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veritas Harvard University Library Notes, For Harvard Library Staff, Number 1323 January 2005

Interview: Sidney Verba

Since the University's December 14 announcement, a number of questions have emerged about Harvard's collaboration with Google. Sidney Verba, Harvard's Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library, provided answers to a number of those questions in an interview with Library Notes on January 3.

LN
Harvard's pilot project with Google has been in the news extensively. What's the basic reaction so far?

SV
Since the December 14 announcement, there have been hundreds of news stories, and they have been overwhelmingly positive. It's also a difficult story for reporters to cover in accurate detail for the popular press. Front-page stories in the Crimson, the Globe, and the New York Times were particularly good. But in a number of the stories, nuances of interest to librarians simply don't come through. It's important to remember that concepts like "text will be searchable but not displayed" can be nearly meaningless for a lay person.

LN
How are publishers reacting?

SV
I've not had any reaction from publishers myself. But through Google Print, our colleagues at Google have developed strong relationships with a large number of publishers. Google was careful to bring their publishing partners into the loop on the library announcement before it was made public.

In an interview for Information Today (http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb041227-2.shtml), the company noted that Google Print provides publishers with "significant benefits, namely by creating a book-selling link, using the publisher log, providing links back to the publisher's web site, and additional reporting."

We believe that Google's library program will be attractive to publishers. Google's approach does not allow users to read in-copyright books online, but it better informs them about individual books—which ought to improve the market.

LN
Closer to home, how has the Harvard faculty responded to the news?

SV
Obviously, the Google announcement has been a big topic for interesting conversation among my colleagues. I've also had dozens of e-mails from faculty and staff across the University. People have questions. That's clear. But the general tone is of congratulations.

LN
Is there an information session planned for the Harvard library community?

SV
Yes. HUL will hold an open meeting for the library community on Thursday, January 27, from 9 until 10:30 in Science Center "D."

LN
Are we "in business" with Google?

SV
We have an agreement with Google for a pilot project involving 40,000 books. Provided that pilot is successful, we envision going forward with a program to digitize the vast majority of Harvard's library books—excluding those that are fragile or rare. This larger program would entail a complex relationship with Google over a period of years. But we would not be "in business" with them.

LN
We've been asked how privacy policies in the Harvard libraries compare with Google's. What is Harvard's view of Google's privacy policies?

SV
Harvard and Google are both committed to keeping their records of book use confidential. At the same time, both entities must respond to legally binding demands for information. At Harvard, we take a restrictive view of what is legally binding. In fact, at Harvard, all government requests or demands would go through the Office of the General Counsel.

While we can urge Google to protect privacy in connection with its library collaborations, Harvard can't realistically expect to dictate Google's privacy policies. We recognize there has been a certain amount of concern expressed about how Google will deal with privacy issues, but it's also clear to me that Google has given a good deal of thought to its privacy policies. You can find them online at http://www.google.com/privacy.html.

LN
Have you seen Google's scanning technology in action?

SV
I've seen it in demos and am looking forward to seeing it in action at Harvard. That's what the pilot program is for.

LN
What are its essential qualities?

SV
Google has made an enormous investment in its technology, and it remains proprietary. I can tell you, however, that well-trained humans—not robots!—handle the physical books and that the overall workflow, including quality control, keeps their handling to an absolute minimum. Their process appears to treat books with tremendous care.

HUL will hold an open meeting for the library community on Thursday, January 27, from 9 until 10:30 in Science Center "D."

LN
Will it be possible for Harvard librarians to visit the Google scanning operation out at HD?

SV
No. We don't plan to make visits to HD widely available.

LN
Who—and what—determines that a Harvard book is too fragile to scan?

SV
Jan Merrill-Oldham, the University's Malloy-Rabinowitz Preservation Librarian as well as the director of the Weissman Preservation Center, is charged with observing processes, preparing screening and handling specifications, and instructing the trainers whose job it is to oversee all aspects of book handing.

We are determined to move materials through the scanning process and back without changing the condition of the collections. Our preservation program has worked with the libraries for many years to develop care and handling practices that promote a long life for each book. Harvard's collaboration with Google will be consistent with our overall practices for handling books safely and appropriately.

LN
If a book should be missing pages, will it be scanned or rejected?

SV
Books with missing pages will be scanned.

LN
Will the fact of the missing pages be noted for users?

SV
Google is adding missing-page "tags" to the metadata for these books—though we're not yet certain if individual users will see those tags.

LN
What's the expected turnaround time for each Harvard book that's scanned in the pilot?

SV
We don't really know at this point. Estimates vary between two and five days. We'll know better once the pilot is up and running.

LN
How soon will Harvard books be searchable for Google users?

SV
We do not have a specific date, but Google will gradually make books available as they are scanned. If we go forward with the full project, the completion of the scanning would take a number of years.

LN
For its "Find It in a Library" option, Google uses OCLC's OpenWorldCat to point users to books in specific libraries based on user zip codes. Does Harvard participate in OpenWorldCat?

SV
Harvard had chosen not to participate widely in the OCLC OpenWorldCat. But the University Library Council has decided to reverse that policy, and OIS is in the process of making Harvard's holdings fully available in OpenWorldCat. That means that Harvard users of Google Print and Google Scholar will be able to "click through" to HOLLIS to see where at Harvard a book found in a Google search is located.

LN
For Google, our bar codes are the unique identifiers for our books. What percentage of Harvard's books are bar-coded?

SV
We believe that approximately 66% of Harvard's books already have bar codes. For the larger project, we would need to bar-code the rest.

LN
When will Harvard make its decision to go forward with a larger project?

SV
It would be ideal to make such a decision before the fiscal year ends on June 30. But we'll need to wait and see.

 

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