The Harvard University Library—the world’s largest academic library system—will restructure the organization of its collections and resources among its 73 libraries, according to an announcement by Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 on Wednesday.
The new organizational structure features five “affinity groups” representing different academic sectors, under which individual libraries will be grouped according to their collection needs, content or service areas, and specialized activities. The libraries will continue to have a relationship with their home School, but will also be affiliated with their affinity group.
In his first email to the Harvard community as University provost, Garber said he is committed to making the new Harvard Library “the flagship research library of the 21st century.”
According to HUL Executive Director Helen Shenton, many other library systems rely on a similar organizational set-up.
“It’s a balancing of the individual libraries ... so we can work very closely with faculty,” Shenton said in an interview with The Crimson Wednesday. “We needed to have some more shared services. Virtually every other library in the country has shared services.”
Individual libraries will have the option to shift between affinity groups over the next 45 days as conversations about the new structure continue. After 18 months, the Harvard Library Board will review the affinity group assignments.
“This plan builds upon the recommendations of the Library Task Force and the Library Implementation Work Group to promote greater innovation and strengthen the strategic capacity of the entire system,” Garber wrote in his email.
Shenton will be working closely with the newly named Senior Associate Provost for the Harvard Library Mary Lee Kennedy, who will be actively involved in facilitating the transition.
The new organizational structure announced on Wednesday follows the Nov. 2009 Report of the Task Force on University Libraries. The succeeding Library Implementation Work Group developed ideas from the Task Force and submitted a final set of recommendations to then-Provost Steve E. Hyman.
Following two years of slow deliberation, the University worked quickly to restructure HUL into a stronger, centralized umbrella organization. In Dec. 2010, Harvard officials named the first Library Board, an oversight body that named Shenton as HUL’s first executive director.
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Library Reforms Move ForwardThe directors of HUL's new system of “affinity groups” will be selected following a 45-day review period during which faculty may offer suggestions for modifications to the system.
A Painful NecessityIn order to provide the services that push the boundaries of knowledge forward, the libraries may have to shed some workers.
Take a Break. Think.At a time when the University is restructuring the library, we will work to change what a library is understood to be. We seek to alter long-lived structures and arrangements, thus disturbing what may seem like short-term stability in service of much longer-term purposes.
Transition With No TransparencyThe lack of transparency in the proposed restructuring of the library system—seemingly consisting of layoffs and an “incentivized” early retirement program affecting an undisclosed number of HUL employees—has every library employee on edge.
A Real Dialogue on LayoffsHarvard library workers are dedicated, highly trained, and committed to improving the libraries and serving patrons. They possess priceless institutional knowledge that cannot be digitized or outsourced. We must recognize their knowledge, experience and contribution.
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