Most philanthropic organizations welcome the opportunity to attract public attention. But Ithaka Harbors Inc. — a non-profit organization with longtime roots in Princeton — has been an exception to this rule. While flying under the radar (declining several requests for interviews) has become something of a way of life at Ithaka, it has grown to the point where expansion and greater visibility is the only option.
Ithaka’s mission, as gleaned from its website, is to accelerate the productive uses of information technologies for the benefit of higher education worldwide.
For the past two-and-a-half years Ithaka has been nestled in its digs at 228 Alexander Street in Princeton, occupying a space of approximately 9,000 square feet. This month it is scheduled to move to 100 Campus Drive, off Alexander Road opposite the Hyatt, doubling its space to 18,337 square feet and occupying more than two-thirds of the 27,350 square-foot building that is owned by Reckson Associates. Todd Rechler represented Reckson, along with the GVA Williams team of David Simon, Steve Tolcash, and Thomas Romano. Robert Eisenberg of Newmark Knight Frank represented Ithaka Harbors.
Ithaka aims to provide a bridge between the past and the future by providing new kinds of structures to help emerging organizations get to the point where they can operate on their own. Ithaka is designed specifically to come up with projects that integrate with JSTOR (a searchable electronic archive of core journals in many fields), and ARTstor (a repository of high-quality digitized works of art and related materials for teaching and research). The Princeton Public Library gives a presentation on JSTOR on Wednesday, November 22, at 1 p.m. as part of its DataBytes program. The program is free: Call 609-924-8822.
Ithaka’s president is Kevin M. Guthrie, a football star at Princeton University, Class of 1984, a civil engineering major who previously ran his own software company and was president of JSTOR.
William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton, serves as Ithaka’s board chairman. A 1955 graduate of Denison University with a PhD from Princeton, Bowen joined the Princeton faculty in 1958, specializing in labor economics.
From 1972 to 1988 Bowen served as the university’s president, and when he left he was named president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. He has just left that post.
At the foundation Bowen focused on creating an in-house research program to investigate doctoral education, college admissions, research libraries, and charitable nonprofits. With a special interest in applying information technology to scholarship, Bowen’s ideas led to the creation of JSTOR, ARTstor, and Ithaka Harbors Inc. Ithaka became independent of the Mellon Foundation in 2004.
Now that computers have become essential in nearly every human transaction — from E-mail to electronic journals, and E-books, blogs, and websites for every occasion — the opportunities to use computers in scholarship have reached a level that could not be imagined even a short time ago. After all, it is one thing to be able to search a database and find a useful article. It is quite another to create an information environment that is a fundamental component of a scholar’s overall research, discovery and teaching process.
One way that Ithaka could use 21st century tools to transform scholarship is in the area of electronic archiving. Each year students are increasingly relying on the electronic versions of documents even though there has been no reliable infrastructure in place to insure that today’s electronic documents will be preserved for the future. Ithaka has taken on the role of serving as a channel for the creation of this new infrastructure.
Ithaka engages in three primary areas of activity — shared services (which includes the provision of administrative, financial and technical services to a small group of affiliated organizations); strategic services (by offering strategic advice based on a combination of relationships with leaders in higher education, philanthropy, business and technology); and research.
Shared Services: Ithaka offers services in four areas — Finance, Human Resources, Information Technology, and Software Development — and aims to take advantage of economies of scale among organizations to provide high quality services at lower costs, allowing affiliates and developing entities to focus on their core mission-related activities.
The finance team is responsible for overseeing and carrying out the day-to-day accounting needs of each of the affiliates, including everything from paying invoices to managing bank accounts. It also insures that the affiliates conform to sound accounting principles as well as provides management of financial reports to assist in the proper stewardship of budgets and overall resources. In addition, it helps to evaluate new opportunities for the affiliates and to set fees for new services.
The human resources team focuses on the design and development of human resources policies and programs that support both the values and culture of each of the entities. This includes the delivery of day-to-day human resources support to the various organizations on recruiting, employee relations, compensation, benefits, and training activities.
The IT group provides support for the basic IT infrastructure associated with the day-to-day work and also offers help desk services and oversees the relationships with outside vendors of computer, data and telecommunications equipment and services.
Strategic Services: The technology, innovation, and development team provides strategic and tactical application and systems support to Ithaka in three general areas — research and development, prototyping, and software/hardware support.
Research: Ithaka’s research unit aids the academic electronic environment by developing strategic information in a form that allows individual organizations to adapt to new environments. In addition, there is a lot of knowledge that is isolated within individual organizations and Ithaka seeks to share this knowledge on a more broad based level so that it can benefit the entire community.
Ithaka has initiated a series of projects, including the preservation of histories and the question of survivability. It asks the question, why have some printed books from past generations survived and others not? It is believed that lessons learned from this major study will hold interest for a number of communities, including those considering strategies for print preservation in an environment of mass digitization as well as those considering strategies for the long-term sustainability of digital resources.
Another current project revolves around the question of mass digitalization and the creation a print collection of the journals that have been digitized by JSTOR. The study is expected to generate lessons that may be of interest to others considering the role of print in an increasingly electronic environment. Other recent projects include a survey of faculty attitudes on electronic resources and the economics of scholarly journals as they transition away from print to electronic versions.
While Ithaka remains affiliated with JSTOR and ARTstor, it is currently developing three additional initiatives — Aluka (a project aiming to make primary source material for and about the developing world more widely available in digital form); NITLE (an effort to help smaller colleges make full use of new electronic and networking technologies to support teaching and research); and Portico (an effort to build trusted and reliable archive of electronic journals).
If life is a journey, Ithaka seeks to help other organizations make that journey. Of course while it is well aware that economic sustainability is firmly grounded in the real world, Ithaka is not without its pie-in-the-sky side. It took its name from a poem by the 19th century Greek poet, Constantine Carafy.
It begins: As you set out for Ithaka/ hope the voyage is a long one,/ full of adventure, full of discovery. Laistrygonians and Cyclops, angry Poseidon — don’t be afraid of them:/ you’ll never find things like that on your way/ as long as you keep your thoughts raised high, as long as a rare excitement/ stirs your spirit and your body.
Ithaka Harbors Inc., 100 Campus Drive, University Square, Princeton 08540. 609-258-9700.