The times, they are a changin’. When I started as a graduate student at Duke in the Fall of 2001 the physics Graduate Student Organization was lobbying for University-sanctioned dissertation style files (be they Latex or Word). At the time, the library/graduate school was balking because they placed great weight on the by-hand inspection of each and every one of the several hundred pages in each and every dissertation submitted by graduating Ph.D. students. They refused to accept or acknowledge the idea that a computer program could produce consistent results, since the multiple keepers of library purity hand measured the margins and enforced the rules with discretion. Students in the physics department had actually created a Latex (a math-oriented documentation preparation tool that “compiles” a finished document from markup language code) style file that conformed to every written specification. However, every time it was used, the library staff found a new change that was needed that was inconsistent with the last time it was used. The students just wanted a single style that was sanctioned, but the library refused to budge. When I left Duke in the summer of 2006 the physics Graduate Student Organization was still lobbying.
Finally, something seems to have happened. As Ann is preparing her dissertation, she has alerted me that not only is there Latex style file on the graduate school forms web page, but it’s former Behringer lab student Bob Hartley‘s. Additionally, there is a Word version for those who like to actually see what the document they are creating looks like as they create it. This is an amazing victory, given how long it has taken.
Of greater relevance is that the library now is accepting electronic versions of dissertations (PDF) rather than requiring that three expensive hard copies be made on expensive paper. (My dissertation was around 200 pages and color copies were around $1 a page. You better believe that I only copied the color figure pages in color, even if that means I might have shuffled a page or two.) The important thing about the library having electronic copies is that they will allow electronic access.
I wonder if it will be possible to get the library to enter the dissertations of alumni (such as myself) into their electronic repository. I figure a web version might get more hits than the current book in the basement/microfiche combo.