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Library System Seeks to Reduce Staff

By Justin C. Worland, Crimson Staff Writer

The Harvard University Library system will seek to reduce the size of its approximately 930 person workforce as part of the ongoing restructuring of the world’s largest academic library, according to a transcript of remarks made by Harvard University Library Executive Director Helen Shenton at one of three town hall meetings held Thursday.

“The new organizational design has not yet been approved, but it is certain that it will be different from the current one,” said Shenton at one of the town hall meetings. “A key change: the Library workforce will be smaller than it is now.”

The University is considering both voluntary and involuntary options to reduce staff, but prefers voluntary methods, Shenton said. While Harvard has laid off employees in the past, the University has at times also offered some staff voluntary early retirement packages or waited for attrition to reduce staff.

University Librarian Robert C. Darnton ’60 told The Crimson in the fall that the restructuring would aim to make the libraries more efficient.

“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,” Darnton said at the time. “It will make the library much stronger.”

After the University consolidates multiple libraries, some positions will be redundant.

Staff reductions will be necessary due to this overlap, according to a University spokesperson.

“There are opportunities to become a more effective and more efficient organization,” the spokesperson said. “Many of the changes will come in areas where there are currently duplicate efforts.”

Prior to Thursday’s meetings, rumors and speculation circulated amongst library employees about the implications of the library restructuring.

“All of Harvard library staff have just effectively been fired,” read one tweet that circulated on Thursday after the first town hall had begun.

Others suggested that the restructuring would require that all library employees reapply to keep their current positions.

The University strongly refuted this statement, but recommended that all employees file an Employee Profile “to state job preferences, to articulate skills and to provide a resume.”

Still, library officials left many other questions unanswered, according to Director of Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers Bill Jaeger.

“There were vague references made to reductions in the size of the staff,” said Jaeger. “Despite persistent questions from the audience the [library] leaders were not able or willing to provide anything more specific than that.”

Though Jaeger said that he does not see the rationale for staff cuts, he recommended that the University employ “more enlightened” voluntary methods if staff is to be reduced.

“Our contract with the University requires union–management consultation when a department is considering [such changes],” Jaeger said. “We’re pretty confident that as this goes forward we’ll continue to hear from them.”

The staff reduction comes as part of a larger reorganization of library personnel that will be presented for approval next week to the Library Board, the body overseeing the library’s long-term transformation.

The Board is then responsible for presenting the plan to University President Drew G. Faust.

The University chose to share the decision to reduce staff despite the lack of the details to encourage a dialogue between Library officials and employees, according to a University spokesperson.

Pending the plan’s acceptance, more detailed explanations of the organizational changes will be revealed during library staff meetings in February.

—Staff writer Justin C. Worland can be reached at jworland@college.harvard.edu.

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