I’m thinking of the story of Aladdin and the street vendor chanting, “New lamps for old! New lamps for old!”
Someone just asked me how to find an online repository of dissertations and theses. A few years ago that was a common question with an easy answer — Dissertation Abstracts International (DAI) from Proquest! But only dissertations, not theses.
Now it is not so easy. It depends. It depends on the institution, on the age of the thesis or dissertation, the author, the topic … there are many many places you might find dissertations now, and social media / user-generated content on the web has drastically changed where they live and how long they live there.
Proquest and DAI are still around, and have a nice relatively new interface for the general public. This is still the best place to get dissertations that were completed in the past several decades. If you are at the University of Michigan or another large academic institution you can probably get copies free through your school. Check with your librarian. If you are not with a higher ed school, you can still get access and pay for copies yourself, at Dissertation Express.
New dissertations & theses are a little more complicated. Many institutions have set up institutional repositories, like UM’s Deep Blue. Many of these have sections for dissertations & theses, like we do. Heck! We even have a section for undergrad honor’s theses! Many, perhaps most (but not all) of the schools doing this have made the theses and dissertations available for free online as PDF downloads.
We are far from being the only folks doing these. Here are just a few of the other schools with similar services.
* Brigham Young U
* Brown U
* U of Cincinnati
* Emory U
* Indiana / Purdue (IUPUI)
* U of Kentucky
* Penn State
* U of Pittsburgh
* U of Texas, Austin
* Vanderbilt U
* Virginia Commonwealth U
* Virginia Tech U
* West Virginia U
* Worcester Polytechnic Institute
I’m pretty sure I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. So, if you know the institution for the dissertation or thesis you want, you might be able to just go directly to the school and find a free copy there. That does seem kind of messy, tho, doesn’t it? And it places the burden on you of knowing what you want to find before you find it.
So what if you want to browse or find something on a topic? There are a lot of tools for that, also, and they vary dramatically in coverage and quality of the service. There are two really amazing international collections that are MUSTs for searching by topic.
Networked Digital Library of Theses & Dissertations: http://www.ndltd.org/
Focus: International theses, dissertations.
Only interested in science research? No problem. Check out the OhioLINK subset at Science Commons.
That isn’t all, tho. There is a custom self-publishing service for dissertations & theses where some people are putting their own work.
I have mixed feelings about Dissertation.com. It is a commercial service, it has a much smaller collection and range of topics, it seems focused on people who believe that their thesis or dissertation has commercial potential. The way it works seems contrary to the academic environment & mission, and it didn’t have any theses on the medical topics I searched, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to check there when you are hunting. They do provide lists of popular theses, they provide royalties to the authors (how does that work I wonder?), and they give you the opportunity to compete for a prize.
Of course, there is always Google Scholar for searching for these also. The problem I’ve found is that searching the words “Thesis” or “Dissertation” tend to bring back materials about how to write them or similar unrelated works. What I have found most helpful is to crib from the standard verbiage at the front of these works, and search either “submitted in fulfillment of” or “requirements of the degree” or something like that. Here is an example search you can modify to find the topic you want.
Think we’re done? Nope. People who write dissertations & theses have started to say to themselves that after all the work they put into it, they want more control over what happens with their content, not the least of which is they want people to SEE it! So they have begun putting copies in places that promote easy access and discovery such as Scribd, Slideshare, Docstoc, Docshare and similar tools.
How would you find these things? Here is an example search I’ve used successfully.
If this is all just a bit much to take in, and you want to learn more about where this is all coming from and how it happened, here is a dynamite reading list.
Bailey, Charles W., Jr. Electronic Theses and Dissertations Bibliography, Version 4. Houston: Digital Scholarship, 7/15/2009. http://www.digital-scholarship.org/etdb/