Harvard Librarian Profiled

A look at the Google Book Search Project: At Harvard, a Man, a Plan and a Scanner

Until two years ago, the congenial and energetic Mr. [Sydney] Verba was chairman of the board of Harvard University Press. And in that position, he witnessed mounting anxiety about the future of publishing, especially with the advent of digital texts.

“Scanning the whole text makes publishers very nervous,” he said. “I have sympathy with that. They have to be assured there will be security, that no one will hack in and steal contents, or sell it to someone.”

And as the author or co-author of 18 books, he understands the worry that Google’s digitization project might cause writers over loss of income or control of their work. Many of his own books are still in print.

But as a librarian and a teacher, he argues that the digital project will meet the needs of students who gravitate to the Internet – and Google in particular – to conduct their research. And he says he believes the project will aid the library’s broader mission to preserve academic material and make it accessible to the world.

He was taken aback when Google was sued, first in September by a group of authors, then last month by five major publishers.

See also earlier Googling Literature: The Debate Goes Public; Lessig’s weblog posting following the NY Library discussion