May 28, 2022

Summary of a Harvard Library Strategic Conversation on “The Future of the Book”

The Future of the Book was the title and topic of a recent Harvard Library Strategic Conversation.. The event took place in Cambridge on September 19th and was the first “strategic conversation” of the current school year.

Here’s how it was promoted:

Join us for a discussion that asks “What is the future of the book? How will recent developments in technology and publishing impact scholarship and publishing? Will—or should—the history of the book guide its fut

The discussion [featured] James O’Donnell, university professor and former provost at Georgetown University and author of Avatars of the Word, as well as Ellen Faran, director at MIT Press. It will be moderated by Ann Blair, Henry Charles Lea Professor of History at Harvard University, and author of Too Much to Know.

Today, a summary (480 words) of the event appears on the Harvard Library Web Site.

[Ellen] Faran, who has considerable expertise in academic publishing, observed that digital has exposed a distinction between reading and research. “From the point of research, a book is a database and that’s okay.”

She shared a surprising detail about how researchers consume content: unlike with commercial publishing, print sales account for the majority of MIT Press sales. However, Faran added, numbers do not necessarily indicate success or failure of a title.

“A book seeks to have an impact for a longer term. We want to provide a chance for it to be forgotten and refound,” she said. “Statistics don’t tell everything; preservation is key. Evaluating the impact of a book requires a long-term perspective about how it has advanced the field, and who has built on the author’s ideas.”

Read the Complete Summary

Two more Harvard Library Conversations are scheduled this semester.

1. “How Journal Prices Impede Research Access: A Ted Talk”
Will take place tomorrow, October 3, 2014.

2. “Special Collections: Past meets Future”
Scheduled for November 4, 2014.

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.