Some possible benefits of Harvard’s H20.

September 15, 2006

I’ve just come across the Harvard H20 project and for some reason am attracted to it. Reading lists and syllabi are an effective way of constructing useful arguments and sharing ideas. From what I can understand H2O creates feeds of materials from reading lists, or what they call ‘playlists,’ on any subject a user wishes to focus on. I’ve created a profile and will experiment by creating a playlist on accessing archival material at NYPL. If this proves successful, I plan to create a ‘reading list’ on manuscript collections within other archival repositories. If unsuccessful, I will erase the playlist as well as this post and carry on my merry way. The potential benefit of H20 is the promotion of published editions, or digital versions of manuscript collections that currently collect dust on library shelves but serve as a basic supplement for archival research. For instance the Complete Writings of Roger Williams which lie sadly offsite, and not in the Manuscripts and Archives Reading Room.

This post will change as I reconsider and restruct the H20 playlist, such is the fluidity of the web as a medium for communication. The first struggle I forsee is how to include such classics as Catalogue of Latin and vernacular alchemical manuscripts in Great Britain and Ireland, dating from before the XVI century. Hiding behind this post is a larger question over how archival reference is best performed. Does everyone know that they should have a Dictionary of Ancient Greek at the ready at all times, and isn’t it overkill to put that in an RSS format? The internet is the future and our present, so perhaps thinking in terms of ‘playlists’ will help me understand the revolutionary ideas behind 2.everything. The shadow of books is cast over the internet as print sources remain the far superior tool for accurate and responsible research.

Perhaps 2.0 projects like H20’s shared syllabi will prove an effective way to share and promote newly minted Google books. The belief behind the Google project is that full-text search is the way of the future. Being somewhat familiar with the argument in “Will Google’s Keyword Searching Eliminate the Need for LC Cataloging and Classification?” by Dr. Thomas Mann, I am of the opinion that subject searching still has vital significance to future research. If one looks at the Google record for O’Callaghan’s The Records of New Amsterdam from 1653 to 1674, they see a PDF sitting on the Google server waiting for someone to happen across it using a keyword search such as ‘William Niuman’s wife.’ Since http://www.google.com/books is completely new, somewhat unexplored and changing daily, I could potential use an H2O playlists to find and perhaps “catalog” relavant titles ready to be gobbled up from the Google menace.

The H20 interface allows users to copy other resources from other people’s libraries and add them to their own. This reminds me somewhat of LibraryThing, but the H2O’s shared syllabi create lists of books arranged by subjects and not lists of books added to LibraryThing’s libraries. The difference would be browsing a stranger’s book shelf at a party and getting a suggested reading list should be quite obvious to everyone. H2O also allows users to link to any type of document, while LibraryThing is limited to books.

My first ‘playlist’ is accessible here.

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