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Robert C. Darnton ’60, the Harvard University librarian and a University professor, will step down from his post in Wadsworth House on June 30 after an eight-year tenure at the helm of Harvard’s library system, which recently saw a move toward digitization.
Darnton’s departure comes after a time of considerable change in the library system. In 2012, Harvard consolidated the University’s libraries’ services into a central organization, creating a single online portal for Harvard’s vast network of libraries. The restructuring drew controversy from some Harvard employees over cuts to staffing.
“Things look good. Harvard Library I think is going through a very healthy stage, so I can retire feeling happy,” Darnton said.
He particularly looks to Vice President for the Library Sarah E. Thomas, who came to Harvard in 2013, as a key administrator in the library’s future. Thomas described her role as “setting strategy and priorities and policies” for Harvard’s libraries while, as University librarian, Thomas said Darnton served as a “scholar who has provided leadership for the library.”
Danton said he notified University President Drew G. Faust a couple of years ago about his intention to leave.
“I’m going to stay here and devote the rest of my life to research and writing, as well as seeing friends and children and grandchildren and enjoying life,” Darnton said.
One of Darnton’s biggest projects during his time as University librarian was the creation of the Digital Public Library of America, which aims to digitize and make publicly available much of the scholarly collections at Harvard and other universities. He called it the “greatest thing in which I’ve been involved” during his time at Harvard.
“It’s a way for us at Harvard to share our intellectual wealth with the rest of the world,” Darnton said. “We’ve got the greatest university library, by far, anywhere, but I see it as something, that should, in a sense, belong to everyone, even though, of course, formally it belongs to the faculty and students at Harvard and the Corporation.”
Darnton’s colleagues lauded his ability to engage the digital medium and his work to broaden access to scholarly materials, citing the creation of the Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard. Classics Professor Kathleen M. Coleman called him a “tireless advocate for open access," and English professor James T. Engell '73 lauded Darnton as “a champion of the record of the human experience.”
“That’s the rare thing: He’s a multi-ideaed library person. He has a sense of the advantages and the problems facing all [print and digital], including also the question of periodical publication and the desire for more open access in the scholarly world,” Engell said.
This ability to combine and mediate two seemingly disparate trends in the library world—digital and print—is not isolated to his work as a librarian; once he leaves his position, Darnton said he hopes to continue working on a book that will be a “hybrid” between the digital and the print. Not only will he write a print version of the text, but he has already started posting much of his source material online, and he hopes to effectively integrate the two mediums.
—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.
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