Stanford will accept digital dissertations starting in November

University Librarian Michael Keller says electronic versions of dissertations will be available to the Stanford community through Socrates, the online library catalog, and "available to the world" through Google.

Put away your checkbook. Don't bother buying reams of acid-free paper. Just hit the "submit" button to digitally upload dissertations under a new program that begins in November.

Speaking at the Oct. 22 Faculty Senate meeting, University Librarian Michael Keller said the digital world offers a "much greater palette of expression" to graduate students, because they will be able to include more graphics, color and character sets in their dissertations than in paper copies.

"[There will be] more opportunities to link to online resources and to have those links live," Keller said during a joint presentation on the program with University Registrar Thomas Black.

The program is the result of a yearlong collaboration between Stanford University Libraries & Academic Information Resources and the Registrar's Office.

Under the program, digital dissertations will be stored in the Stanford Digital Repository, which provides preservation services for scholarly resources, helping to ensure their integrity, authenticity and usability over time.

Keller said the documents will be available to the Stanford community through Socrates, the university's online library catalog, and "available to the world" through Google, which will serve as a third-party distributor. He said the library will print one copy of each work and store it in the Stanford University Archives.

Keller said he and Black sought advice on the new program from the Faculty Senate's Committee on Graduate Studies, and will report back to the committee in about a year with an update on how it is progressing.

"It is an ongoing program that will undergo change as we understand how it is used and what effects it may have," Keller said, adding that the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) and the Graduate Student Council are also providing advice and feedback.

Richard Roberts, a professor of history and the chair of the Committee on Graduate Studies, said the committee wanted to make sure that the new program doesn't have unintended consequences that could harm graduate students.

"We were clearly in favor of a less expensive alternative to ProQuest and one that has far greater intellectual reach through some agreement with Google or some other Internet carrier," Roberts wrote in an email message.

"On the other hand, we wanted to know if widely circulating e-dissertations might dissuade publishers from considering revised dissertations for publication. Since the 'tenure book' remains central to many humanities disciplines, in particular, we wanted to protect students' long-term interests. We thus had to balance the needs of two very different, but overlapping constituencies: our graduate students and the wider community of scholars."

Currently, students submit several copies of their dissertation – printed on acid-free paper – to the university registrar, who measures the margins to make sure they meet printing standards. One copy is sent to ProQuest, a Michigan company that publishes more than 60,000 graduate works every year and lists them in Dissertation Abstracts Online. Two copies are sent to the Stanford University Libraries. In some cases, students also give copies to their departments.

Students also pay $126 to $221 in fees when they submit paper copies to the Registrar's Office.

Under the new program, which is free, students will submit one digital copy of their dissertation, including the primary file and optional supplementary materials, to the university. The electronic document will be available for downloading and printing, unless it has been embargoed.

Keller said works submitted digitally to Stanford under the new program will not be listed in the ProQuest database. However, he said, graduate students will retain the right to send their work to ProQuest.

Keller said graduate students will be able to embargo the release of the dissertations they submit to Stanford for six months, one year or two years – just as they can when they submit their work to ProQuest. Students will have two options when they submit dissertations to Google: Release 20 percent or 100 percent of the work.

"We took care not to simply automate the old submission process," Registrar Thomas Black wrote in an email message.

"The students submit their dissertations through a specially designed online application that records the milestones required to complete the PhD degrees, including the application to graduate. Graduate students will be better informed of the steps needed to finish and where they are in completing those steps. One of our aims was to make our administration of this process less stressful."

Black said he hopes the university will be able to expand the program to include students enrolled in Stanford's master's degree programs and undergraduates involved in honors projects.