Library to digitize dissertations

With space in the McDermott Library becoming scarce, library administrators pushed to do away with paper dissertations, but the faculty senate struck a compromise.

Director of Libraries Larry Sall said keeping copies of dissertations in digital format rather than paper copies would help maximize the space in the McDermott Library. Archival copies would still be kept off-site as microfilm, he added.

“The building is not getting any bigger and the collection is,” Sall said. “To maximize the building functionality, we need to take things out that do not need to be in print.”

Far from being purely a space issue however, Faculty Senate Chair and Professor of Social Sciences Murray Leaf said many faculty members felt the tradition of physically writing a tangible research document that is printed, bound and shelved is part of the learning process.

Leaf added that whether or not the library maintains on-line only versions of dissertations is not only a library issue, but an academic issue as well.

“(The policy) needs to be discussed widely and (the faculty) needs to come to a consensus,” Leaf said.

In a March 17 faculty senate meeting, the topic generated lively discussion on both sides of the issue. Ellen Safley, associate library director for public services and collections, described to the senate the process by which dissertations are digitized and stored on microfilm.

Safley said that the microfilm copies are considered the archival version for posterity and are kept in a vault at University Microfilm Inc., in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Safley also presented the library’s case for not wanting to continue to store these documents that are rarely used and sometimes even stolen.

The library has significantly less study area than comparable libraries and needs to create more space, she said.

Robert Nelsen, associate professor of arts & humanities, and other senators were concerned about the quality of images being compromised or being unable to access digital documents in the future when technology may be drastically different.

“Digitization cannot reproduce color images (accurately), especially in arts & humanities,” Nelsen said. “Some things can’t be digitized at all.”

But Ramaswamy Chandrasekaran, Ashbel Smith professor of engineering and computer science, asserted more people would read dissertations with the easy accessibility online resources offered and said he was against storing hard copies. President Franklyn Jenifer said he was also in favor of digital-only dissertations.

In the end, the senate passed two motions – one which required that all dissertations be submitted in digital format and another to keep the status quo of storing bound paper copies in the library stacks.

“For the foreseeable future, it will not strain the library to add another five feet per year (of dissertations to the stacks),” said B. Hobson Wildenthal, provost and executive vice president of academic affairs.

Safley said the library is pleased with the outcome of the faculty senate meeting.

“We are going to move forward with digitization…and retain paper archives for the time being,” Safley said. “I think it’s the best solution for now.”

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