The Digital Frontier

Once slow to embrace emerging technologies, Harvard is now back on track

While students at Duke University get free iPods and Pennsylvania State University students have free Napster, every now and then, the powers that be at Harvard get together to sprinkle some hi-tech fairy dust around campus. This is one of those times. The University is about to be ushered into the digital age; thank you, Harvard College Libraries (HCL), for cutting the chains.

As early as this February, HCL plans to make the Naxos Music Library—a collection of 85,000 musical tracks—available to Harvard affiliates via the HOLLIS catalogue. The program, which is currently under a test-run slated to end Jan. 31, will give students access to much of HCL’s compact disc collection as well as additional music in the classical, jazz, world, folk and Chinese music genres. Thanks to the efforts of Constance A. Mayer, Public Services Librarian for Harvard’s Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library and several other members of the HCL team, the new service will drastically reduce the inconvenience to students, who currently are not permitted to check out reserve compact discs or cassettes from the library. We join everyone who has ever been a member of any Literature & Arts B core course in thanking HCL for introducing this great new service.

In addition to putting the music library online, Director of the University Library Sidney Verba announced yesterday a new pilot collaboration with Google to digitize a significant number of HCL volumes in first steps toward a revolutionary new information search tool. This exciting endeavor marks a brave new era in HCL’s history. Harvard’s libraries are among the best in the world, and these new programs suggest they may soon be the most accessible as well.

Harvard should not rest on its laurels, however. Specifically, the next logical step after making a music library available online would be to pursue the possibility of putting Harvard’s video library online as well. The ability to access streaming video at any hour of the day would be much appreciated by the entire student body—particularly throughout Cambridge’s long months of frigid weather.

The launching of the music library is a major technological coup, in addition to the previously announced deployment of extended wireless access in Houses by next fall and the new digitization collaboration with Google. These projects will result in tangible benefits for students and faculty. Harvard is on the right track with these developments and should continue pushing the envelope to become a campus on the cutting edge of technology.