University Provost Steven E. Hyman sought to reassure faculty members yesterday that the newly appointed committee for library changes would not overstep its bounds.
Hyman explained that establishing intellectual priorities for acquisitions would not be under the purview of the Implementation Work Group—an administrative body focused primarily on restructuring the administration of Harvard’s libraries.
“This committee isn’t going to decide that we should subscribe to this book and not that book, or this journal and that journal,” Hyman said, drawing the distinction between what he considers to be an intellectual decision as opposed to an administrative one. “But it is very important that we aggregate our buying power when we negotiate with journal publishers.”
Hyman used negotiating with academic journals as an example of the type of administrative action that the Implementation Work Group has the authority to undertake.
Hyman announced the membership of the implementation committee last month in an e-mail containing the University Library Task Force report. The committee is charged with putting in place the recommendations of the University Library Task Force report published last month.
Eight out of nine of the committee’s members are administrators—though the chair is Divinity School Professor David C. Lamberth.
The other eight members of the University-wide implementation committee are Harvard College Library Director Nancy M. Cline, Harvard University Library Director Robert C. Darnton ’60, Harvard Kennedy School Executive Dean John A. Haigh, Harvard Business School library administrator Mary Lee Kennedy, FAS Dean of Administration and Finance Leslie A. Kirwan ’79, Harvard Medical School Dean for Operations and Business Affairs Richard Mills, and Harvard Law School library vice dean John G. Palfrey ’94.
The Task Force, formed last spring as the University sought to respond to an unprecedented 30 percent drop in its endowment, wrote in their report that the University could no longer hope for a completely comprehensive collection and recommended that the sprawling library system streamline its administrative structure.
But two weeks ago, over 100 professors signed a letter to University administrators expressing concerns about the library’s diminishing acquisitions. The letter was addressed to University President Drew G. Faust, Provost Steven E. Hyman and Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith, who were all in attendance yesterday.
History of Art and Architecture Professor Jeffrey F. Hamburger—a co-author of the letter—expressed concerns about the lack of professors on the implementation committee.
“I fear that there is something absurd about a faculty member repeatedly getting up to defend Harvard’s library,” said Hamburger, an outspoken regular about the libraries at Faculty meetings. “If the Library is the heart of the University or at least one of its vital organs, then we have to imagine that the patient is in critical condition and intensive care.”
But Classics Professor Richard F. Thomas, another co-author of the letter, said that he was less concerned that the committee is dominated by administrators.
“I’m not sure if adding a faculty member to a committee such as this makes sense,” he said. Instead, he said, he would prefer reassurance from the committee that the libraries would remain committed to acquisitions.
Hyman emphasized that the implementation group was formed to reallocate funds rather than cut spending.
“The goal is not to squeeze money out but to make the library as effective as possible,” he said.
Responding to concerns of competition from libraries at peer institutions, Hyman said that he also had a competitive side. He reaffirmed that the University’s goal is “to make sure that we as a university have without question the best university library in the world.”
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