Magazine article Information Today

Are Dissertations Next?

Magazine article Information Today

Are Dissertations Next?

Article excerpt

It seems that every month we witness a new wrinkle in the unfolding saga of where scholarly communication is heading. In September it was announced that Australia's federal government was going to fund an online directory to all of the research dissertations and theses from Australian universities. This got me thinking about the current state of electronic publishing of these works and how this may influence the evolution of open access.

This new directory will be an expanded version of the Australian Digital Theses (ADT) program, which currently has links to 2,600 theses in digital form. The records of 13,000 theses and dissertations, both digital and print, will be added to the database, which will be available to anyone on the Web and will provide access to both digital and print materials. For those items in print, an order form will be available to request a copy of the research. Half a million dollars has been granted by the Australian government to do the job, and it is projected that the new database will be available in 2006.

The ADT prototype was developed by seven Australian universities during 1998 and 1999; it was then opened up to all Australian universities in the latter part of 2000. According to the ADT Web site, "Providing access via a central database will greatly enhance knowledge about Australian theses and research both nationally and internationally."

In an interview with Australian IT, ADT policy group chairman Alex Byrne said that this "new database would be an enormous benefit to Australia's researchers and would put them on the world stage." Byrne further noted, "We already know that many have benefited through offers of jobs and opportunities for research collaboration as a result of their theses being available via the existing ADT." University of New South Wales librarian Andrew Wells observes, "We also think that starting with digital theses is a good way to develop institutional repositories and build relationships with future researchers."

Slow Growth of Depositories

Electronic dissertations are not new but have typically developed as institutional repositories, not centralized ones. But they have not garnered the same attention as other forms of research and open access. The Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (http://www.theses.org) has only 214 member institutions worldwide. Seven of these members are consortia, so the actual number of participants is larger. Still, given the number of colleges and universities worldwide, this represents only a mere fraction participating in these repositories.

The first one was begun in 1996 as a federally funded project at Virginia Tech. At the time, it was expected that "hundreds of thousands" of research reports would be available within just a few years. But it has not quite worked out that way.

"Changing expectations in institutions of higher education is slow going," says Gail McMillan, director of digital libraries and archives at Virginia Tech. "In my opinion the students are ready and willing, but the faculty committees are reluctant to have their students do things differently."

Old Guard, New Guard

Whether the faculty committees know about it or not, students have been putting their dissertations and master's theses online for years. …

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