Access and Distribution

In order to access ETDs, people need a computer. 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. And interactive ETDs (such as the Online Writing Center) cannot easily be converted to paper without subverting the very nature of the author's intentions.

"The move from paper to electronic versions of theses and dissertations has been possible only through expenditures of time and/or money on the part of library and information sciences programs."

Currently, in order to access the full text of a print thesis or dissertation, researchers need to procure it from the library of the university where it was produced, either in person or through interlibrary loan. 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 offer 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] developed by Jim Davis of Xerox and Carl Lagoze of Cornell University that will allow researchers to use the Web to browse the entire Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations by author, subject, keyword, department, or year of publication. That 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." (Fox et al. 1997).