Library Reforms Move Forward

The directors of the Harvard Library’s new system of “affinity groups” —which will bring together library units with similar missions—will be selected following a 45-day review period that began on Sept. 28, during which faculty may offer suggestions for modifications to the system.

The new affinity group heads will work to facilitate better coordination in collection strategy, increased development of research and pedagogical support, and additional improvements in library innovation, according to Senior Associate Provost for the Harvard Library Mary Lee Kennedy, who oversees the long-term vision of the library system.

After the review period closes, faculty and staff will have the opportunity to nominate current library staff to head an affinity group.

Kennedy said she imagines the future directors to embody the characteristics of a “Renaissance person.”

Kennedy said that the new positions will be able to “tie librarians closer to the intellectual agendas,” bringing libraries together to work on collection strategy both within and among groups.

“There hasn’t been a structure in the past that has made it possible for the faculty and the libraries to come together to figure out what is the right solution for collections,” Kennedy said last Friday.

Professors have expressed concern that the library reform process, which began in 2008, could lead to slower collection rates in the face of tightening budgets.

In 2009, more than 100 faculty members signed a letter to University President Drew G. Faust, then-Provost Steve E. Hyman, and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith in response to a report published by the Task Force on University libraries. The letter advised the administration to maintain strong collection growth.

The report determined that the Harvard libraries “can no longer harbor delusions of being a completely comprehensive collection, but instead must develop their holdings more strategically,” due to rising costs of providing both electronic and paper versions of many resources and acquiring materials in new and expanding intellectual disciplines.

Kennedy said that a new system of prioritization does not imply budget cuts.

“I think one of the unspoken questions is ... [a worry] that we’re going to cut collection budgets again, and that’s just not true. That’s just not true,” she said.

University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76, who has called reforming the library system his “number one” priority,  said the reforms will focus on innovation rather than cost-cutting.

“I’ve heard people say that this is a way to implement cutbacks, but the intent is to fashion the libraries into a system for the 21st century,” he said.

History Professor and Interim Director of the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies Andrew D. Gordon said that while “centralization isn’t always the answer,” he “felt optimistic” about the move.

“But it’s very early to see how it’s going to work,” added Gordon, who served on the library task force.

—Staff writer Gautam S. Kumar can be reached at gkumar@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Julia L. Ryan can be reached at jryan@college.harvard.edu.

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