The records can be bulk downloaded from Harvard in the standard MARC21 format, and are available for programmatic access by software applications via API at the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).
The records contain bibliographic information about books, videos, audio recordings, images, manuscripts, maps, and more, including creator, title, publisher, date, language, and subject headings, plus descriptors usually invisible to end users, such as the equalization system used in a recording.
“The accessibility of the entire set of data for each item will, we hope, spur imaginative uses that will find new value in what libraries know,” said Mary Lee Kennedy, Senior Associate Provost for the Harvard Library.
Harvard also announced its open distribution of metadata from its Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard (DASH) scholarly article repository under a similar license.
John Palfrey, Chair of the DPLA, said he hoped that this would encourage other institutions to make their own collection metadata publicly available. According to Harvard’s FAQ, other libraries that have already done so include 3 million records from the British Library, 5.4 million from Cologne libraries, 3.6 million from the University of Cambridge, and 8 million from OCLC’s OhioLINK–OCLC Collection and Circulation Analysis Project.
The release is an instance of Harvard putting its (lack of) money where its mouth is when it comes to open access; the news comes just days after the library sent a memo to faculty urging them to “move prestige to open access” by their actions, including where they submit their own papers and their actions on editorial boards and as members of professional organizations, because “major periodical subscriptions… cannot be sustained.”
Other instances of major institutions buying into open access this month include the U.K.’s Wellcome Trust cracking down on failure to comply with its open access mandate, and the World Bank adopting an open access policy.