The American revolutionaries believed in the power of the word. But they had only word of mouth and the printing press. We have the Internet.
Digital data are more fragile than printed material.
Thanks to modern technology, we now can deliver every text in every research library to every citizen in our country, and to everyone in the world. If we fail to do so, we are not living up to our civic duty.
People sometimes announce that we have entered ‘the information age’ as if information did not exist in other times. I think that every age was an age of information, each in its own way and according to the available media.
I want to continue to strengthen Harvard’s fabulous collections in old printed material, but at the same time, I want to help Harvard move into the world of digitized information.
While confronting the problems of the present, I often find myself thinking back to the world of books as it was experienced by the Founding Fathers and the philosophers of the Enlightenment.
I arrived from Harvard, where I had studied philosophy and the history of ideas, with a bias toward literature and formal thought.
The fact that I spend a lot of time in the 18th century doesn’t mean I’m not concerned with the 21st.
As president of the American Historical Association, I started a programme to make dissertations into e-books in 1999. Before I knew it, I was involved in other electronic projects. Harvard invited me to become director of the libraries in 2007.
I would not minimize the digital divide, which separates the computerized world from the rest, nor would I underestimate the importance of traditional books.