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October 08, 2009 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 2009-10-08

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The Michigan [wily - michigandaily.com

Thursday, October 8, 2009 - 7A

The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom Thursday, October 8, 2009 - 7A

From Page 1A
the overstuffed, red-velvet arm-
chairs that furnish their living
room. "He does travel a lot, but
I will say that I think he's more
She added that the anxiety and
tension that marked her, husband's
time as provost - for example, get-
ting up at 4 a.m. on some sleepless
nights to go and check his e-mail -
has now dissipated. He seems less
stressed, she said.
"My impression is that having
him working on library issues, he's
having fun," Manildi said.
Paul Courant's idea of fun differs
from most.
The age-old notion of a library
has fallen by the wayside as an
Internet-driven technology trans-
formation has turned the collegiate
libraries of today into information
warehouses - stocking and pre-
serving the world's collection of
books, audio, video, images and data
into a one-stop shop for knowledge.
Recognizing this shift, Courant
has dived in head first to lead the
University's progression - the off-
shoots of which have revamped the
state of information for society.
Sullivan wrote in an e-mail inter-
view that with Courant at the helm,
the University's library has been at
the vanguard of dynamic techno-
logical times.
"Academic libraries around the
as scholarly communication moves
into the digital age," Sullivan wrote.
"Professor Courant has been
engaged with these issues for many
years," she continued. "As an econ-
omist with considerable budgetary
experience, he brings important
expertise to our libraries as they
are transformed to meet the needs
of the 21st century."
While the job typically involves
daily meetings and conference calls,
during the last few years, Courant's
career has revolved around the
Google Books Library Project -
a joint venture between the tech
juggernaut and a catalogue of the
world's most advanced libraries.
Through the project, the University
Library has become the first in the
world to have the majority of its col-
lection digitized.
Even before he became dean of
libraries, Courant took the first step

in negotiating the original version
of the arrangement with Google in
2004, a move that got him "very
"This was going to transform the
way in which we did research and
teaching and transform the way in
whichlibraries would work and pro-
vide opportunities to our students
and faculty of a kind that actually
never existed before," he said.
By 2011, more than 7 million of
the University's books will be avail-
able online at no cost to students,
faculty and staff. Outside universi-
ties will have to pay a fee to access
the digitized collection.
The University will not make any
money from the deal, but Courant
said it's getting "something of great
He explained that free access
to the works allows the library to
reprint books that are deteriorat-
ing whether it is because they are
printed on acid paper or a plethora
of other reasons.
"You know how if you look at an
old paperback, you open it up and it
all turns into cornflakes?" he asked.
"That was high acid paper."
With the Google Book Project,
the University won't have to worry
about losing books to normal wear
and tear.
The repercussions of the project
for the long-standing notion of a
wood-lined, whispers-only library
are many.
Despite the advantages of having
tangible books on hand, Courant
said the University Library's books
will be uselessly sitting on shelves
while students browse them on
their laptops.
"This is blasphemous," he said.
"But it's true. We don't need to have
3 million books in the middle of
Courant said he predicts the Uni-
versity Library will use converted
files to make materials even more
digitally accessible in the future.
"In a few years, most of what I
expect will be in the library (will
be) in a form where you'll be able
to load it into something that looks
like a Kindle or a Sony Reader and
read it very easily," he said.
He added that the stacks will
eventually disappear.
With this shift, Courant said the
role of universities and libraries will
become increasingly important as
society moves into the "information
age," where loads of information
are available at people's fingertips.
"The problem of converting
information into knowledge and

knowledge into wisdom is every
bit as important as it always was,"
he said. "The University is the place
that's going to figure out how to do
that, and within it, the library is
going to be the place in the Univer-
sity that figures that out."
Halfway through a renewable
five-year term as dean of libraries,
Courant said that in addition to the
Google Books Project, he hopes to
focus on other interests as well.
Between negotiations with
Google and back-to-back faculty
meetings, Courant said he admits
he finds social networking tools like
Facebook extremely interesting.
Though Courant uses Facebook to
keep track of a cluster of relatives,
his fascination with the sit is more
than one-dimensional.
Courant has spent some time
seriously considering the possibil-
ity of a Facebook archive that could
be used for research purposes in
the future.
"On Facebook we could have this
extraordinary archive of how peo-
ple communicated," he said. "We
want sociologists 50 years from
now to understand how people
were spending their time commu-
nicating with each other."
Copyright issues and questions
about legal ownership make it dif-
ficult to create this kind of preser-
vation today. But the possibility of a
Facebook record is not completely
out of the picture.
Courant is a member of a panel
working for the National Science
Foundation to preserve web content.
In addition to the U.S. govern-
ment, national and international
libraries have expressed strong
interest in supporting the project
and finding a way to prevent the
information published on websites,
including Facebook, YouTube and
Twitter, from being forever lost in
the abyss of cyberspace.
Courant is no stranger to the
ever-changing world of Internet
publishing. Aside from the number
of academic communities to which
he claims membership, Courant is a
part of a more expansive, less exclu-
sive society: the blogosphere.
His blog - called "Au Courant"
- discusses everything from his
endeavors as dean of libraries to
field trips with his wife to Yankee
Stadium, though Courant admits he
finds little time for blogging.
"I haven't blogged much of any-


Dean of Libraries Paul Courant sits in an armchair in his living room at his house near North Campus.

thing in the last six months, which
is bad practice," he said. "Good
bloggers blog regularly.",
Despite Courant's sporadic
posting tendencies, the blog has
developed a following from pub-
lishers who are eager to learn
about new developments in the
Google Books Project and other
anonymous readers.
Despite all that is on his plate,
libraries and Internet databases are
not all that occupy Courant's life. If
the classic portrait of alibrarian sug-
gests someone slightly mousy, with
glasses and his dhet nose deep in a
book, Courant shatters that image.

While he does wear glasses, his
outgoing disposition and the stud
in his left ear leave little evidence of
his profession.
Courant rides his BMW R115OR
motorcycle around campus - if not
to work. In his free time, he takes
yoga classes with his wife.
Ann Arbor residents of 36 years,
the empty nesters - with three sons
in their 20s and 30s - are never
short of a desire for somethingnew.
The two often come to the rescue of
kayakers who tip over or get stuck in
the Huron River, which runs along
the west side of their backyard.
Courant said the current was
"awfully fast" this summer, leading
to quite a few rescue efforts.
Besides rescuing kayakers, Cou-

rant enjoys watching the Detroit
Tigers, skiing, fishing and play-
ing with his dogs Bear and Moose,
despite their small stature.
More than anything, Courant
loves to teach. He currently teaches
a 200-level public policy class.
"I don't have to teach in this job,"
he said. "I do it because I like it."
While he enjoys seeing academic
progress when he teaches, Courant
said the best part is watching stu-
dents discover themselves.
"I very much enjoy watching
students go from being just out of
high school into life," he said, with
a smile.
- Michele Narov
contributed to this report.

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