In 1987 Dr. Edward A. Fox attended a workshop in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, related to using new methods of electronic markup and publishing to expand access to dissertations. Since then the idea of electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs) has spread globally. In 1988 a few Virginia Tech dissertations were converted into an electronic form using SGML, a precursor of HTML and XML. In 1992-1993, plans were devised by a design team for “The Capture and Storage of Electronic Theses and Dissertations”, sponsored by the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), Virginia Tech, the Council of Graduate Schools, and University Microfilms Int. In 1993, the launch by Adobe of PDF (Portable Document Format) opened the possibility of student authors having an easy way to share their dissertations and theses electronically.

In March 1997, the first NDLTD Steering Committee meeting was held. That was shortly after Virginia Tech’s began on January 1, 1997, the requirement for all their theses and dissertations to be submitted electronically. By September 1997, reflecting global interest, NDLTD transitioned to be the acronym for our new title: Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations. Thus, NDLTD as a global organization really began in 1997; it began its formal corporate existence as an international non-profit educational organization in 2003.

Funding greatly aided the early spread of the ETD movement. A 1/1/1996 award by SURA funded “Development and Beta Testing of the Monticello Electronic Library Thesis and Dissertation Program”. A September 1996 award by the US Department of Education supported “Improving Graduate Education with a National Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations”. These two projects enabled developing grass-roots support for ETDs first in the Southeast and then across the USA. Talks by a growing number of passionate supporters spread the word in many countries. Starting late in 2000, UNESCO funded the multilingual “International Guide for the Creation of Electronic Theses and Dissertations”.

NDLTD has sponsored an annual international conference. Numbers, years, and locations are:

  • 1. 1998 Memphis, TN, USA
  • 2. 1999 Blacksburg, VA, USA
  • 3. 2000 St. Petersburg, FL, USA
  • 4. 2001 Pasadena, CA, USA
  • 5. 2002 Provo, UT, USA
  • 6. 2003 Berlin, Germany
  • 7. 2004 Lexington, KY, USA
  • 8. 2005 Sydney, Australia
  • 9. 2006 Quebec City, Canada
  • 10. 2007 Uppsala, Sweden
  • 11. 2008 Aberdeen, Scotland
  • 12. 2009 Pittsburgh, PA, USA
  • 13. 2010 Austin, TX, USA
  • 14. 2011 Cape Town, South Africa
  • 15. 2012 Lima, Peru
  • 16. 2013 Hong Kong, China
  • 17. 2014 Leicester, UK
  • 18. 2015 New Delhi, India
  • 19. 2016 Lille, France
  • 20. 2017 Washington, DC, USA
  • 21. 2018 Taipei,Taiwan
  • 22. 2019 Porto, Portugal
  • 23. 2020 UAEU virtual
  • 24. 2021 UAEU hybrid

As long as we have universities and graduate programs, there will be millions of students preparing theses and dissertations. As long as technology advances, methods of sharing research results will keep improving, and students will need to learn and utilize those methods. As long as scholarship continues, new scholars who were graduate students will carry forward what they learned in preparing ETDs into their further efforts. As long as university libraries continue, they will shepherd and help share the works of their students. As long as learners and researchers seek models for their writing, and understanding of what was done in the past that might help in their work, having access to many millions of ETDs will serve as a valuable resource. As long as people build new methods and systems for making documents accessible, there will be those who will apply and advance those in the context of ETDs.