[Archive copy mirrored from: http://www.ndltd.org/info/descr.htm]
The concept of electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs) was first openly discussed at a 1987 meeting in Ann Arbor arranged by UMI, and attended by representatives of Virginia Tech (Ed Fox from Computer Science and Susan Bright from the Computing Center), University of Michigan, SoftQuad, and ArborText. As followup, Virginia Tech funded development of the first SGML Document Type Definition (DTD) for this purpose, by Yuri Rubinski of SoftQuad.
Virginia Tech's Dean Gary Hooper agreed to finance further development in 1991. Ed Fox and John Eaton (Dean of the Graduate School) have collaborated on this project since that time, investigating problems associated with production, archiving and access, initially with a local faculty committee. Since 1992 they have worked with the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), UMI and other interested organizations, helping run a series of design and discussion meetings. Additionally, the University Library's Scholarly Communications Project developed the procedures and systems for processing, archiving, and providing public access to Virginia Tech's graduate research works.
The main goals of the ETD initiative are:
Since 1994, the short term solution at Virginia Tech has been for students to submit their documents as Portable Document Format (PDF) files. Students create PDF files using software running on Windows, Macintosh, or UNIX systems. These PDF files may be moved across computer platforms and operating systems and still retain all their formatting (the electronic documents look just like the paper copy --- indeed a paper copy can be printed from the PDF file!). Use of PDF costs the students nothing: the Adobe Acrobat Reader software that is necessary to read the document is free and may be downloaded from the World Wide Web. The student submits his/her ETD via a WWW submission page, by file transfer protocol (FTP), or by submitting a floppy disk.
When the Graduate School receives the PDF file, it is reviewed for errors in formatting. If the ETD passes published quality requirements, the library catalogs the ETD and places it on the electronic bookshelf for ETDs, which supports flexible browsing. A simple search engine facilitates access too, and will be replaced by a more powerful system when the number of documents warrants.
Library patrons can use the online catalog to locate ETDs and use the given Internet addresses (URL) to go to the Web ETD resource. Patrons can then down-load them to their own computers or to library workstations and view them or print them, as desired.
Virginia Tech is developing tools for students to submit ETDs both as SGML and PDF documents. For the SGML version, SGML constructs can refer to non-text objects, and those objects would be stored in widely accepted standard representations (e.g., JPEG for color images, MPEG for video). SGML documents are more easily archived, more easily searchable, more reusable (e.g., to copy an entry in a bibliography, or to test a new hypothesis using the data and model in a spreadsheet), and therefore are more valuable to scholars.
As the software is developed, other southeastern universities (e.g., Auburn, Clemson, Delaware, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State, Mississippi State, NCSU, and West Virginia) will help test the ETD software. When the software is released, it will be available to other institutions for local use as a part of the Monticello Electronic Library project.
Virginia Tech also will coordinate development and implementation of a distributed digital library system, so that ETDs from all participating institutions can be easily accessed. This will allow browsing and searching (based on institution, date, author, title, keywords, and full-text), as well as downloading for local reading or (selective) printing.
The Virginia Tech principle investigators for this effort are: John Eaton, Associate Provost for Graduate Studies; Edward Fox, Professor of Computer Science and Associate Director for Research at the Computing Center; and Gail McMillan, Director of Scholarly Communications, from University Libraries. Neill Kipp, doctoral candidate in Computer Science, serves as technical manager for the project.