August 11, 2009
Harvard Law School Library Re-engineered
Under John Palfrey's leadership, the Harvard Law School Library has been reorganized and has implemented Google's human resources policy for engineers that allows
engineers library staffers to spend 20 percent of their time to pursue professional interests outside their core work responsibilities. "This organizational feature was adopted in response to overwhelming staff interest in cross-divisional training and communication," writes Palfrey. Looking forward to a lot of
Cross-training is important and have been a fairly common practice in law libraries since at least the early 1990s when "cross-training" reached buzz word status in library management literature. It has its origins in late 1970s-1980s collective bargaining negotiations in the auto and basic steel industries. Management sought to broaden job classifications and weaken work rules to improve rank-and-file productivity in an effort to reduce unit labor costs in the face of stiff competition from Japanese auto makers and South Korean steel mills.
"Communication"? Well, this 80/20 policy is a wee bit naive and, unfortunately, demonstrates a certain lack of administration experience in law library management. The 80/20 policy probably won't work well over the long haul unless HLS also increases law library staffing by 20 percent, assuming that the HLS Library isn't over-staffed right now.
The below diagram, click to enlarge, illustrates the reorganized HLS Library. It looks like something an LIS prof or management consultant would use in a PowerPoint presentation on library administration. Yes, the HLS Library hired a consultant to help out with all this. Details on Et. Seq. [JH]
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Harvard Law School Library Re-engineered:
As a current Harvard Law Library employee, I'd like to address a few comments made in your post.
The first is the thought that our library might be over-staffed. I think there is a common misperception out there that our library has unlimited funds, and that correspondingly, we can afford the luxury of a giant staff who then doesn't have to work very hard. Our library has not been "fully staffed" for quite some time. We have avoided layoffs by having many positions remain unfilled over the past year, pending the outcome of our reorganization. After all, it doesn't make much sense to try to hire people into jobs that may not exist or which may be materially different within a number of months. I think many people could agree with this. Also, my colleagues and I work very hard at our jobs. There are many evenings that you will find a lot of our staff here, across all spheres of the library, working late, not just watching the clock and saying "ok, it's 5 p.m., time to go home now." I personally have received emails from colleagues, written at all hours, responding to questions from the Dean or others, which I believe, demonstrates a high level of commitment to their job, as well as professionalism. The staff here is just like the staff at other libraries. We all get dressed the same way, by putting on our pant legs, one at a time.
Regarding John Palfrey and his experience as a law library manager, I can say this. I have worked in various fields, in many types of environments, including the corporate and high tech worlds, as well as other academic institutions, both inside and outside Harvard. I've worked with many bosses, some good, and some that were not so good. John is one of the best that I have had the opportunity to work with and for. Ask anyone at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, where John used to be the Executive Director, and they will say that he is very missed. He is an inspiring leader, and he makes a lot of effort to encourage creative thinking among his staff. He knows when to delegate and when to rely on the experience of those around him, and who work for him. To me, that is the sign of a good manager.
John also thinks of a lot of the "little things" that can make a difference to those of us in the rank-and-file. Such as learning all of our names (there are upwards of 75 of us) before we were ever formally introduced. Such as meeting with both exempt and non-exempt staff on a regular basis to encourage frank discussions, without supervisors present, and giving us the opportunity to hear matters "straight from the horse's mouth." Such as encouraging staff to communicate with him on a one-on-one level, even given his extremely busy schedule and the many demands on his time. (By the way, he responds to our emails and concerns.) Such as meeting with every single one of us, in individual meetings, once our reorganization positions had been worked out (after seeking our input in what we wanted to do.) How many other managers would make the time to do all of that?
Many colleagues from other libraries asked me over the past year how it felt to know I could work for someone who didn't have the MLS, when it was required for even my job. Was I a bit nervous, they asked? Of course. Who wouldn't be? But all things considered, I think our library is heading in the right direction at the present time. Are things perfect? No. Show me a person who says his/her job is perfect in every respect, and I'll show you a liar. Is everything going to go perfectly according to plan? Who knows? I personally think it's better to try something and not be afraid to fall flat on your face, rather than sitting back and wondering what could have been.
Thank you for allowing comments to be made to your post.
Posted by: HLSL employee | Aug 14, 2009 9:51:16 AM
"...probably won't work well over the long haul unless HLS also increases law library staffing by 20 percent, assuming that the HLS Library isn't over-staffed right now."
How many serials and integrating resources did you cancel this year? Last year? What to do with the time staff used to spend checking in, marking/plating, filing/shelving these extinct items? Why not train them to help with doc del or ILL? Or let them take an interest in IT so they can help students who come to the circ desk during off hours, wonky laptop in hand? Work is changing, let staff change with it; it's more humane than laying them off and more helpful to patrons than ignoring the change.
I wonder how different this really is than the regular faculty (or quasi-faculty) differentiated workload that we take for granted in many institutions (for faculty-status directors at least, and sometimes, in my experience, for quasi-faculty librarians). I think one could make an argument that the institution benefits more directly from the 80/20 Google model than from a traditional nebulous notion of "service" or "scholarship". One could also make an argument that 80/20 is not different, save that it's perhaps less generous than a 30/30/40 model.
Posted by: Scott Matheson | Aug 13, 2009 9:29:23 AM
Thanks, Joe, for posting this critique. As I've readily admitted, and as you pointed out, I'm a rookie at library administration. The good news at HLS Library is that there is an extremely strong senior staff and a deep team across all departments here, whose good sense and experience have been the drivers of this reorganization. I've seen my job as setting strategic priorities, especially where it comes to areas I do know well; ensuring alignment of the library's efforts with the direction of Harvard Law School overall and its faculty and student interest in particular; and overseeing the implementation of a plan to achieve these goals and this greater level of alignment. In this reorganization, including on the 80/20 staffing front, I've taken the recommendations of a 9-person steering committee (co-chaired by Associate Directors Cathy Conroy and Kim Dulin; I wasn't on it) essentially wholesale. I am confident that their expertise and decades of experience are behind it, as well as a sense of where we want to go in the relatively near-term future.
As for the 80/20 approach, it is indeed an experiment -- though I don't think a crazy one. The 20% segments are very much meant to reward and expand learning among our staff, but each segment has to be directly beneficial to the library and is approved and managed like the 80% segments. We will carefully work to assess whether it is working or not over time, first off at a scheduled 6-month check-in early in the new year. Some examples might help, though, elucidate what we have in mind: 1) several of the professional reference librarians and catalogers are participating as their "20% time" in collection development in areas where they have expertise, either by language or in terms of legal field of interest, under the leadership of an experienced bibliographer and the associate director; 2) a senior reference librarian is working her "20% time" in the special collections group (where her expertise with faculty scholarship will no doubt help in the Rare Book room or in working on the manuscript collection; 3) a few people in technical services who are adept at computing are working with our digital group, developing macros, and focusing on re-designing workflow processes; and so forth. My sense is that the 80/20 assignments we have are not as radical as it might seem at first blush, and I'm confident that our staff will learn from and share their knowledge with others through this division of labor. If I'm wrong, we should know it fairly soon and we'll make adjustments.
And as for beta releases, I'd argue that we absolutely need more of them in the Library world generally, especially at this moment of upheaval and transformation. I think we need to take some calculated risks (like Law Library directors blogging!) and have in place an honest culture of assessment to figure out what we should lean into and where we should declare our mistake and move on. I realize that's more easily said than done, but I think it's crucial to our collective success during this historic period.
Posted by: John Palfrey | Aug 13, 2009 8:05:50 AM
Professional development within and outside one's current career path should be encouraged by law library employers but ultimately it is up to the individual to do on his or her own time.
More to the point, as law librarian, you are also an LIS scholar - and with a unique, and possibly better, perspective than a full-time library science professor. Why waste that. And perhaps, a cataloger's approach to reference, a reference librarian's approach to cataloging, or a commercial document delivery service's approach to both really would benefit all three.
Posted by: Mikhail Koulikov | Aug 12, 2009 10:56:04 AM
Spending 20% of your time in a direction different from your regular tasks augments your performance of regular tasks. It is valuable to understand the questions being asked at Reference when you are working in Preservation.
In addition, each person should receive 20% of another person's time. This means more collaboration toward the mission and more opportunity for questioning of behavior. "We've always done it this way" will never fly if 20% of your task is being done by someone else.
I hope the mingling of classical technical and public services will be extensive and look forward to the Harvard experiment.
Posted by: Christopher Columbus Langdell | Aug 12, 2009 6:46:49 AM
"Professional development within and outside one's current career path should be encouraged by law library employers but ultimately it is up to the individual to do on his or her own time."
Oh, really? Please provide a reference to the divinely inscribed Tablet upon which the last several words of your sentence are engraved.
Posted by: Rob T. | Aug 11, 2009 6:41:23 AM