Campus & Community

Hewlett awards $1.25 million for library’s ‘Open Collections’:

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Foundation’s funding will support University’s commitment to digital resources

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation of Menlo Park, Calif., has awarded $1.25 million to the Harvard University Library (HUL) to support the library’s “Open Collections” program. The new, Harvard-wide program reflects the University’s long-term commitment to the creation of comprehensive, subject-based digital resources that link throughout the Harvard library system. Once created, these new digital resources will be made available to scholars and researchers worldwide.

“The major goal,” said Sidney Verba, director of HUL, “is to create a new model for digital collections that will benefit the Harvard community and that can be open to the general public in ways that are simply not feasible with traditional collections.

“As valuable as it may be to digitize a single collection of books or manuscripts,” Verba continued, “the greatest potential will be achieved if we use technology to unite key aspects of related collections across the University.”

The Open Collections pilot, supported by the Hewlett Foundation, will link materials in a variety of media held in numerous Harvard repositories. The subject of the pilot project is women in the American economy and society. This new digital “collection” will link holdings in many of the Harvard libraries, including the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, the Baker Library of the Harvard Business School, the Harvard Law School Library, and the Harvard College Library. The pilot will establish and test the model for a series of similarly constituted, subject-based resources that Harvard will create in the years to come.

Thomas Michalak, executive director of Baker Library at the Business School, will serve as project director of the entire Open Collections initiative. Nancy F. Cott, Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation Director of the Schlesinger Library and professor of history in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, will chair the inter-faculty committee that determines the intellectual content on women and the American economy that will form the basis for the initial digital resource funded by the Hewlett grant.

Nancy M. Cline, the Roy E. Larsen Librarian of Harvard College, noted the importance of the pilot program in addressing a long-range concern within the University’s libraries – making some of Harvard’s distinctive resources more accessible to scholars and educators. “Today,” Cline stated, “scholars anywhere in the world may search Harvard’s online catalogs but only a small number of research items are available as digital objects. We are excited by the opportunity provided by the Hewlett grant to lay the groundwork for important changes in the way our collections can be used.”

President Lawrence H. Summers lauded the Hewlett Foundation’s support of this new library initiative. “Harvard’s library holdings are extraordinary and indispensable resources for teaching and research at Harvard,” Summers noted. “But they must also serve as a resource for a global scholarly community. The support of the Hewlett Foundation is visionary in establishing digital collections at Harvard that will be open to scholars around the world.”

The Harvard University Library had its beginnings in 1638, when John Harvard left his library and half of his estate to the college that would bear his name. The goal of the fledgling institution was to create a “learned ministry” in the New World, and the basis of such learning was books.

Over time, the Harvard University Library has evolved as the largest academic library in the world. John Harvard’s 400 volumes have grown into a library system of over 14.5 million volumes, millions of manuscripts and archival records, and an ever-increasing number of audio, visual, and – especially – digital holdings. The role of the Harvard University Library has expanded greatly since 1638: Beyond supporting scholarship at Harvard, the Library collects and preserves recorded knowledge on a global scale. As advancements in technology expand the media used for recording knowledge, the multimedia nature of library collections continues to bring additional challenges to the task of ensuring the long-term durability of the collections.