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OWHL Becomes First Library in the Country to Begin Digitizing Full Collection

ARIANA WHITE/The Phillipian

Even now, students may notice the abscence of many books from the stacks and bookshelves in the OWHL.


The Oliver Wendell Holmes Library (OWHL) is the first library in the country to begin digitizing its entire collection, according to Michael Barker, the Director of the OWHL. Partnering with the Internet Archive, a non-profit online library, the OWHL has sent approximately 55,000 low-circulation titles to a digitization center in the Philippines to be scanned.

Barker said, “About three quarters of the way through the renovation, we had this idea to digitize the entire library. This isn’t to replace the print at all. It’s part of a new way to think about lending books called ‘control digital lending’…if we hold the print book on the shelf, we can circulate this digital copy, instead of the print, just to make it a little easier for you, you don’t have to walk all the way to the library from your dorm or, if you’re a day student, even farther, you just get the book from home. So the only kind of gist or catch is you can’t do both at the same time, you can’t do simultaneous print and digital lending.”

According to Barker, the OWHL’s collection will be available to those with an Internet Archive account, which is free and accessible to anyone with an internet connection. This includes those outside the Andover community. Barker explained that by digitizing the books, the OWHL’s vast collection of resources can be shared on an immensely larger scale and with students that are in need of them.

“I think [the digitization] lines up with Andover’s value of private school for public purpose. We’ve been very fortunate to have a library, number one. A lot of schools don’t have them. Number two, our books have been collected for 100 years, which is a long time to be thinking about what high school kids need to read. What if we were able to kind of share that collection with all those schools that are closing school libraries?…Every student, regardless of their background and their financial standing or what country they’re from, should have the right to access information as freely as anyone [else].” said Barker.

Consulting with the OWHL team, Barker also worked with the Business Office, the legal team, the Head of School, and the Board of Trustees to approve the digitization, planning on keeping it a secret to unveil with the whole library. There was no formal meeting for faculty or students to express their input about this decision. However, after being interviewed by The Phillipian, Barker sent an email to the faculty on November 15, explaining the digitization and providing an opportunity for faculty to meet with him to answer any questions. Barker clarified that he expects there to be few issues with the system as a whole and that the OWHL is not alone in its digitization endeavour.

Barker said, “Any kind of pain that this might cause is likely to be short term. Just recently, all 50 state librarians—those are the librarians that oversee all the 50 state library consortiums and networks—they all signed on to do this as well. Our collection, where it’s duplicated, there will become more and more copies available through our digital system which makes this less and less of an issue on our print side.”

Marcelle Doheny, Instructor in History and Social Sciences, believes that her research projects are well-supported by the OWHL. She expressed her confidence in any wrinkles being ironed out, as they are inevitable in any transition of this nature.

“I’m not sure I see digitization as either positive or negative. I think I see it as just the way the world is now, including the world of libraries and how we all access materials. As a history teacher, I find that my students are already able to do almost all of what they want to do through online sources these days,” said Doheny.

Due to copyright laws, the library can only loan out one digital copy per print copy of a source, and, similarly, cannot loan out a physical copy of a source if the digital copy has already been checked out. Since anyone, in addition to Andover students, can have access to the OWHL’s resources, students run the risk of not having access to a source for one of their classes because someone else in the world is using it. Barker believes that by looking at data and patterns, the OWHL staff can anticipate what sources Andover students will need beforehand and remove those sources from Internet Archive for a period of time.

“Just using data, I can kind of guess what books you’re going to use at any one time. If I found there was a title that we had digitized with the Internet Archive that every Andover student kept needing, I can just pull it out and kill the link. And then that book becomes one less digital copy. And now I can make it available to Andover students,” said Barker.

He continued, “We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about those concerns from a mathematical perspective and how likely it would be that a student would need a title and it would also be checked out online is actually not very high and the window where that is high or could be high will shrink overtime if more libraries pile into the system. Time is on our side, not against us.”

According to Barker, the OWHL has other methods to access books—using the resources of the North of Boston Library Exchange, a 25-library consortium, or even buying a title on Amazon are other options if the title isn’t available in print or online.

Although many books were overseas, those that currently reside in the OWHL will be also sent to be digitized in the future, according to Barker. The titles with the highest circulation, the History and Social Sciences collection, were not digitized, although Barker hopes to digitize these titles in the coming years.

“[The History and Social Sciences Collection is] withheld for a reason because they are so important to what kids do here. That would be a process that may be done in unison or in collaboration with the history department or with teachers that teach with our librarians frequently,” said Barker.

According to Bryan Jimenez ’21, Andover is being generous in sharing its resources with others that don’t have access to such a diverse and vast collection of sources.

“I think that going online and having the ability to do that would be really meaningful for people that, let’s say, come from a lower income background and don’t have access to this massive library funded by a billion dollar endowment,” said Jimenez.

According to Jeannette Zhang ’21, the digitization of the OWHL’s resources could be slightly inconvenient at times, citing students not being aware a title is checked out until arriving at the library or not being able to find the student who is currently using the title. However, Zhang believes that it is overall something positive.

“I think it’s overall something positive. I think it can make a lot of students’ lives easier, students and teachers, and I think it’s helpful to digitize files just in case something happened where we suddenly don’t have access to the physical books. I think it would be helpful to just have everything online,” said Zhang.