Scanned Books Lure Users

Over 3,000 readers took advantage of Harvard-Google Project last month

Instead of meandering through Widener’s labyrinthine stacks, Harvard students are now beginning to use a digital alternative: scanned books, courtesy of the Harvard-Google Project.

More than 3,000 users accessed Google Book Search through the online HOLLIS catalog in September, Suzanne Kriegsman, the project’s manager, announced to a library staff e-mail list last week.

That number is still rising as the scanning of Harvard’s library collections continues.

The initiative is part of Google’s larger objective to digitize the world’s libraries into a widely accessible and easy-to-search form.

According to Kriegsman’s e-mail, which was obtained by a Crimson reporter, eight libraries at Harvard have finished scanning their books.

Those libraries are Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Gutman Library, Loeb Library, Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library, Countway Medical Library, Fine Arts Library, Schlesinger Library, and Cabot Library.

Scanning will progress to Loeb Music Library, the Government Documents collection in Lamont Library, and the Harvard-Yenching Library. Scanning is continuing at Widener Library and the Harvard Depository.

Kriegsman could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Dale P. Flecker, associate director for planning and systems at the Harvard University Library, said that work on the project is going “very well.”

The volumes available online now number in the tens of thousands, but Flecker said that many library users do not know about their availability.

“We have not done very much outreach,” he said.

Flecker said that Pforzheimer University Professor Robert C. Darnton ’60, who became the library’s director in July, has been “very supportive of the project and very involved.”

Jan Merrill-Oldham, the Malloy-Rabinowitz preservation librarian, said she is excited by the implications of a universal library accessible to all with a computer and an Internet connection.

Online availability of library collections has the potential to increase exposure for thousands of little-known books that might have been lost to time, Merill-Oldham said.

She added that the quality of Harvard’s scans of its rare books and illuminated manuscripts is good enough to capture “incredible drawings of plants and animals” and “fine pencil marks.”

Launched in late 2004, the Harvard-Google Project encompasses only the books that are not under copyright protection.

Over a million books are affected by the project, though that is a fraction of the University’s holdings of over 15.8 million volumes.

The Internet search firm is also collaborating with other university libraries in the project, including those at Princeton and Stanford Universities.