Harvard and MIT Share Libraries

Harvard and MIT have opened large parts of their library collections to undergraduates at both schools in a new partnership announced yesterday.

Students from the two universities can now apply online or in person for borrowing privileges at their counterpart institution. Harvard students will be able to access MIT libraries including the school’s expansive engineering collection, while MIT students will have access to most of Harvard College Library. HCL, which manages the circulation of over 11 million items, is the largest unit within Harvard’s library system.

The collaboration, a 14-month pilot program, comes as Harvard is reexamining its current library structure and looking to increase access to materials not found in the University’s own libraries. A similar agreement with MIT has already served faculty members and graduate students at Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences since 1995.

“It’s really a wonderful thing,” said Lynne M. Schmelz, who heads Cabot Library, the undergraduate science library.

Marilyn Wood, an associate librarian for collection management at HCL, said that planning for the pilot program began last fall as part of the library’s effort to streamline its operations. “It’s really an opportunity for us to look at different models of collaboration,” Wood said.

Harvard’s library system—with its 73 separate libraries, “labyrinthine” administrative structure, and redundant collection policies—is in the midst of an internal overhaul. A Task Force was convened last spring to examine the library system and released a report in November outlining a series of suggestions to help equip the library system for the 21st century.

The Task Force’s final report emphasized that Harvard can no longer “harbor delusions” of having a completely comprehensive collection and should work to ensure that students and faculty have access to the materials they need. The report recommended greater sharing of journal subscriptions and collaboration with outside institutions such as through Borrow Direct—a library consortium that includes many Ivy League schools and allows for rapid book request and delivery.

Divinity School Professor David Lamberth, Chair of the Library Implementation Work Group, said that yesterday’s initiative is a small step toward’s the University’s greater library reform goals. Later this month, the work group will establish a subgroup focusing on external collaborations.

“The trick about collaboration is about finding things that are good for both parties,” Lamberth said.

While the current graduate student program has affected only “a fraction of our collection,” Wood said that HCL will be evaluating how undergraduates respond to the newly expanded access.

“We don’t anticipate that it will be a huge drain” on HCL’s resources, she said.

—Staff writer Noah S. Rayman can be reached at nrayman@fas.harvard.

—Staff writer Elyssa A.L. Spitzer can be reached at