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Following Restructuring, Libraries Report Large Savings

A view of Widener Library from Harvard Yard shortly after sunrise.
A view of Widener Library from Harvard Yard shortly after sunrise.
By Karl M. Aspelund, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard’s library system has reduced spending by $25 million in aggregate since 2009, largely due to a multi-year restructuring effort completed in 2012, according to an update distributed to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences prior to its meeting on Tuesday.

A working group developed a savings benchmark of $20 million in 2009 and 2010 based on projections about efficiency gains and reducing duplications in collections. That group crafted goals for the integration of the University’s 73 libraries into a single Harvard Library based on recommendations from a 2009 report from the task force on University libraries. The savings are calculated relative to the 2009 budget inflated to current dollars, according to the update obtained by The Crimson.

From 2010 to 2012, University administrators reshuffled and streamlined administrative positions in the library system to reduce inefficiencies and reallocate resources to better balance the needs of a centralized library.

The number of employees in the library system dropped from 1,094 in 2009 to 771 in 2015, a nearly 30 percent decrease, the document says. The restructuring effort included transfers of staff to other administrative offices—such as human resource staff and technology specialists—but also involved controversial cuts to staffing. Spending on salaries decreased from 53.2 to 50 percent of total spending within the library system between 2009 and 2014.

There is a multi-year plan in place to reduce the Harvard Library’s budget by another $7 million, according to the document, with total savings expected to exceed $32 million from 2009 expenditures by 2020. The document’s title, meanwhile, suggests a sense of conclusion: “Closing the Book on the Transition: The Harvard Library.”

Reforms stretched into 2013, including new administrative hires like Sarah E. Thomas, who was appointed vice president for the Harvard Library and later that year to head the FAS libraries. Following the departure of Robert C. Darnton ’60 last June, Thomas was also named University Librarian, placing her clearly at the helm of the library system.

Suggesting that “budgetary accomplishments hardly resonate in the academic community,” the document also highlights various initiatives Harvard has undertaken alongside the restructuring efforts, including the new HOLLIS+ online search feature, borrowing services within Harvard and between other schools, digitization initiatives, and budget increases for collecting new sources.

The Harvard Library increased the portion of its spending on materials from 28.7 percent in 2009 by 36.4 percent in 2014, the document says. The University’s investment in library materials now totals $44.8 million, beating Yale, its nearest peer, by $6 million.

Thomas will present an update on the library system to the Faculty at its monthly meeting on Tuesday. A brochure on the Harvard Library for the University’s ongoing capital campaign was also distributed to faculty members ahead of the meeting.

Harvard’s library system is the largest academic library in the world. In the United States, only the Library of Congress and the Boston Public Library system contain more volumes, according to the American Library Association. Both are public libraries.

—Staff writer Karl M. Aspelund can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @karlaspelund.

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