Survey To Help Decide Gov Docs' Future

Ballot Box
Ashley L. Shuyler

Daniel A. Reid ‘06 fills in a survey yesterday that could help keep Government Documents in Lamont Library.

E-mail lists have been buzzing since Monday as undergraduates, teaching fellows and tutors have urged the Harvard community to fill out a survey that will help decide the fate of a rich collection of library materials.

In recent months, Harvard College Library (HCL) administrators have been mulling over the relocation of Government Documents—a massive collection of international primary sources—from the first level of Lamont Library to the second level of Littauer Library.

An HCL steering committee issued a survey Monday to evaluate the usage of Gov Docs as part of an ongoing logistical investigation of the possible relocation. The survey—available at the Gov Docs reference desk until Monday, March 15—aims to assess who uses the facility, what they use it for and how its relocation might affect research.

Economics concentrator Eric J. Powell ’04, who used Gov Docs while researching his thesis, saw the survey and decided to alert his peers by starting an e-mail campaign over the Undergraduate Council open-list Monday. In this first e-mail, Powell called on all past, present and future users of the collection to take the time to fill out the survey.

“Perhaps you all can help spread the word to your Houses, because this survey seems to be very hush-hush,” he wrote in his e-mail to the council list.


By yesterday afternoon, the message had been forwarded to residents in Eliot, Mather and Pforzheimer, as well as economics, history and literature and history concentrators. Some students in history core classes also received the notice.

Powell said he questioned the HCL steering committee’s timing in releasing the survey since it seems to come just as most undergraduates have completed research for their theses, and thus would be less likely to notice the survey.

Mather House resident Katherine B. Orr ’04, who has just finished her history and literature thesis, filled out the survey as soon as she heard about it from Powell.

“It hasn’t been advertised,” she said. “It was kept very quiet.”

Powell, meanwhile, said that the day after sending out his message, he received a concerned e-mail from an HCL supervisor, who worried that the e-mail might skew results and stuff the ballot box.

Associate Librarian for Research and Instruction Lynda Leahy, however, said she was happy about the survey’s high profile.

“You want to have as large a sample as you can in any kind of statistical survey. If no one picks it up, you’re really not learning that much,” said Leahy, who serves as the head of the HCL steering committee. “I’m delighted that people are passing around the information to come in.”

Two weeks ago, Leahy and other HCL administrators met with representatives from the economics department to brainstorm about potential uses for the soon-to-be vacant space in Littauer Library. HCL administrators have been eyeing the location for Gov Docs. If moved to this location, some of the Gov Docs materials may be displaced to other locations for lack of space in Littauer Library.

Currently, the government department is sharing Littauer Library with economics, but its eventual move to a new building on Cambridge Street will leave the library partly vacated in the summer of 2005.

Members of the committee have stressed that the Gov Docs relocation is merely one idea, but no other proposals for filling the Littauer space have been floated, according to Leahy.

Another survey, also designed by the HCL steering committee, asks a similar set of questions about Littauer Library, but it has not received the same level of attention from students as the Gov Docs questionnaire has. This second survey will be available at the entrance of Littauer Library until Tuesday, March 16.

—Staff writer Leon Neyfakh can be reached at