December 6, 2010
Another 21st Century New Normal: Harvard Moves Forward With Plan to Centralize University's Libraries
On Nov. 12, 2010, the Task Force on University Libraries issued its recommendations for reforming the administrative structure of the University's 73 libraries. From the Report:
Harvard must do a better job at knitting together its complex and fragmented library infrastructure in order to improve services and maximize the resources available to its users. The University cannot afford to replicate administrative systems and processes many times over, nor can it support its users effectively if its information systems cannot efficiently communicate, nor can it fund its priorities for the libraries if it encourages publishers to divide and conquer, nor can it provide optimal access to scholarly materials if it tolerates historical practices that serve as barriers to collaboration. ... It is critical that Harvard now lay the foundation for a twenty-first century library that can focus its financial and human resources on strategic change and on effective responses to evolving academic priorities.
The Task Force identified five core recommendations as a blueprint for system-wide reform:
- Establish and implement a shared administrative infrastructure.
- Rationalize and enhance our information technology systems.
- Revamp the financial model for the Harvard libraries.
- Rationalize our system for acquiring, accessing, and developing materials for a “single university” collection.
- Collaborate more ambitiously with peer libraries and other institutions.
Quoting from the Report:
In enacting these reforms, the Task Force recommends that the following principles be understood and adhered to:
- The University as a whole, the schools, and the libraries must work together to build the foundation from which to develop a 21st century library system.
- The work undertaken must be user-centered and aligned with the research and teaching missions of the University.
- Strategic investments must be made in human capital to achieve these objectives and reforms.
See also the Harvard Gazette story, University Libraries’ report issued.
When the Task Force Report was released, HLS' John Palfrey, a committtee member, wrote "Harvard is fortunate to have one of the great library systems in the world ... But we can do more with what we have, and we can better position ourselves for the future — a future that will be “digital-plus” — than we are today."
With the release of the Task Force Report, Harvard Provost Steven Hyman announced the establishment of an Implementation Work Group to carry forward the Task Force's recommendations because the Report presents "a stark rendering of a structure in need of reform. Our collections are superlative, and our knowledgeable library staff are central to the success of the University's mission. The way the system operates, however, is placing terrible strain on the libraries and the people who work within them." He observed:
Over time, a lack of coordination has led to a fragmented collection of collections that is not optimally positioned to respond to the 21st century information needs of faculty and students. The libraries' organizational chart is truly labyrinthine in its complexity, and in practice this complexity impedes effective collective decision-making.
It didn't take very long for Harvard to act. In a recent email to the Harvard Community, Provost Hyman explained that the University is moving forward in "earnest" with reforming the University's libraries. It sounds like the first step will be the establishment of a single Library Board to oversee the University library system:
While many details of the new management and organizational structure will be finalized in the coming year, this much is known for certain: The new Harvard Library will be overseen by a single Library Board consisting of faculty and deans, and chaired by the provost. ... [The initial] board will be responsible for overseeing the overall transition process, consulting with stakeholders, and providing critical input into the design of the new management structure to ensure that it meets the University’s overall needs and maintains the library’s scholarly pre-eminence.
One of the first tasks for the Library Board will be to appoint an Executive Director for Harvard Library, who will have overall management responsibilities for the new library system. Robert Darnton, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and current Director of the Harvard University Library, and Nancy Cline, Roy E. Larsen Librarian of Harvard College, will assist the new Executive Director in getting started and then transition into new roles over the next year. The Pforzheimer University Professor will take a lead position in representing the faculties of the University on the Library Board. To provide further assistance in the transition, a project management team will be formed to support the board and Executive Director. The transition and its associated work will begin in earnest next semester.
Provost Hyman and Professor David Lamberth, who chaired the Implementation Work Group, discussed these developments in this Dec. 1, 2010 Harvard Gazette story, Renewing Harvard’s library system: Provost announces new coordinated management structure. [JH]
Couple this move with the proposed changes in the ABA Standards on the law library director and you can see a possible trend toward a completely centralized library system, which will include the law library directed by the University library and employing law librarians to do collection development, reference, etc.
Posted by: Anon | Dec 6, 2010 11:12:44 AM