University of Rochester

Grant Supports a Model for Graduate Students' Academic Pursuits

October 12, 2006

The University of Rochester's River Campus Libraries will receive more than $320,000 to improve Web-based tools for graduate students to support the writing of the doctoral dissertation, academic collaboration, and the accessibility of scholarly work.

Investigators will apply the new funding over two years to focus on how graduate students work on their dissertations and interact with advisors and technology. The work will be led by three River Campus Libraries staff: Susan Gibbons, associate dean for public services and collection development; David Lindahl, director of digital library initiatives; and Nancy Fried Foster, lead anthropologist.

The idea for this initiative grew from previous work in which these library researchers studied how faculty members do research and writing, and observed what tools they use in the process.

"We found that there is a critical need for Web-based tools to support scholarly work leading up to finished manuscripts," said Foster. The new funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services through its National Leadership Grants program will allow close observation of how graduate students and their faculty advisors interact and the progress toward finished manuscripts by those students.

"Our plan is to create a new type of authoring system for the next generation of academics, who will then link to our institutional repository for preservation and self-publishing of completed manuscripts," explained Nathan Sarr, software engineer and manager of the project. Institutional repositories exist to preserve digital scholarship and make it widely available, but often they are underutilized.

Based on earlier findings by Gibbons, Lindahl, and Foster, an enhanced institutional repository can do such tasks as:

  • Allow a librarian, graduate student, and faculty advisor to collaborate on the development of a dissertation;
  • Provide graduate students with secure digital storage of their dissertation work in progress along with data, images, video, and other file types;
  • Capture metadata about the dissertation during the writing process, which can serve as a model for ongoing capture of metadata about local, born-digital scholarship;
  • And, finally, disseminate the completed dissertation through the Internet, supporting the scholarship of graduate students, faculty members, and other researchers.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 122,000 libraries and 15,000 museums. Its mission is to grow and sustain a "Nation of Learners" because life-long learning is essential to a democratic society and individual success. Through its grant making, meetings, research, and publications, the institute empowers museums and libraries nationwide to provide leadership and services to enhance learning in families and communities, sustain cultural heritage, build 21st-century skills, and increase civic participation. To learn more about the institute, visit