Company Profits on Harvard Libraries

Thanks to modern technology combined with old-fashioned physical labor, the insides of the Harvard library system can now be anyone's--for a price.

That means the bound volume students need for papers may be displaced from a shelf in order to accommodate a for-profit corporation using students to do research for its clients, other for-profit corporations.

Strategic Edge Information Group, which bills itself as a "low-cost and rapid document retrieval service," was started by two Harvard undergraduates. The company has been serving several area firms for the past year, and currently does between $5,000 and $10,000 per week in sales, said group partner Stephen D. Price '94.

Strategic Edge also has access to library systems at Boston College, Boston University, Columbia University, MIT, New York University and Tufts, as well as public libraries in Boston, New York City and Washington D.C., Price said.

He said Strategic Edge subscribes to several computer database services, some of which contain full articles or sections of articles. But for the many documents for which copies cannot be retrieved over the phone, he and his partner Robert J. Hutter '94 depend on the foot power of others with access to the libraries via their student status.


"We employ many Harvard and MIT students--we employ a lot of runners," he said. "We have three or four graduate students, and we have summer school students and undergraduates."

Price said the company handles possible copyright violations by getting copyright clearance through the state agency in Salem and by charging customers copyright fees.

The Harvard library system has its own system of article retrieval, and several libraries have their own fee-for-service retrieval programs. According to Lynn White, director of the office of photographic services at Widener Library, anyone can order a copy of a document in the library for a fee of $15, plus a photocopying fee of 10 cents per page.

White said the concept of an outside freelance retrieval service was new to her. "I've never heard of the service described," she said. "Whoever it is must have access through the college."

Michael Pavelecky, a section head at the interlibrary borrowing department of the MIT library system, also said he had not been informed about the company's activities.

"We do have our own extensive retrieval system here," he said. "Anybody can call and order a microre-production of a library document. It sounds a bit fishy to me."

Price said his company is one of many in the area. He said, though, that Strategic Edge has been able to gain the advantage of speed.

"One of the things we do is offer very good rates and 24-hour turnaround," he said. "The whole system is pretty much computerized. We can fax out articles, courier articles, [send] articles [by Federal Express]--we're able go to any way."

Price said he and Hutter first conceived the idea for the group last summer when both were working at jobs that required them to do a good deal of research. He said the business has grown noticeably in the past few months.

"We expanded nationwide this summer--we're now serving a few biotech firms in California," he said. "We serve pretty much half of the Massachusetts biotechnology industry.