Computer Science

Computer Science

Computer Science, as the 49 Book itself explains, is about skills and ideas that might be useful “in ways we cannot even imagine today.” One of the most popular and innovative concentrations offered by Harvard College, it is a bastion of constant progress and often attracts minds craving change and development. Houghton, known for the relative age of its collection, owns materials related to the history of information transmission and even some items that are undoubtedly intrinsically connected to Computer Science. Most importantly, however, the library is a laboratory for technological change because of the fundamental need for cataloguing and searching that requires many of the skills Computer Science concentrators learn during their four years at the College.

Beginning with more classical materials, Houghton owns, for example, an 1876 Alexander Graham Bell pamphlet titled “The Multiple Telegraph” (Tec 433.7*, 004378354), explaining one of the precursors of the instantaneous connectivity the world experiences today. The library also possesses items such as Timothy Leary’s Mind Mirror (AC95.L4795.988m, 013981480), a computer game, and even a font pack from 1992 composed of six computer disks (TypTS 970.92.570, 002883969). Departing from the physical, students can also research more theoretical aspects of Computer Science through the W. V. Quine papers ((MS Am 2587, 008937558), which house essays such as Daniel Clement Dennett’s “Exploring the Space of the Turing Test” (1629) and “The Practical Requirements for Making a Conscious Robot” (1640).

However, Houghton itself can be used by Computer Science students as an institution in which they can apply skills learned in class. As HOLLIS Classic, Harvard’s old library search engine, is replaced by HOLLIS+, many of its refining search capabilities are being lost, and students could work to develop a better search engine that is adequate to programs Harvard currently supports but also includes HOLLIS Classic’s old search constraints. Optimizing searching is, in fact, one of the largest challenges libraries face as a whole nowadays, and Houghton, whose online catalogue is by no means a complete view of everything the library holds, is no exception.

Many of the library’s items, for instance, are not in English, and their titles in HOLLIS are just romanized rather than translated. Developing multilingual translation tools for foreign items in the collection would be another welcome project that could help researchers in the library for generations to come. Cataloguing items not in HOLLIS is also a challenge belonging to the realm of Computer Science because of the interpretive work necessary to apprehend the material’s topic and other specifications. In fact, it is a constant trade-off between providing as much information as possible about an item to make its finding easier or cataloguing as many items as possible superficially. Computer scientists working on search engines are welcome to take on the task to find more efficient ways to tackle library classification systems.

Finally, there is the issue of collecting virtual material. As seen above, Houghton owns computer disks with installed programs, but, as twenty-first century writers move to completely virtual environments to produce their work, collecting one’s artistic process becomes harder and harder. Houghton, in fact, has already begun to amass discs and laptops owned by twentieth-century writers in the hope of capturing their creative process. It is up to this age’s archivists and computer scientists to work together to find ways in which to preserve art and literature and their production while accompanying the dizzying rate of technological progress of our current world.