Harvard University Library
Semi-Annual CCDO & Technical Services Report
ALA Midwinter 2010
Finances remain the most pressing concern of Harvard’s libraries, and of the university as well. Early
indicators suggest that we’ve about reached our budgetary bottom, though any recovery still seems at
least a year away. In the meantime, several separate initiatives related to the library are likely to prove at
once disruptive and, we hope, transformative.
Budgets, staff, and collections:
Financial circumstances vary across the separately administered and funded units that comprise the
Harvard University Library. The Harvard College Library, a dependency of the Faculty of Arts and
Sciences that accounts for a bit less than two-thirds of the University Library’s purchases and activity, has
seen its budget drop by about $12M over the past year. HCL’s ranks have thinned by about 100 positions
(through a combination of early retirements, vacant jobs eliminated from the organization, and layoffs);
more than 1,000 print subscriptions have been abandoned as we transition toward electronic versions of
serials that provide trustworthy arrangements for archiving; services have been trimmed wherever
possible. Our collections budgets have been affected as well, and face the further impact of a predicted
12% drop in endowment returns for the coming fiscal year.
Paradoxically, cutbacks in the College Library’s structural funding for acquisitions have in recent years
been repeatedly and unexpectedly offset by influxes of one-time funds. Extraordinary current-use gifts, a
$1M grant from the University’s president, $700K in one-time foundation support, and transfers to draw
down a few large (non-collections) fund balances have helped to sustain HCL’s annual spending around
the $19M mark. The signs now, and again, point toward substantial decline in the coming fiscal year—
but recent experience suggests that these forecasts won’t necessarily come true.
Other units within the Harvard University Library have shrunk as well, at levels and rates that reflect each
faculty or school’s distinct income streams and endowment dependencies, as well as varying approaches
to absorbing one-time reductions. Some units may thus face further layoffs for the coming fiscal year, as
well as sharp reductions in other budget categories. The impacts for Harvard’s library collections and
services in the aggregate are not yet clear.
Meantime, digitization work continues apace through ongoing programs to convert text, image, and audio
files. Well over 2M locally-owned images, some born digital, are now available through Harvard’s VIA
system. Internal funds are supporting digitization streams for images, medieval manuscripts, music
scores, ethnomusicological field recordings, poetry readings, and pamphlets, among other materials. New
partnerships are also taking shape, most notably a multi-year, multi-$M project with the National Library
of China to digitize our more than 50K Chinese rare books, many not available within China itself.
Structures and services:
Harvard’s Provost convened a Task Force on University Libraries, charged with recommending measures
to increase efficiency and improve services, in the spring of 2009. The Task Force membership drew
heavily from the faculty, who were also prominent on its four working groups (concerned with
collections, information technology, research and teaching, and the library as place). The Task Force
report was submitted to the president and provost late in the fall, and then shared throughout the campus
community. Its recommendations focus particularly on rationalizing and simplifying our vauntingly
complicated (a.k.a. “labyrinthine”) organization, which in large measure reflects the idiosyncratic
accretions and entitlements of more than 350 years of history. In this context, even the most innocuous
proposals are likely to provoke controversy. We expect years of adjustments, improvements, and
change—and a comparable period of alternating euphoria, entertainment, and anxiety. An
“Implementation Working Group,” composed of high-level University administrators, directors of key
library units, and a single faculty member as chair, will now carry the recommendations forward. Task-
oriented “subgroups” will be convened as well. At least some tangible results are expected by the end of
Some changes may prove profound. Recommendations to unify the University’s negotiating voice and
funding structure for bundled electronic resources, for example; or to sharply reduce the number of
autonomous departmental libraries whose narrow mandates can work at cross purposes to broader
priorities, will fundamentally alter relationships among our libraries, constituents, and the outside world.
It remains utterly unclear whether the Harvard College Library, or any other of the University Library’s
component units, will assume a significantly different relationship or role vis-à-vis the Harvard University
All of Harvard’s libraries anticipate substantial change as a result of the Task Force report. Many units
are independently making shifts of their own, typically as a result of continuing processes that have been
accelerated or reinforced by the financial crunch. The Harvard Kennedy School Library, for instance, is
renovating its space and sharply reducing its collections footprint as it focuses more closely on services to
students and faculty. The Law School Library has been somewhat downsized and substantially
reorganized. Its collections-related shifts encompass aggressive measures to minimize cross-format
duplication, including a deliberate inversion of collecting priorities for foreign law. The library
traditionally privileged hardcopy legal resources from wealthy, high-profile nations like Great Britain and
Germany, paying less attention to less central countries and regions. Resources from affluent nations are
nowadays readily available online, and also routinely preserved by in-country agencies. The materials
most at risk, by contrast, come from poor and/or unstable countries. These will now be emphasized.
Within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, bibliographers and research librarians are meeting with every
academic unit and department in order to explain the College Library’s budget limitations and elicit
The Harvard University Library functions as an umbrella organization for some of the University’s ca. 75 libraries.
It also provides and manages such central services as our OPAC and other discovery systems, the Harvard
Depository for off-site storage, and a sophisticated conservation facility. HUL enjoys a modest budget of its own,
but derives much of its income from charge-backs for the services it provides. HUL’s two veteran Associate
Directors, Dale Flecker and Barbara Graham, have recently retired. Helen Shenton, from the British Library, will
soon assume a new, unified post as HUL’s Deputy Director, from which she will help to carry forward the Task
Force recommendations and also manage HUL’s operations. Prof. Robert Darnton is the Director of HUL.
advice for collections priorities in an era when the unstated (albeit always unrealistic) expectation of
“we’ll have it before you even know you need it” must cede to a different understanding and a new kind
of partnership. Our conversations are structured around faculty perceptions of the resources that they
require for their teaching and to support their current research, as well as those that should be acquired
now to ensure that the library can meet the needs of scholars a generation hence. (This third question,
which assumes that respondents can anticipate future priorities on the basis of their own research, general
knowledge of the field, and insights from graduate student projects, has consistently proven difficult.)
The process continues.
As indicated, the Harvard College Library’s collections budgets have thus far held up surprisingly well.
Deeper cuts are likely with time, but our reductions to date have primarily affected such discretionary
purchases as newspaper backfiles, big ticket items, and large sets that we can normally purchase as
needed, down the road. (The possible marketplace impact of many libraries adopting the same stance
may be a topic for CCDO.)
Other HCL operations are in the midst of more substantial change. Our principal (though by no means
only) technical services operation, some 80 persons strong, is about to reorganize itself after a year of
intense planning and preparation. The new structure will focus on functional areas and workflows (for
example shelf-ready materials, resources with good catalog copy, materials requiring original cataloging,
technological support, etc.), rather than the current emphasis on the geographic origin and language of our
monographic orders and receipts. The new organization will support quicker access as it reduces
handling and better leverages staff skills. Major changes in the HCL-TS organization of services since
June include increased use of technology with the introduction of WorldCat Selection; a pilot for using
YBP shelf-ready services; automated methods to collect and report acquisitions and cataloging statistics
that will also provide additional collection management data; the integration and relocation of additional
technical services units to our off-site facility; elimination of our processing backlog; and the elimination
of serial check-in for the ca. 9,000 titles that are housed in the Widener Periodicals (Reading Room)
The College Library more generally is edging toward a vision of centrally managed common operations
in support of locally distinct arrays of services, collections, and staff expertise. Access services;
reference, teaching, and learning; and preservation are among the functions whose models may shift.
These changes should mesh well with the broad thrust of the Provost’s Task Force report. The Lamont
Library, our venerable undergraduate facility, is being re-imagined as a dynamic learning hub,
collaborative space, and multimedia workshop. Its collections footprint will lighten, and the related
operations will become more agile. Finally, in a process directly congruent with the Task Force
recommendations, a number of independent science libraries, generally associated with departments or
museums, are being merged into the College Library.
The intense financial and service pressures associated with “Big Deal” packages and e-aggregator
business models are matters of growing concern across all of the university. The Provost’s Task Force
has particularly highlighted these issues, even as the University Library’s Office for Scholarly
Communication (and others) strive for better understandings and new responses. The Faculty of Arts and
Sciences, the Law School, the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Graduate School of Education have all
passed legislation mandating deposits of scholarly articles to the University’s Open Access repository,
DASH (“Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard,” http://dash.harvard.edu ). Other faculties are
expected to sign on as well, though some—most notably the Business School—may not follow suit. (The
Business School derives substantial revenue from the case studies that comprise a major component of its
The mechanics of clearing author rights and actually depositing manuscripts into DASH have affected
compliance levels, resulting in typical measures to provide one-on-one assistance to users, and also
larger-scale negotiations with publishers to secure blanket deposit authorizations for all Harvard authors.
The Office for Scholarly Communication is engaged in additional activities as well, for example the
“Compact for Open Access Publishing Equity,” by which Harvard (along with other universities) agrees
to subsidize local author fees to open access journals when other funds are not available. The broader
conundrum of finding ways to ease the budgetary pressures associated with subscription journals while
the Open Access model continues to mature is increasingly central. Numerous discussion papers and
preliminary proposals are already in play. The impacts of these alternatives for the library are likely to be
deep and disruptive.
That’s par for our course in this brave new decade.
Associate Librarian of Harvard College for Collection Development
Associate Librarian of Harvard College for Collection Management