Citing Budget Woes, Library Lays Off 10

The Harvard College Library (HCL) system is laying off 10 workers and eliminate several currently vacant positions in an effort to drastically reduce spending, according to a letter sent to library employees last week.

Facing rising costs and nearly flat endowment payouts, the libraries must slash expenditures by $2.3 million in Fiscal Year 2005, according to HCL spokesperson Beth Brainard.

Brainard said HCL has already cut back in non-personnel areas by canceling duplicate periodical subscriptions, reducing hours at Kummel and Cabot Libraries and eliminating Pusey Library’s circulation desk and main entrance. The forthcoming transformation of Hilles Library into a “Quad library” will also save money in the long run, according to Brainard.

But those changes simply could not make up the difference, she said.

“Half of our budget is made up of staff compensation,” Brainard said. “It was almost impossible for us to move forward without doing something there.”

Ten currently filled positions and 8.5 that are now empty will be eliminated on June 30. The workers whose positions will be eliminated were notified last Monday.

These layoffs come in addition to the 22 layoffs workers expected when Hilles is renovated in the summer of 2005.

Timothy Slaughter, one of the ten HCL employees affected by last Monday’s announcement, said the layoffs have jeopardized his family’s long term economic security.

“It’s a very tough job market out there, and I have two children,” he said. “The chances of finding anything at Harvard are very slim, because people aren’t retiring. It’s a really scary time for me.”

Jeff W. Booth, a library worker and a member of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW) said the atmosphere among library staff had been tense and frightened as rumors of the impending announcement spread.

“It was a huge stress thing for everybody over here,” said Booth, who works in cataloguing services for Widener Library. “Our salaries are so low, we’re living paycheck to paycheck, most of us. Layoffs have the knockout effect of homelessness.”

Larsen Librarian of Harvard College Nancy M. Cline said the library system had taken as much care as possible to make cuts that would protect the availability of rich library resources for Harvard’s students and faculty.

“Both the elimination of vacant positions and the layoffs that were announced today are, in our opinion, done in a manner that will not jeopardize the collections,” said Cline. “We’ve worked to make these reductions in a way that we should be in a position to rebuild when there’s more of a turnaround in the budget.”

HCL, she explained, is heavily dependent upon endowment, and so the low increases in payout of recent years have meant stresses on the library’s budget.

“We’ve tried to make the choices as carefully as possible, but every choice like this is a painful choice,” she said.

Booth said that the department in which he works is already short of staff.

“They should be hiring more people, hiring more support staff, getting the libraries working better instead of closing Hilles and laying off people,” he said.

HUCTW co-president William Jaeger, however, said he was surprised that the number of layoffs was as small as it was, given the size of the budget gap.

“If they had taken staff layoffs as their primary solution to the problem, it might have meant 30 or 40 people losing their jobs,” Jaeger said.

A group of unionized labor activists known as the No Layoffs Campaign are not nearly as relieved about the announcement.

Geoff Carens, a librarian in Government Documents who is a founding member of the organization, said he could not reconcile the staff reductions with Harvard’s affluent reputation and bulging endowment.

“I just think all of us feel that in a week where you have all this incredible economic news coming out about Harvard, and how well they’re doing, it’s appalling that they’re eliminating positions where people are making under 40k to cut costs,” he said, referring to a report showing that Harvard’s endowment outperformed many of its peers.

Carens also speculated that higher paid, more experienced workers had been targeted in this recent round of layoffs. Brainard vehemently denied the charge, calling it a “fallacy” which ignored the fact that eliminated positions had been chosen based on functional strategy, not salary or experience.

Of the 10 workers to be laid-off, two are HUCTW members, and of the 8.5 positions that will be cut by attrition, 3.5 would have gone to HUCTW members, according to a letter sent to staff. Jaeger added that a clause in HUCTW workers’ contracts stipulates that they be given first priority if they lose their jobs and seek similar positions in the University.

That becomes complicated in times of belt-tightening, however, according to Cline.

“There aren’t as many vacancies across all of Harvard as there were two years ago. It’s a tighter situation,” she said. “The opportunities are fewer than they were several years ago.”

Although the $2.3 million dollar gap has now been nearly closed for the 2005 fiscal year, Brainard said she could not rule out the possibility of further cost-cutting measures, which may include more layoffs.

“It’s something that continues to be looked at,” she said. “As long as the University is in this fiscal condition, it’ll always be an element.”

—Staff writer Laura L. Krug can be reached at krug@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Leon Neyfakh can be reached at neyfakh@fas.harvard.edu.