Implementing Electronic Dissertations at the University of Chicago                    February 13, 2009

Background

Motivated by the Provost's call to University units to reduce costs, the Library is critically examining many of its processes and procedures including those of the Dissertation Office. We have concluded that eliminating the requirement for paper dissertations and moving to an electronic-only format offers the University and its students significant potential for ongoing cost savings as well as for improved service. The Provost, Deputy Provost for Graduate Education, and the Deputy Dean of Students for Student Affairs have reviewed this change and endorse it.

The University currently requires each doctoral candidate to submit two paper copies of the dissertation (as well as two copies of any supplemental digital files) prior to graduation. The Library binds one copy and adds it to the circulating collection. UMI Dissertation Publishing, a division of ProQuest, scans the other and then makes it available in various formats-PDF, microform, and paper printed from PDF.

With Summer 2009 Convocation graduates the University will begin using a web-based interface for online submission and review of dissertations developed by UMI Dissertation Publishing. Coupled with this change, though operationally distinct from it, the University and the Library will stop accepting and archiving dissertations on paper and rely on electronic access via the ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database while archiving a PDF copy of each future dissertation to guarantee permanence.

Rationale for online submission

By now dissertations almost always begin life as digital documents. Accepting and reviewing them electronically is more efficient for students and for the institution. Students are spared the expense of printing multiple copies of lengthy documents; university units are relieved of the inefficiencies of interoffice routing, collating, and storage of multiple copies. We concur in UMI's assertion that "online submission is easier, faster, and results in the highest quality version of the published graduate work." Among its advantages are:

For a side-by-side comparison of current and proposed electronic submission procedures see the Appendix.

Rationale for electronic-only dissertations

Electronic theses and dissertations, often referred to as ETDs, are growing more common in universities and colleges, a trend that seems certain to continue. They present an important opportunity to help students gain more experience with authorship in the electronic environment, increasingly the norm in publishing.

While moving to electronic submission of dissertations offers some modest opportunity for cost savings by lower expenditures for labor and supplies in the Dissertation Office, it is the move to an ETD environment for access and archiving that provides the larger component of savings. The electronic-only format would generate savings in the Library's binding and shelf preparation unit, in the cost of commercial binding, and in cataloging efficiencies created by using modified catalog records from UMI. Because they include the full-text of the dissertations' abstracts these offer richer access points through the catalog.