CRL's dissertation collection is an active, circulating collection of non-U.S., non-Canadian doctoral dissertations that numbers almost 800,000. While not comprehensive, it spans almost two centuries of scholarship from more than 1,300 institutions. Its subject matter displays the changing focus of scholarship over time and the relationship of individuals, institutions, and countries within that scholarship. Acquisitions in this collection show the changing nature of the Center as it meets the needs of its members.
The collection ranges from the mid-1800s to the current day. It includes dissertations from more than 115 countries. Germany, with 276, has the largest number of institutions represented. More than 80 languages are represented in the collection. The breakdown by language is as follows: 66 percent German; 16 percent French; 6 percent English; 2 percent Dutch; 1 percent Latin and Swedish; and less than 1 percent for each of the other languages.
The collection was initially formed through deposits from member libraries. A limited number of subscriptions as well as acquisitions through exchange programs added to the collection. In recent years, CRL's Demand Purchase Program—which acquires dissertations, newspapers, and archival materials on demand—has become an important driver of acquisitions as CRL policies and practices have evolved to align more directly with member needs.
The subject areas covered in the collection range from agriculture to women's studies. However, about half of the collection is in science or medicine. Topics in these two subject areas account for about half of the legacy collection. The collection includes 120 dissertations from Nobel laureates and a sizable number by notable scholars such as Saint Edith Stein (1891–1942), the German-Jewish philosopher, Carmelite nun and Auschwitz victim.
A collection of this size lends itself to historical studies, shedding light on research trends and scholarship over time. For example, it brings to light relationships between individuals, institutions, and countries invested in academic pursuits. It can even provide links between student and teacher such as with Edith Stein: Not only does CRL have her dissertation, the collection also contains dissertations by Martin Heidegger, her fellow graduate student and colleague, Edmund Husserl, one of their teachers and an advisor, and Carl Stumpf, one of his teachers and advisors.
Although the collection continues to be built (see article, page 3) through deposits as it was when the collection was begun, providing access to dissertations has changed. CR's methodology for acquiring dissertations has increasingly focused on acquiring specific titles requested through CRL's Demand Purchase Program and providing electronic access to dissertations. CRL has digitized more than 900 dissertations from its collection since the beginning of 2007. The acquisitions staff has also provided links to freely available digital dissertations when members request a title that they were not aware was available digitally.
No matter the current focus of scholarship generating dissertations or the method of acquiring and delivering them for members, providing access to this scholarship is unparalleled.