Harvard Library Report

Over the past nine months or so, a group of us have worked on a Harvard-wide Task Force to consider our library systems.  The report is being issued today by Harvard’s Provost, Steven E. Hyman, who chaired our Task Force.  Over the next year-plus, we will be working to implement changes in five key areas of the Harvard University library system.

Harvard is fortunate to have one of the great library systems in the world as a crown jewel.  The library system plays a central role in the intellectual life of our community, both as physical spaces and as resources of teaching and scholarship.  The 1200 or so library staff at Harvard, as I’ve come to learn, are simply extraordinary in terms of breadth and depth of talent.   But we can do more with what we have, and we can better position ourselves for the future — a future that will be “digital-plus” — than we are today.

As Provost Hyman wrote about the report:

“The report of the Task Force on University Libraries is a very thoughtful document about an extraordinary system. But it is also a stark rendering of a structure in need of reform. Our collections are superlative, and our knowledgeable library staff are central to the success of the University’s mission. The way the system operates, however, is placing terrible strain on the libraries and the people who work within them.

“Over time, a lack of coordination has led to a fragmented collection of collections that is not optimally positioned to respond to the 21st century information needs of faculty and students. The libraries’ organizational chart is truly labyrinthine in its complexity, and in practice this complexity impedes effective collective decision-making.

“Widely varying information technology systems present barriers to communication among libraries and stymie collaboration with institutions beyond our campus gates. Our funding mechanisms have created incentives to collect or subscribe in ways that diminish the vitality of the overall collection.

“Libraries the world over are undergoing a challenging transition into the digital age, and Harvard’s libraries are no exception. The Task Force report points us toward a future in which our libraries must be able to work together far more effectively than is the case today as well as to collaborate with other great libraries to maximize access to the materials needed by our scholars.”

I am excited to work with members of the Harvard library community and many others — inside and outside the community — to build on the promise of this report and the Harvard library system.