Harvard Magazine is online today with an interview with the new VP for the Harvard Library, Sarah Thomas.
In May, we posted that Thomas was coming to Harvard from Oxford U. where she was Bodley’s Librarian and director of the Bodleian Libraries. Thomas was the first woman and non-British citizen to hold the position in 400 years.
Here’s one question and answer from the Q&A style interview.
HM: Do you then envision a ramped-up digitization of certain collections?
Thomas: I expect that we will be digitizing more and more of our collections. What we have discovered through our digitization projects—and I am speaking now for libraries in general, but I am sure it’s true for Harvard as well—[is that digitizing] helps us know what we have, and helps people find what we have—so that is very good stewardship. It helps us take care of what we have because there is often conservation that occurs during the process.
And it’s a sort of renewable resource in the sense that we have the original book or the manuscript or the score. We have the physical object. We have the digital. And we can share [that digital object] with the world. We can do things with it that we couldn’t do with the physical object, because you can search across a whole body of books or manuscripts and mine it in a way that allows new questions to be asked. I remember a social-science researcher talking to me about research he had done. He used to look at the incidence of a disease in a county, because that was the amount of data he could pore through. And then as data became more available and machine-readable, he could interrogate the entire United States about the incidence of this disease and learn about different factors. I think that is what we are going to be doing in libraries as we take more and more of the collections and make them digitally available. As we open [them] up for new types of scholarship.
Read the Complete Interview