Thursday, December 3, 2009

Meeting with University Librarian Michael Keller

On November 5, 2009 I met with University Librarian Michael Keller. Keller received a graduate degree in musicology from the State University of New York (SUNY) University at Buffalo. He worked in the music library at Buffalo and then moved to the Cornell music library where he also taught musicology classes and sometimes conducted the chamber orchestra. After Cornell, he moved to the Berkeley music library and during his time there he taught a course at Stanford. He then moved to Yale where he was the Associate University Librarian for Collections and by 1990 had two thirds of the libraries reporting to him. After Yale he came to Stanford in 1993 as the University Librarian.

Keller’s division at Stanford is called Stanford University Libraries and Academic Information Resources (SULAIR). Stanford University currently has 20 libraries but there are about to be 19 because the physics library is being merged into the engineering library. In addition there are the Stanford Auxiliary Libraries 1 and 2 and another auxiliary library in Livermore. A second auxiliary library is being built in Livermore to house two to three million books. Livermore is a good environment because it is very cold which is good for paper made with wood pulps. Five of these libraries (Law, SLAC, Hoover, Medical, and GSB) do not report to Keller. While these libraries do not report to Keller, services SULAIR provides such as Socrates and material acquisition are available to them. Academic Information Resources refers to Academic Computing, which includes Residential Computing, the Digital Language Lab, the Faculty Services Group.

Keller sees himself as a leader, not an administrator. He sets standards for people that report to him. There are over 750 staff members across all of his divisions (~575 in libraries and academic computer) and he manages over a $100M budget. About $31M of the budget comes in from two enterprises: Stanford University Press (, which has reported to Keller since 2000, and HighWire Press (, $5M-$15M comes in from grants or contracts, and $55M-$60M comes from general funds. SULAIR has contracts and grants with many organizations including the Department of Defense, National Science Foundation, National Endowment for Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, and the Moore Foundation. One challenge for SULAIR is that it has no direct alumni and alumnae to fundraise from.

SULAIR hires very high-level professionals that are among the best in the world. PhDs are hired to be the curators and bibliographers. Each curator and their staff are meant to interact directly and effectively with faculty and students. Every member of the Information Systems staff is good at translating what students and faculty want into real services. SULAIR is currently trying to digitize as much content as possible because it is easier to index, search, manipulate, etc. It has tens of thousands of digital data sets and huge image collections. SULAIR buys material from over 135 counties every year and runs a separate accounting system from the University because international transactions are very complicated. SULAIR has relationships with dozens of institutions throughout the world and its employees are often asked to speak and consult.

HighWire Press was created by Keller and is one of his biggest achievements to date. He collaborated with biology Professor and current biology department Chair Robert Simoni on creating this enterprise. HighWire started operations with four staff in February 1995 and its first publication was in May 1995. HighWire makes its own money by creating high end, highly featured versions of paper journals for publishers. It currently has 150 clients and over five million articles in its database; two million of these are freely accessible. HighWire receives three billion hits per month and downloads and indexes the entire Medline corpus every week. HighWire currently publishes over 1,250 titles and employees 150 staff. Many of its clients are discarding paper and becoming completely electronic.

Keller also supported the development and expansion “Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe” (LOCKSS - open source software project in 1999 that lets libraries develop local network caches of content to prevent against server failure. LOCKSS is used in CLOCKSS or Controlled LOCKSS (, which “is a not-for-profit joint venture started by libraries and publishers committed to ensuring long-term access to scholarly publications in digital format” ( Keller was also involved with starting the Google Books project. He had a conversation with Larry Page, Co-Founder of Google, and the topic of when Google would be allowed to index everything in HighWire Press and the SULAIR libraries came up. In 2003 Keller and Page started talking seriously and the project started in December 2004. Indexing of HighWire caused a 10x increase in hits. To date, over 1.7 millions titles from Stanford have been indexed and over 4 million at the University of Michigan. Keller and SULAIR are also independently digitizing the Mathew Parker collection ( which is a collection of 537 manuscript books covering the history of England and the Church of England dating from the 6th through the 16th centuries. This project was initiated when Keller was invited to Corpus Christi College to see the Parker collection during his trip to Oxford to give the keynote address at the 400th anniversary of the Bodleian Library in September 2002. Keller was also a big participant in the development of CourseWork ( and participated in many early projects that lead to the creation of CourseWork. Keller also led the digitization of the archive of the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade, the predecessor to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and is endeavoring to get the involved 135 countries of the WTO to release the documents and make them public. Before Keller got involved, the WTO did not have a proper archiving system. For 5 years40 people from SULAIR traveled to Geneva for 5 or 6 weeks each summer to digitize over two million documents.