Harvard library materials to be digitized, searchable by Google

Enormous, heartening news from the Harvard Libraries and Google. 
Here’s the full text of the announcement embedded in a blast e-mail out to the Harvard Community
from Prof. Sid Verba, who is the university’s senior librarian. 
This announcement is tremendous news.  It brings with it a host of
issues about the need to revisit, and likely to reform, the
intellectual property regime to make the use of digital works in
scholarship more reliably lawful.

Harvard’s Pilot Project with Google

Harvard University is embarking on a collaboration with Google that
could harness Google’s search technology to provide to both the Harvard
community and the larger public a revolutionary new information
location tool to find materials available in libraries. In the coming
months, Google will collaborate with Harvard’s libraries on a pilot
project to digitize a substantial number of the 15 million volumes held
in the University’s extensive library system. Google will provide
online access to the full text of those works that are in the public
domain. In related agreements, Google will launch similar projects with
Oxford, Stanford, the University of Michigan, and the New York Public
Library. As of 9 am on December 14, an FAQ detailing the Harvard pilot
program with Google will be available at http://hul.harvard.edu.

The Harvard pilot will provide the information and experience on which
the University can base a decision to launch a large-scale digitization
program. Any such decision will reflect the fact that Harvard’s library
holdings are among the University’s core assets, that the magnitude of
those holdings is unique among university libraries anywhere in the
world, and that the stewardship of these holdings is of paramount
importance. If the pilot is deemed successful, Harvard will explore a
long-term program with Google through which the vast majority of the
University’s library books would be digitized and included in Google’s
searchable database. Google will bear the direct costs of digitization
in the pilot project.

By combining the skills and library collections of Harvard University
with the innovative search skills and capacity of Google, a long-term
program has the potential to create an important public good. According
to Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers, “Harvard has the greatest
university library in the world. If this experiment is successful, we
have the potential to provide the world’s greatest system for
dissemination as well.”

In addition, there would be special benefits to the Harvard
community.  Plans call for the eventual development of a link
allowing Google users at Harvard to connect directly to the online
HOLLIS (Harvard Online Library Information System) catalog
(http://holliscatalog.harvard.edu) for information on the location and
availability at Harvard of works identified through a Google search.
This would merge the search capacity of the Internet with the deep
research collections at Harvard
into one seamless resource-a development especially important for
undergraduates who often see the library and the Internet as
alternative and perhaps rival sources of information.

Eventually, Harvard users would benefit from far better access to the 5
million books located at the Harvard Depository (HD). If the University
undertakes the long-term program, Harvard users would gain online
access to the full text of out-of-copyright books stored at HD. For
books still in copyright, Harvard users could gain the ability to
search for small snippets of text and, possibly, to view tables of
contents. In short, the Harvard student or faculty member would gain
some of the advantages of browsing that remote storage of books at HD
cannot currently provide.

According to Sidney Verba, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and
Director of the University Library, “The possibility of a large-scale
digitization of Harvard’s library books does not in any way diminish
the University’s commitment to the collection and preservation of books
as physical objects. The digital copy will not be a substitute for the
books themselves. We will continue actively to acquire materials in all
formats and we will continue to conserve them. In fact, as part of the
pilot we are developing criteria for identifying books that are too
fragile for digitizing and for selecting them out of the project.

“It is clear,” Verba continued, “that the new century presents
unparalleled challenges and opportunities to Harvard’s libraries. Our
pilot program with Google can prove to be a vital and revealing first
step in a lengthy and rewarding process that will benefit generations
of scholars and others.”

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