Problems and Possibilities of Electronic Theses and Dissertations, by Christian Weisser, John Baker, and Janice R. Walker
Why Are We Doing This?There are many reasons why universities and libraries are putting theses and dissertations online:
A recent article in D-Lib Magazine outlines the Virginia Tech Electronic Theses and Dissertation Project. According to the article, "True success in [this project] will potentially mean a permanent change in graduate education and scholarly publishing, with digital libraries playing a more dominant role in supporting and disseminating research" (Fox et al.). In cooperation with Solinet's Monticello Electronic Library project and SURA, Virginia Tech is offering assistance to guide universities considering implementation of such a program. According to Solinet:
A growing realization has emerged among those working on these projects that it is critically important that libraries remain not just involved, but centrally positioned in the development of the national information infrastructure.
In fact, if academic journal publications are an indication, recent discussions on this topic seem to have been guided in large part by librarians. This is not surprising, considering that libraries at academic institutions have long served as repositories for theses and dissertations. From that standpoint, librarians already have a vested interest in how the matter of e-documents should be addressed, not the least of which are policies on formatting, storing, and accessing these documents for use by researchers in academia, business, and industry.
The design of e-documents themselves is a conundrum, as librarians attempt to blend extant print technologies with electronic wizardry. Librarians now face challenges barely foreseen a decade ago. For example, on the one hand how can readers be given as much access to electronic documents as they already have to those in traditional print format? On the other hand, one might argue cogently that utilization of e-documents will soon equal if not outstrip that of traditional print versions, considering the exponential advancements in technology.
If researchers are to enjoy greatly improved access to e-documents, then theses and dissertations may become much more valued as resources, a prospect that some other academicians--and publishers who have traditionally dealt in the print medium--may greet with mixed emotions. For now, publishers, writers, researchers, and even librarians, can only guess as to how electronic texts may affect notions of copyright and related aspects of authorial control. Will electronic publishing of theses and dissertations also mean more control by educational institutions and less by private enterprise?