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Robert Darnton closes the book

Early this summer, Robert Choate Darnton, Harvard’s Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and University Librarian, will pack up his book-lined office on the second floor of Wadsworth House.

As of June 30, the celebrated historian, digital library pioneer, and champion of books will leave the University he first saw as an undergraduate in 1957. A scholar of Enlightenment France and of the history of the book, he returned to Harvard in 1965 to join the Society of Fellows, decamped to Princeton University in 1968 for 39 years, and came back to Harvard in 2007.

A May 13 sendoff will celebrate Darnton ― a former Rhodes Scholar and MacArthur Fellow — as a champion of free, open-source access in a universe of stored knowledge threatened by commercial exploitation. “If I could characterize what I’ve done since 2007 in one word,” he said, “it would be ‘openness’ ― to open up Harvard to the world. Knowledge should be seen as a natural resource.”

In 2007, after arriving at the University as its chief librarian, Darnton joined in a polemic already underway, fighting an attempt by Google to digitize books at Harvard and elsewhere that were covered by copyright. At Harvard, by agreement, Google would go on to digitize about 850,000 books already in the public domain, but its attempt to digitize copyrighted books was eventually ruled a violation of antitrust law. ...

“The danger of commercialization is an ever-present danger,” said Darnton. “Google tried to create a commerce of access, [but in the end] could not put up a wall around our libraries and charge admission.”

Read entire article at Harvard Gazette