Faced with Budget Cuts, Harvard College Library Consolidates

In an attempt to reduce its budget for next year by $12 million, Harvard College Library—which manages the circulation of over 11 million items—will shuffle personnel to streamline its services, and will likely be unable to avoid layoffs this spring.

For now, the move will require the displacement of the 17 workers in the Widener serial services division, which catalogs incoming periodicals, to a Central Square facility currently occupied by HCL’s technical services unit, according to HCL spokeswoman Beth Brainard.

To encourage further cost-cutting, administrators and senior managers of HCL—a centralized group of libraries within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences—are eliminating print subscriptions for materials that can be found online, ceasing unnecessary purchases of duplicate books, and making reductions in binding, shelving, and storage of materials.

HCL is also running a pilot program that shares research librarians between Cabot, Lamont, and Widener libraries.

The program, which may cut costs, will encourage collaboration between librarians and will help fill staff vacancies remaining empty as a result of the staff hiring freeze announced in November, Brainard said.

In addition, HCL will stop manually sifting and processing individual issues of common periodicals when they arrive at the library. Though less vigilant processing poses a “bit of a risk,” Brainard said staff could be put to better use by focusing on the more unpredictable, uncommon serials.

The cost reduction measures come after Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith’s December request for 10 to 15 percent reductions in department and center budgets for the fiscal year beginning in July.

In a recent State of the Library meeting, HCL head administrator Nancy M. Cline said that it would be hard to slash budgets through large-scale cuts of either fixed costs or personnel and collections budgets. Instead, library administrators appear to be looking to encourage structural efficiency as a means of wringing savings from their ledgers.

“A simple solution is not in front of appear to be looking to encourage structural efficiency as a means of wringing savings from their ledgers.

“A simple solution is not in front of us,” Cline said, emphasizing the implementation of a variety of cross-library initiatives, among them the consolidation of the serials management and technical services units.

But as for the serials services unit now bound for Central Square, the move which is apparently aimed at consolidation may be a precursor to dissolution, according to a staff worker in the library system who asked not to be named in order to protect his relationship with the University.

The individual said he fears that his future position in the Central Square facility will be a watered-down version of his original job, and indicative of a slow, but purposeful, diminishment of the serials services division.

The concern comes less than a week after the University delivered early retirement incentive packages to 1,600 staffers, opening a 45-day decision window for those eligible. The possibility of layoffs will be considered after the decision window closes in early April, and it is unlikely that HCL will be left untouched.

“[I]t is apparent there is no way to protect HCL’s workforce from reductions,” Cline said at the State of the Library. “This is the very last thing we would like to do, but there seems to be no other way to achieve the budget savings we must reach.”

—Staff writer Esther I. Yi can be reached at estheryi@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Peter F. Zhu can be reached at pzhu@fas.harvard.edu.