Harvard Library Reorganization: President, Provost, Protests

The administration says reorganizations, and staff reductions, will support better user experiences and a stronger system.

In a message sent to the entire Harvard community on February 10, Provost Alan Garber reiterated that forthcoming changes to the University's library system are “essential” to bring consistency, improve library users’ experience, and bring the libraries smoothly into the twenty-first century. His message followed a community e-mail from President Drew Faust, disseminated on February 8, on the same subjects. On the day between those messages, library staff members, understandably concerned about the possibility of widespread but as yet unspecified layoffs and internal job reassignments, staged a protest rally (as the Crimson reports).

Town-hall meetings in January revealed that the workforce for the restructured library system would be smaller than the current workforce. Garber, who is overseeing the changes, mentioned these concerns without providing further details, writing:

There also will be changes that affect staff at every level of the library system. The details of many of these changes are being developed, and they will be announced in the coming weeks. It is clear at this point, however, that they will include but not be limited to adjustments in how and where many staff members perform the work that has made the Library one of the University’s greatest treasures.

He acknowledged that “members of the talented library staff are anxious to see how the transition will affect them as individuals,” but expressed  confidence “that our new strategic direction will ultimately produce gratifying new responsibilities and career development opportunities.”

And he lauded the library staff: "The support for research, teaching, and learning that they provide is unequaled. Their understanding of user needs is unmatched."

Garber emphasized that the plan for library reorganization was recommended by a library board composed of faculty members and adminstrators from across the University and that it was “the product of a lengthy and deliberate process…shaped by deep organizational analysis and widespread consultation with many individuals and groups in the libraries” and across Harvard’s various schools.

The new library structure—shown in this multipage organizational chart—“enables Harvard to respond nimbly to the constantly shifting demands of the information age,” Garber wrote. He said it would replace “a fragmented system of 73 libraries spread across the schools” that have just as many access policies. The message included a link to a list of anticipated benefits, not only for library users but also for library staff members.

The changes, he wrote, are needed to ensure that Harvard “will continue to set the standard for academic libraries worldwide.”

For an overview of the libraries and the challenges they face, particularly in an era of digital information resources, see the Harvard Magazine feature, “Gutenberg 2.0.” See these news reports for coverage of the recommended restructuring, the new senior library management, and the new administrative structure.

The process of achieving that goal, obviously, is proving challenging—most immediately for the hundreds of library employees throughout the University whose work status is now in a state of limbo. According to the Crimson’s report on the February 9 rally, for example, “Library assistant Jeffrey Booth, who has worked at Harvard libraries for nearly 26 years, said that the threat of staff reductions makes him worried about his family. ‘Our futures are at stake.…We’ve already had to make tough personal decisions because of the threat of being laid off.’”

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