De Gennaro Attempts Preservation by Change

Librarian's Actions Termed Visionary, Autocratic

The antique grandfather clock that stands in Richard De Gennaro's Widener Library office carries the weight of Harvard tradition.

In a spacious room that overlooks Weld Hall to one side and Tercentenary Theater to the other, where bound leather books, line the shelves, the clock is another relic from the past, symbolic of the University's-- and the library's--age and history.

With the passing of time, however, and the vast wave of new technology, high prices and expanding publications, that tradition is becoming more and more endangered. De Gennaro, who is Larsen librarian of Harvard College, says he leads the struggle on the one hand, to preserve it, and on the other, to bring Harvard into the future.

It's a difficult balancing act for this man, despite his years of experience in the field. Before coming to his present post, De Gennaro spent four years as director of the New York Public Library, 16 as director of the University of Pennsylvania Library, and 12 as an associate director at Harvard.

But De Gennaro says the challenge is worth the return to Harvard Yard. "I thought this would be a good place to come back to and spend the remaining years of my career here," he says. "It's an important library, and it's what I call worth doing. I consider it a privilege."


Shifting Books

The Harvard College Library that De Gennaro directs today is a far cry from 1958 to 1970. It is a far cry, even, form the library he found when he returned to Harvard in June, 1990.

The College Library--which contains 75 percent of the University's library holdings--was then in some ways a relic of the past. Of the world's five major research libraries--Harvard, he British Library, France's Bibliotheque Nationale, the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library--De Gennaro notes that Harvard, with its open stacks, is the most accessible to scholars.

This unique accessibility may be short-lived, however. In the brief time since De Gennaro moved into his Widener office, he notes, "I've made an enormous amount of changes."

In February, De Gennaro released a Strategic Plan for the Harvard College Library detailed list of goals and objectives for the library's next five to 10 years. The plan reviewed the major challenges facing the library system, including a severe space shortage, the increasing cost and volume of new materials being published and technological changes in the outside world.

De Gennaro says his strategic planning report was important, in part, because it created a sense of consensus in the faculty for dramatic changes in the library.

"It gets everybody... focused on and thinking about the library," De Gennaro says. "It also creates a climate which is hospitable to change."

Among the objectives listed in the report are plans to move the Government Documents and Microtext Reading Room from its far-under-ground location to the first floor of Lamont Library.

Through a "recon," or "retrospective conversion," project, De Gennaro hopes to move all of the library's listings from the card catalog to the HOLLS database. Currently, only about one-third of Widener's holdings are on HOLLIS, he says.

Harvard is going to have to be come more selective in ordering books and periodicals. "Every year," De Gennaro explains, "we are paying more and more money to buy an ever-de-creasing percent age of the output of the world's publishers."