Garber Prioritizes Library Reform

Having joined Harvard only a few months ago, Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 called reforming the Harvard University Library system his “number one” priority at Tuesday’s meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Professors packed into the meeting—the first of this academic year. Beyond the procedural necessities that are part of the year’s first meeting, professors in attendance at Tuesday’s gathering reviewed the evolving composition of the school’s faculty.

After the effects of the financial crisis constricted faculty searches, and the 2009 FAS retirement package shepherded the exit of many more seasoned professors, the seniority and demography of the existing FAS body has shifted.

Faculty members and administrators also discussed goings-on at the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and plans for Harvard’s upcoming 375th Anniversary.


In his remarks, Garber acknowledged that he is still learning to navigate the University’s organizational structure, after returning to his alma mater this fall. But he firmly defended the libraries as the top priority for the University.

In particular, Garber discussed the development of five library “affinity groups” as a step in developing the University’s vision of a collaborative, centralized library service.

“We have reached a milestone in this process with the decision of the library board to endorse an organizational change into five affinity groups,” Garber said at the meeting. “The purpose of this change is to enable the library system to work much better, to encourage coordination, and a better sense of shared service.”

The affinity group structure, announced late last week, will organize Harvard’s 73 different libraries into five different groups, each centered around a shared intellectual purpose.

“We are consolidating the libraries in a way that will save money, and that money saved will be plowed back into acquisitions and expanded services,” University Librarian Robert C. Darnton ’60 said. “It will make the library much stronger.”

Darnton affirmed that the library will be taking stock of its resources and will aggressively move toward its top priority of purchasing new volumes—or, as Darnton put it, “acquisitions, acquisitions, acquisitions.”


During the meeting, Dean for Faculty Affairs and Planning Nina Zipser addressed concerns that faculty attrition in FAS has been higher in recent years.

According to Zipser, FAS will engage more searches to ensure that the school will have the enough professors across its divisions to support its needs.

As FAS aggressively cut departmental budgets over fiscal years 2010 and 2011, faculty searches became more tightly regulated. In the Dec. 2008 Faculty Meeting, Smith announced the suspension the majority of faculty searches.


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