber State University
Ogden, UT

Digital Dissertations: Two Initiatives

Digital dissertations was the topic of discussion at the STS General Discussion Group, Jan. 10th at the New Orleans Convention Center. The two presenters were Gail McMillan, Director of the Scholarly Communication Project, University Libraries at Virginia Tech and Jeff Moyer, from UMI, University Microfilms, Inc. Gail McMillan discussed issues and procedures used at Virginia Tech for their electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs) project which began four years ago. In 1997, graduate students were required to submit their theses and dissertations in a PDF format rather than a print copy to the library. As of Jan. 8, 1998, there were 650 electronic theses and dissertations, 354 with unrestricted access, 166 access limited to the Virginia Tech community, and 130 without electronic access. The ETDs contain graphic images, movies, and sound files. Some documents, such as architectural drawings did not lend themselves to a digital format and were not converted to PDF format.

To provide support for graduate students, Virginia Tech Library staff assisted them in image conversion in the library's multimedia lab. Once the dissertation is approved, and the student has consented to the online display, the dissertation is made available on the Internet, and UMI is notified of the address so that the dissertation can be copied and microfilmed by UMI.

Gail McMillan, Director of Virginia Tech's Scholarly Communication Project, spoke of the advantages of the electronic format including the fact that it enables graduate students to be more flexible and creative in presenting their research. They could include color images, movies and sound. Other advantages are that the EDTs don't take up shelf space and save ILL and circulation staff time in circulating theses and dissertations. They are more widely accessible on the Internet, and there was discussion at the meeting about the greater visibility and use of electronic dissertations and theses. Virginia Tech's ETDs can be searched by keyword or browsed by author and title. There are plans to provide searching of electronic dissertations held at other Libraries involved in the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (www.ndltd.org/).

About 75% of Virginia Tech graduate students have given permission to display their dissertations or theses on the Internet. Faculty and students both have concerns about copyright and the future publishing of their dissertations in the form of books or articles if the dissertation is available on the Internet. Students have the option of restricting access to only the campus.

Future changes for ETDs include submission of ETDs in SGML formats. MARC records could be derived from SGML text. For more information, see http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/.

Jeff Moyer, from UMI, presented information on UMI's Digital Library Program, and outlined the issues that need to be addressed by institutions considering developing their own digital dissertation project. Phase I of UMI's project is to scan dissertations and convert them to PDF files. Phase II will be to include searchable texts and images. Phase III will convert dissertations and theses into SGML formats.

The pilot program (wwwlib.umi.com/dissertations/) allows free access to the current quarter of Dissertations Abstracts Online, plus the ability to download the full text of select dissertations in PDF format for a fee. Currently, graduate students can submit documents in digital format or paper. UMI provides online guidelines for submitting electronic theses or dissertations. An author can request restrictions to the online access of their dissertation. The dissertation author retains copyright and receives royalties from UMI sales. Submitting institutions have free online access to their students' dissertations and theses.

UMI will provide a "Current Research" web page for participating institutions with bibliographic information on dissertations published in the last 2 years at that institution. The site is searchable by keyword and provides also browsing by subject. UMI will also work with institutions to scan all of an institution's dissertations. They will also add keywords and subject headings.

Some of the issues Jeff Moyer identified with digital dissertations are coordinating activities among academic departments, the graduate school, the computing center, and individual faculty and students. Publishing standards raise questions about which digital formats are acceptable, PDF or SGML, LATEX, multimedia formats and viewers/readers. Printing large PDF files-some dissertations are over 250 pages-can be a problem and are too large for most e-mail systems. Other challenges relate to internal (local) security and document maintenance issues and external access and control.


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