Theses and dissertations represent a global source of information resulting from cutting edge research. While a proportion of this information is published in other forms much of the detail is not, and research emanating from lesser-known institutions, particularly in the developing countries, may be less likely to be published in mainstream journals. Creation of this information in electronic form making it readily accessible via the Web through standard, ubiquitous and free software programs provides the key to dissemination of this information independent of the source of the research. The ETD initiatives to date have proven that electronic theses and dissertations can be created using relatively low technology at a cost, which would be within the reach of most institutions. Portable packages have been developed which eliminate the majority of the developmental work required. The point has been reached where all research institutions can technically establish their own ETD program.
Traditionally, theses and dissertations have been extremely underutilized sources of information due to their lack of physical availability. The development of ETDs provides the opportunity for theses and dissertations to be recognized as a basic channel for the dissemination of research findings and an essential resource in the discovery process. Therefore, the focus for the future needs to be to ensure optimal access to ETDs by information seekers. This in essence means ensuring that ETD metadata records are accessible through as many channels as possible and are retrieved as integral components of searches without the researcher necessarily specifying an ETD. Some ways of achieving this could be:
- Creation of a virtual union catalogue of ETD metadata through frequent regular harvesting of data from ETD sites which could be individual, regional or national
- Integration of ETD metadata into general metadata repositories for electronic scholarly information
- Ensuring search engines being established for other electronic scholarly information initiatives such as the Open Archives Initiative also search the ETD metadata repositories
- Inclusion of ETD metadata in local library catalogues
- Inclusion of ETD metadata in subject or form oriented databases
The development of ETD programs worldwide and the implementation of access structures have the potential to significantly enhance the opportunity for all researchers, independent of geographic and economic constraints, to make their contribution to the global research effort.
Work in all of these areas continues under development by NDLTD. Acting as agent for NDLTD, Virginia Tech is running a union catalog, drawing upon sites that support OAI. The result is accessible through Virginia Tech software as well as VTLS’s Virtua software.
With support from the USA’s National Science Foundation, Virginia Tech also is engaged in a number of research activities related to ETDs. These include matching efforts funded by DFG in Germany (in collection with Oldenburg U.) and by CONACyT in Mexico (with Puebla and Monterrey). These aim to promote mirroring (of metadata as well as regular data), high performance access, effective searching and browsing, visualization of results and of sites, and other advanced schemes.
It is hoped that all involved in the ETD efforts will assist, with a global perspective, so that all universities become involved, and ultimately all students submit an ETD, thus becoming better prepared to be a leader in the Information Age.