Palfrey, who has been at the Law School since shortly after graduating from there in 2001, is the director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the Law School’s largest affiliated research institute and one of the most prominent cyber law centers in the country.
Palfrey will take the reins of the library from Harry S. Martin ’65, who has been director for 27 years.
Martin said in a phone interview yesterday that Palfrey’s background in technology will serve him well as library director.
“If you look around at people that are kind of directing law school libraries in this country now, many of them have strong interests in cyber law, intellectual property, that sort of thing,” Martin said. “And this is something you find with other disciplines as well—a few years ago, [Harvard] Medical School appointed an expert in bioinformatics, and John is really an expert in legal informatics.”
Palfrey’s appointment was approved by the law faculty and then by Dean Elena Kagan and University President Drew G. Faust. Martin said that the Association of American Law Schools prefers that the heads of law libraries come from the faculties.
Though the Law School library is part of the Harvard University Library, Martin said that the system acts more like a consortium—the money for each of the collections comes from the faculty that it serves—and so Palfrey will have general charge of the library’s management.
The role of Robert C. Darnton ’60—the head of the University library system, who is technically in charge of all of Harvard’s collections—is more to facilitate collaborative enterprises, like when Harvard’s various libraries pooled their money to create the unified, electronic Hollis catalog in the 1990s.
Darnton praised Palfrey in an interview yesterday, saying that his “experience in the Berkman Center stands out as one of his strongest qualifications.”
“He has a remarkable mastery of the issues concerning information technology, which are central to the functioning of a great research library,” Darnton said.
Reaction to the appointment from Palfrey’s family—which has had deep ties to Harvard for years—was ecstatic.
“We’re over the moon about it,” said Judith S. Palfrey ’67, the master of Adams House and the law professor’s mother.
Though Palfrey will continue to serve as director of the Berkman Center, Dr. Palfrey said she had little doubt her son would be able to balance his obligations, noting that he “already has demonstrated his ability to balance a wonderful family, with two little kids, and his professional and teaching responsibilities.”
Palfrey’s colleagues were even more bullish on his leadership abilities.
“He has vision, method, understanding,” said Charles R. Nesson ’60, the flamboyant professor who founded the Berkman Center in 1997. “Palfrey walks on water.”
—Staff writer Paras D. Bhayani can be reached at email@example.com.