Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Interview with the HathiTrust executive director

Andrew Albanese, The LJ Academic Newswire Newsmaker Interview: John Wilkin, Library Journal, October 16, 2008.  Excerpt:

In what may be the library community’s most ambitious digital collaboration so far, some two-dozen large research libraries this week announced the launch of a single, shared repository of digital collections, including scanned books, articles, special collections, and a range of “born digital” materials. The venture, called HathiTrust (pronounced HAH-tee), “combines the expertise and resources of some of the nation’s foremost research libraries,” said John Wilkin, associate university librarian of the University of Michigan (UM) and the newly named executive director, and was launched jointly by the12-university Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) and the 11 university libraries of the University of California (UC) system....The University of Virginia has also announced that it will join the venture....

LJAN: HathiTrust represents something librarians have thought—or, dreamed about—since the digital age began. How did this specific initiative get rolling?

JW: ...[W]e 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.