NET NEWS: No Dusty Stacks for These Grads

Science  20 Aug 1999:
Vol. 285, Issue 5431, pp. 1175c
DOI: 10.1126/science.285.5431.1175c

If one scientist has his way, one of the last hassles of graduate schools around the world will be a thing of the past. Instead of struggling to feed watermarked bond paper into a printer and line up page margins just so, dissertation writers hopped up on caffeine and aspirin will file their magnum opuses electronically. More than 60 universities are already members of the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations, which catalogs these creations and makes them available to others online.

Computer scientist Edward A. Fox of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg argues in an essay supplement to Nature that electronic filing saves money and library space and is more relevant to today's world. Students at Virginia Tech have had the option to submit theses by the kilobyte instead of by the ream for the past decade, and they've been required to file electronically since January 1997. More than half the grads add bells and whistles to their digital theses that would have been impossible to put on paper, says Fox, including virtual-reality tours of chemical structures, audio files of bird calls, and even a video file illustrating life in a Turkish coffee house.

More importantly, however, digital dissertations can be accessed easily and immediately by other scholars. Most paper theses in Virginia Tech's libraries languish in the stacks, rarely getting checked out, Fox says. Typical electronic theses, he says, have been downloaded from the Networked Digital Library hundreds or thousands of times, from tens of thousands of sites around the world.

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