Keeping with times, Mudd trades bound senior theses for PDFs
No more senior theses will join the 60,000-volume collection that currently resides in the basement of Mudd Library. Starting with the Class of 2013, the University will no longer physically store students’ theses. Instead, they will be uploaded online in PDF format and be searchable from any computer.
There are no plans to digitize the already existing collection of senior theses, and the current collection will still be physically available in the basement of Mudd. To access these for research purposes, independent researchers will still need to physically come to campus.
Seniors will still have the right to restrict community access to their theses. University Archivist Dan Linke said about two to three students elect this option every year.
The theses written by the Class of 2012 will be the last ones to be physically stored in the library. Ph.D. dissertations will not be stored in the library anymore either, though they have been available online since the last academic year.
“We have been wanting to digitize the theses for years,” Linke said. “Students themselves have been saying ‘Hey, how come these aren’t online?’”
Senior theses represent one-eighth of the items Mudd circulates every year. Special Collections Assistant Lynn Durgin said senior theses are the most consulted collection the library has.
The theses themselves, however, will be available only from computers connected to the University network. Independent researchers will still need to come to campus in order to access the senior theses. But University students will be able to access them using the University’s virtual private network.
Linke said this is mainly due to copyright issues.
“Your undergraduate paper is seen as your own intellectual property,” he said.
According to Linke, copyright laws don’t allow the University to publish students’ works without their consent. However, the laws do allow for the theses to be accessible for educational purposes on campus.
Linke said Dean of the College Valerie Smith has voiced support for the program. Smith’s office is responsible for students’ and former students’ academic records, including senior theses. Smith did not respond to a request for comment.
Ph.D. dissertations, however, will face different rules for online publication. Doctoral students can choose whether to publish their theses immediately or to restrict their release for a period of time.
“The University wants the dissertations to be available to the world at some point,” Linke said.
About 425 Ph.D. dissertations are defended at the University every year.
The University used to store bound volumes of the undergraduate theses up until the 1990s, a period in time when “the whole library system was tight in space,” Linke said. The University then began storing them in microfiche format, similar to microfilm.
The opening of the Research Collections and Preservation Consortium offsite storage facility in the Forrestal campus in the early 2000s allowed for more space in Mudd to be dedicated to the storage of students' independent work. Through the Class of 2012, the theses were stored in envelopes rather than bound volumes.
Currently, Mudd only has enough shelving space for two more years’ worth of senior theses.
The new theses will be stored using a modified version of the open source software DSpace, according to Durgin. The University has called its own modified version DataSpace, and it can be accessed at dataspace.princeton.edu.
“It is going to make it a lot more convenient for people,” said Durgin, who said she hopes students' work will be more frequently used as the collection of theses stored online grows.