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Faculty Calls For Library Funding

Over 100 Professors support letter to University administration

With budget cuts looming over Harvard’s numerous libraries, more than a hundred faculty members signed off on an impassioned letter calling on top University administrators to increase funding for library acquisitions.

The letter, sent on Friday to University President Drew G. Faust, Provost Steven E. Hyman, and Faculty of Arts and Science Dean Michael D. Smith, follows a report released last month by a University Task Force suggesting that Harvard could no longer “harbor delusions of being a completely comprehensive collection.” The University will need to drastically restructure its “labyrinthine” library system in the face of budgetary pressure, the report said.

“The only good solution is to find ways to restore the acquisitions budget, making up not only for recent cuts, but for the past decade of cuts,” wrote co-authors English Professor Daniel G. Donoghue, Classics Professor Richard F. Thomas, and History of Art and Architecture Professor Jeffrey F. Hamburger.

Dan C. Hazen, head of acquisitions for Harvard College Library—the largest unit within the University’s decentralized library system—wrote in a report in June that over the past few years, “our efforts have been flagging already, to widespread consternation and alarm.” He wrote that those difficulties would be exacerbated this year by what he predicted to be a 15 percent drop in the acquisition budget.

HCL has sought to reduce its budget for 2010 by $12 million, even though expenditures have risen due to the falling dollar and increasing subscription prices. But the letter says Harvard’s libraries have been strained by a “period of neglect” stemming back to the 1990s.

The letter says that there is “much in the [Task Force] report that we can embrace”—it supports centralization of administrative functions, vendors, and information technology—but also outlines serious qualms.

The letter says that the report’s figures and graphs are “seriously misleading” in that they show a steady increase in acquisitions in recent years. But the graphs are distorted by “extra-ordinary” short-term cash infusions and fail to include the decline in funding over previous decades, the letter says.

The professors also raised concerns that cuts in acquisitions would diminish the standing of Harvard’s library collection among its peers. “It used to be taken for granted that our library had no peer,” Hamburger said.

Other signatories of the letter include University Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr., History Professor and Department Chair Lizabeth Cohen, and English Professor and Chair of the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies Marjorie Garber.

Humanities and History department faculty dominated the list of signatories, and only one member of a natural sciences department was listed. The authors said the letter’s distribution had been limited mainly to their colleagues.

“The purpose certainly wasn’t to pit the needs and concerns of colleagues in the humanities and social sciences against those of colleagues in the natural sciences,” Hamburger said. “We are all dependent on the library in any number of ways.”

FAS Dean Smith wrote in an e-mailed statement that “it is my firm belief that everyone at Harvard appreciates and understands the importance and value of our library system.”

Peter Machinist, a signatory of the letter and professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, said that libraries are one of the three major components of the University, along with students and faculty.

“Without the library, Harvard would not be Harvard,” he said.

—Staff writer Noah S. Rayman can be reached at nrayman@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Elyssa A.L. Spitzer can be reached at spitzer@fas.harvard.edu.

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