Report and Recommendations for Electronic Dissertations and Theses
at The University of Iowa
by John Robert Gardner

I should begin by acknowledging that the contents of the following report derive from an excellent--and tiring!--week of interaction with outstanding individuals with remarkable vision and willingness to share knowledge. They helped my understanding immensely.

I have summarized as follows in the current document:

  1. Recommendations
  2. General Observations
  3. commonly Reported Problems.
  4. status of peer institutions

Short summaries or related links will appear in the lower portion of this window. External resources will appear in a new browser window. UI Main Library questions listed in detail.

I was fortunate to be able to assess ETD's along several avenues of meetings with key individuals:

  • Administrative Mechanisms and Oversee
    1. Meeting with John Eaton (Assoc. Prov. for Graduate Education)
    2. Meeting with Gail McMillan (Scholarly Communications and Special Collections/ETD archive oversee)
    3. Meeting with Ed Fox (Computer Science Professor)
  • Key Individuals ("The Makers & Doers")
    1. Gwen Ewing (Program Support Technician, Graduate School: Diplomas and Records Management, their Theses Checker)
    2. Neil Kipp (Electronic interface/standards/ETD creation coordinator), assisted by Paul Mather.
    3. Mary Hansbrough (Library Cataloguer)
    4. Anthony Atkins (Programmer, Scholarly Communications: Library catalogue and search scripts mgr.)
  • University of Virginia (Additional vital information)
    1. Daniel Pitti (Project [i.e., Technical] Director/Facillitator, Institute for the Advancement of Technology in the Humanities--IATH) Daniel provided tools and references for e-texts and SGML, as well as contact with David Seaman.
    2. David Seaman (Director, Electronic Text Center)
  • UI Main Library Q & A's
  • Unanticipated Insight and Assistance
    1. Impromptu meetings with students who had matriculated with ETD's at VT, as well as some who were "in process" while I was here
    2. Visit to Myhouse Communications, Takoma Park (MD), referral to Mike Wiik, XML enthusiast/developer

  • The information gathered from each individual is presented--largely in bulk from my interview notes--in the sections linked to each name listed above. For convenience, I have included my summary recommendations (with links to the relevant data sources/interviews) immediately below.


    The UI is in an optimal position to seize a rare moment in technological development to incorporate the first wave of user-friendly tools for the document format of the future, SGML/XML. SGML is a way to write Document Type Definitions (DTD's), which determine highly precise ways of accessing and longterm storage of electronic data. The following recommendations present themselves.

  • There are now off-the-shelf products for composing and checking SGML. There are also various free programs on the web. Many of the existing Text Encoding Initiative tags under SGML are ready-made for much of the Humanities. I will implement changes in SGML so that it will be compatible with the future XML proliferation (XML is like a more universal, customizable SGML DTD language).

  • The ETD format of SGML developed by VT--with but a few changes so it can be usable for XML --is a viable model. I propose to adapt it according to the wider academic standard of Text Encoding Initiative, and also augment it with special mechanisms for the dissertation process. Some of these will have auto-matic menus for the author, just like regular word processors, other parts will be at the initiative of the author via hot-keys (like the control-x/c to cut and copy text, or control-a to select all on Windows machines).

  • The UI should join the NLDTD and establish its approach for schools who are members but don't know how to get underway efficiently. Joining also provides free software and a network of support.
  • Submission--following VT's model and Caren Cox's thinking--should be electronic, following the VT system, this eases workload for both library and thesis checking staff. Archiving should follow existing library entry procedures for the OCLC and OASIS. Electronic submission will enable cut-n-paste incorporation of ETD "front" information (like committee, date, title, abstract, author, etc.). Checking of format will use free software which automatically "proofs" SGML code. Students will be permitted to work out hardcopy needs as specified by their committee. The UI should join the NLDTD (which is free) and enables access to a wealth of software automators for this process.

  • Graphics shall be JPEG, sound and video will be MPEG as this is an international standard.

  • General Observations
    (corelated by one or several interviewees)
    1. Graduate School needed no additional personel. The electronic interface of submission enables quick e-mail feedback on formatting problems/confirmation.
    2. Library cataloging already had digital document programs under way (as does the UI) and the workload for thesis cataloguing is the same or less than with hardcopies. They enter more data than before b/c of the ability to cut and paste abstracts into the record entry. Everyone underscored that the workflow is LESS at the library now with ETD cataloguing.
    3. They began with a 10 year old server which easily handled the first several hundred submissions.
    4. Average dissertation size is under 10mb, only one in SGML has come in (this had to be extensively re-worked by ETD tech staff (N. Kipp primarily). Even heavy multi-media dissertations are under 40mb.
    5. Software for submission, storage, and cataloguing has already been--a few innovations are in process--developed, tested, and de-bugged by VT, and is available FREE to an NLDTD member (membership is free, members keep all ETD's on their own servers, the NLDTD is a cataloguing interface and resource sharing network, not a repository). There is no conflict between UMI submission (I've confirmed this with Bill Savage) and NLDTD membership/ETD listing.

    Reported Problems
    (corelated by one or several interviewees)

    Frequently the refrain "because we mandated this, we had to make choices . . . " was used to introduce one or another set of chickens which had come home to roost:

    1. PDF was the primary issue, though the wide industry, government, and academic use of it leaves this as a somewhat less critical issue timewise, though with each passing year, the number requiring conversion grows (I contacted Adobe on PDF-to-SGML conversion, and they stipulated that they had no plans to facilitate such conversion)
    2. There is the ongoing question of "who owns the research" raised still by some journals viz. prior publication, but this is changing (cf. recent Chronicle article).
    3. support needed to be considered for ESL students, and staff at one of the ITS centers sets aside 2-3 hours /day for ETD assistance, however, as Gwen Ewing/Thesis checker noted, 70% of the questions/problems are solved when they refer the students to the online www help.
    4. Everyone noted that the first year they did the delayed release, they did not arrange well for how to contact the students when time came to release their work (e.g., after patent/publication). Gail McMillan has suggested that the existing "delay" form be rephrased to read that "if not heard from to the contrary, the author agrees to release" in the specified time period. This saves tracking the person down.