Friday, October 17, 2008

Interview with John Wilkin, U. of Michigan, re. the Hathi Trust

The immediately previous posting below reported on the initiative (the Hathi Trust) of over twenty major research libraries to archive and share their digitized collections. The majority of these collections will be composed of digitized works from the Google Book Search project. On 16 October the LJ Academic Newswire published an interview with John Wilkin, Michigan Associate University Librarian and Executive Director of HathiTrust, about this initiative. Excerpt:

LJAN: HathiTrust represents something librarians have thought—or, dreamed about—since the digital age began. How did this specific initiative get rolling?
JW: You’re right—we’ve been thinking about this sort of thing for years, with specific discussions going back at least to the first Making of America project in 1995. Sometimes the genesis of an idea is hard to trace, but in fact we had very specific discussions regarding this notion of a shared digital repository back in 2004, with Michigan and California beginning to articulate some specific notions. Discussions in the CIC were early, as well, and began to flesh out an approach. But as we began to absorb substantial amounts of digitized content from Google, talks become more focused and urgent. It’s worth pointing out that we have had terrific support in this venture from university leadership, as well in the libraries.

You mention Google—it seems you are both its partner and competitor at once. Can you talk about where your missions diverge and dovetail?
That’s a great question—the primary difference will be in our commitment to long-term preservation of this information and Google’s commitment to access. That said, we will provide some minimal levels of access (for public domain works, etc.), and we will work to identify specific scholarly needs that Google is less likely to serve. For example, data mining and large-scale linguistic computation is more likely to be in our bailiwick than Google’s. . . .

HathiTrust has been funded for five years: what happens then—can this major effort be sustained?
We should make a distinction between funding and planning—the participating institutions here have always known they would have to spend money to host their digitized content and, by and large, they have identified funding to support this work for the indefinite future. So, in that sense, the initiative is permanently funded. This specific collaboration, however, is something that has never been done at this scale, and it makes a lot of sense to build in requirements for examination and evaluation of the initiative. Hence, the initial commitment is for five years. Before that deadline, we will surely make changes and we expect that participants will renew and extend their financial commitments.

The complete interview here.

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