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The Graduate and Professional School Libraries

John F. Kennedy School of Government Library

Report of Ellen Isenstein, Director


The library was established in 1978 when the School moved to its present location on JFK Street. The print collection, which consists of approximately 59,000 volumes and 1,600 serial subscriptions, reflects the multidisciplinary nature of the School’s teaching and research activities.

The goals of the KSG library are:

  • to provide a working collection of up-to-date materials in the areas of public policy, government and politics, management, international affairs, and related areas;
  • to offer expert guidance to students, faculty, and other researchers in locating, evaluating, and making efficient use of information resources relevant to the interests of the Kennedy School; and
  • to serve as a gateway to the wealth of information resources available at Harvard and beyond.

This was an eventful year for the Kennedy School Library. While our day-to-day activities continued unabated, we undertook several new initiatives relating to library outreach, planning, and staffing. Here are the highlights.


Web Redesign

During the summer, we planned and executed a major redesign of the library web site. To enhance its usability, we placed direct links to important information, such as our hours and borrowing policies, in prominent positions on the home page. We also added some “self-help” features to make it easier for people to find and use library resources independently. One new addition was a “How do I…”drop-down menu that leads to basic information on finding books, journal articles, course materials, etc. Another was a list of annotated guides to Harvard library electronic resources on specific topics such as economics, health policy, and environmental studies. Other improvements include a highly visible “Ask a Librarian” button and expanded space for library news.

Library Blog

In the spring, we began a blog to communicate news about library activities, new print and electronic resources, research tips from the reference librarians, and other information useful to the Kennedy School community. The blog software lets us quickly post new items and generates an archive of earlier postings that can be easily searched or browsed. One particularly useful feature of the blog is that it provides a vehicle for highlighting noteworthy new books and DVDs. Each week, we pick out a few titles that are likely to be of particular interest at the School and feature them in a blog entry that includes direct links to the HOLLIS catalog. It is gratifying that our usage statistics indicate a high level of hits for these postings.

Library Planning

User Survey

In order to assess the quality of our services and identify areas for improvement, we conducted a survey of the entire Kennedy School community in April. The survey instrument we used, LibQUAL+, is a web-based product developed by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). Participants were asked to rate our customer service, physical space, and adequacy and accessibility of print and electronic resources. The design of the survey allowed us to measure gaps between users’ expectations and their perceptions of actual quality of service. ARL provided us with a detailed report of the results that has been useful for determining future priorities.

Space Consultant

In late spring, the School hired a library consultant for advice on optimizing the use of existing space. After working intensively with the library staff and gathering information from a variety of sources, the consultant identified a number of changes that could realistically be made in the relatively short-term future. As the summer approached, we began planning to create a new quiet study area and a space dedicated to group study.

Staffing Changes

As a result of the circulation department reorganization that took place the previous year, we were left with funding for one additional half-time position. After analyzing our staffing needs, we determined that we could most benefit from this opportunity by creating a position with responsibilities for both reference assistance and web design. Our new web specialist/reference librarian was able to complete the web redesign project we had initiated before her arrival and make innumerable enhancements to our web site as the year progressed. Among these were the blog referred to above, an interactive form for the submission of reserve requests, a HOLLIS search box on the library home page, and a web page offering library users the chance to “chat with a librarian” using their favorite instant messaging program.

Other Activities


Circulation from our DVD collection continued at a high rate, while it held steady for books in the general collection. Reserve circulation continued to decline, however. As in the past, this was likely due to the faculty’s increased use of deep links on course pages to journal articles from electronic resources that the Harvard libraries license. The increasing availability of this material online is saving our students a good deal of time and money. In the past, to access journal articles required for classes, students either had to come to the library to borrow them from the reserve collection, or pay to purchase them in course packets, priced to cover the royalties publishers charge for reproduction rights. With links directly on course pages, students can access material remotely. And since the costs are covered by the subscription fees paid by the libraries, the students incur no additional charges.

Research Assistance

Reference librarians provided highly effective assistance to students, faculty, and other researchers in navigating and using Harvard’s enormous array of library resources. While the overall number of reference inquiries has declined, their level of difficulty has increased. Often researchers are using Google or Google Scholar to locate information that can be retrieved by simple searches. When they come to a reference librarian, typically they are looking for material that can be found only by consulting a number of specialized resources and searching them with sophisticated techniques. In addition to one-on-one research assistance, the reference staff conducted numerous group training sessions ranging from basic overviews of library research at Harvard to customized workshops for specific courses and research centers.

Acquisitions and Collection Management

Since our collection is primarily a working one, and shelving space is limited, each year we must weed many infrequently used older books to make room for new ones. In the past, we were fortunate to be able to depend on the College Library’s Gifts and Exchange Department to take care of the ultimate disposition of this material. The elimination of Gifts and Exchange the previous year left us with a considerable challenge. We needed an outlet that provided pickup service, did not impose shipping charges, did not require us to prepare lists of the items we were de-accessioning, and made a concerted effort to relocate the material to areas of the world where it could be of most use. The technical services staff devoted a good deal of time to investigating options and trying out various organizations to find one that would work for us. Fortunately, their efforts paid off, and they were finally able to make an arrangement with an organization that met all our criteria.

Keeping our acquisitions spending in line with our budget is becoming an increasing challenge. An ever-growing portion of the budget is now going to electronic materials, and much of our spending in that area is not discretionary. Many of the electronic journals we subscribe to are part of packages that do not allow for cancellation of individual titles. And our costs for the resources we share with other Harvard libraries are based on usage, which can not be predicted in advance with any degree of accuracy. Adding to the budgeting challenge is the fact that prices for print materials continue to increase. Textbooks, in particular, have become extraordinarily expensive, with a price tag of $200 not unusual for texts in some fields. The good news is that there are developments on the horizon in scholarly communication and coordinated collection development that might provide some relief in the not too distant future.

Virtual Book Tour

Our Virtual Book Tour featured books by 11 members of the Kennedy School Faculty during the academic year. The web site draws an impressive amount of traffic, with over 10,000 unique visitors in a typical month.

Staff News

Two members of the staff were honored with the Dean’s Award for Academic Excellence this year. Dev Kernan, acquisitions assistant, and Susan Bailey, serials assistant, were recognized for the excellent quality of their work as well as their dedication to community service activities for the Kennedy School and the University.