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With Class of 2013, Mudd Library offers online database of senior theses

Princeton senior theses are now joining the world of digital documents.

On Tuesday Oct. 8, senior theses written by the Class of 2013 became available through an online digital repository called Dataspace.

The project has been in the works for almost three years, said University Archivist Dan Linke, who suggested digitization to then-newly appointed Dean of the College Valerie Smith in 2011.

“At the time we were getting doctoral dissertations into an online system, and we said, ‘when we’re done with that, we’ll start on senior theses,’” Linke said.

Plans for digitizing the 2013 senior theses were announced on the Mudd Manuscript Library Blog last October. An existing online database for all past senior theses in the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library archives lists theses dating back to the Class of 1926, but are only accessible by hard copy in Mudd Library or delivered electronically for a fee. From the Class of 2013 onward, the theses will be available online for free.

The primary motivation for this project was increased access for students, said Linke.

“Students come and look at almost 1,000 theses a year in our reading room, and we’re only open Monday through Friday from 9 to 4:45,” Linke said. “We knew if we could make these available digitally, then this would be a good thing for how students work.”

Leangelo Hall ’14 said that while he has just begun his thesis, he agrees that the digitization of theses is something that would be helpful and encourage more seniors to use past theses as a resource.

“There’s a few students that have worked on similar projects as I have so I can also look back and see what references they used and use them for my thesis,” Hall, who is majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology, said. “I’ve talked to a few people about it, and I think that they have the same opinion as I do as far as thinking it will be helpful.”

However, not all students said they felt the digitization of past theses will necessarily be helpful to their own theses, especially when their topics require information that wouldn’t be found in past papers.

“I hadn’t really considered past theses as resources for my thesis,” Andrew Finkelstein ’14, a politics major, said. “It hasn’t come up yet because I’m still narrowing down my topic, but most of the documents that I’ll use are located in libraries in India.”

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To facilitate the project, the University required the Class of 2013 to submit their theses in PDF form instead of handing in hard copies. Lynn Durgin, a special collections assistant, coordinated the project, relying on the Office of Information Technology and the academic departments to help with the digitization. The academic departments collected the theses from the students in the spring of 2013 and entered the documents during June and July.

“I was coordinating the project with OIT, who was handling the heavy duty technical aspects of it,” Durgin said. “I also worked with the departments, who were really instrumental this year in getting the PDFs into the system. So I handled the communications and planning with them.”

Though this project was meant to give more access to seniors for their theses, Durgin said it has also had positive effects on Mudd Library itself.

“It is more streamlined now. I don’t think that was the primary mover in terms of why we did it but as a result, it is a more streamlined process because we don’t have 1,200 paper copies that we need to put in envelopes, label and put into boxes and put downstairs," Durgin said. "We don’t have to have students come in and have someone go down to the basement and retrieve [the theses] for students.”

Linke said he thinks the digitization of senior theses will be a good resource for students in the future, especially as more and more classes' theses become available online.

"The senior thesis is a core part of the Princeton undergraduate education and this is a matter of saying, here is a way that students can look at theses any time anywhere on campus," Linke said. "I predict that in about three years, that almost no one will come [to Mudd] to look at paper copies."