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Graduate and Professional School Libraries

Harvard Law School Library

Harvard Law School Library


Report of John G. Palfrey, Vice Dean of Library and Information Resources and Henry N. Ess III Professor of Law


The primary mission of the Harvard Law School Library is to support the research and curricular needs of its current faculty and students. The library also supports the greater Harvard community and, to a lesser extent, the community of scholars and researchers around the world who are interested in subjects of or related to the law. 


The Harvard Law School Library (HLSL) began the year with the retirement of Harry S. Martin III, the Henry N. Ess III Librarian and Professor of Law. Professor Martin had been the librarian at the Law School Library since July 1, 1981. 

His successor, John G. Palfrey, Jr., became the Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources and the Henry N. Ess III Professor of Law effective August 4, 2008. Vice Dean Palfrey was formerly executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and clinical professor at the Harvard Law School.

HLSL has adopted three strategic goals for the library: to provide outstanding service to all our users, especially our faculty; to streamline and modernize our processes to take advantage of the best of the digital world while mitigating its risks; and to participate in the Law School's broad curriculum reform efforts. These three goals have driven much of the activity during the past year.

Management and Reorganization

In November 2008, library staff devised a new organizational plan that would allow the library to streamline functions and to be positioned to best achieve the strategic goals. A steering committee consisting of seven library staff members and chaired by the two existing associate librarians was appointed and charged with making a recommendation to Professor Palfrey for the reorganization of the library's functions. The Committee's report was presented on May 1, 2009. After being approved, work began on its implementation. A new management team was appointed on June 8, 2009 and the new organizational structure took effect on August 10, 2009.

The new library organization includes four main service units. They are:

  • Collection Development and Digitization
  • Discovery and Access
  • Management of Circulating Collections
  • Research Curriculum and Publication Support

All four units are supported by an underlying administrative unit that will not only provide traditional administrative support, but also take on project management and in-house training responsibilities.

Other notable attributes of the library's new organization include a commitment to a concierge level of service, engaging with users through social media, cross-unit training and communication, greater flexibility in work design, and the use of teams.  The new organization is less hierarchical than the previous one, which will allow greater flexibility to meet the needs of current and future library users.

The new organization also features Google's 80/20 model of diversification of work activities. Approximately 80% of each person's time will be spent on core work responsibilities. The remaining 20% offers opportunities for job enrichment through pursuit of interests outside of one's main unit.  This organizational feature was adopted in response to overwhelming staff interest in cross-divisional training and communication.


The Law Library began the year by imposing a hiring chill on vacant positions in order to maximize flexibility for the new staffing required by the upcoming reorganization. With the unexpected downturn of the economy in the fall of 2008, a subsequent chill on positions was imposed at the Law School generally.  The library also offered a voluntary separation package for library staff in September 2009. Fourteen professional staff members were offered the package and four accepted, including three department heads. In December 2009, nine support staff members were offered the same package and one accepted. All retirements were effective by the end of February 2009. Additionally, the University offered a Voluntary Early Retirement Incentive Package (VERIP) in March 2009 to eligible staff. Four library staff members accepted this package. By the end of the year, the Library staff had been reduced by 19 positions.

Public Services

The Library continued to offer and expand its high level of services during the period of reorganization.  To meet the increasing empirical research needs of the School's faculty, the Library hired a half time post-doctorate in Statistics to work with law students and faculty on research and publication projects.  The program was successful in terms of establishing substantial demand.

Suzanne Wones, Access Services Librarian, chaired the University's Scan and Deliver Task Force which implemented a new University wide library service that allows users to request scans of documents linked from the HOLLIS catalog.  The implementation of the new service began in March 2009. Although somewhat slow to start, the volume of requests began to pick up as the academic year wound down.  The program has been considered a resounding success and has required some redeployment of staff resources to keep up with the current demand. 

Instructional Web Developer/Analyst Denise Grey joined the Library staff in the fall of 2008.  Formerly a member of the Law School's Information Technology Services department, Denise is responsible for the oversight of the iSites course platform and other academic technology initiatives for the School.  This function is now housed in the Library.  Denise worked with members of the reference departments over the course of the year to create, expand and edit existing course websites and the Library's customized InfoAdvantage research portals.

The reference departments began using OCLC's QuestionPoint reference management software allowing users to interact with the Library in multiple ways, including chat and email.  The software also allows Librarians to create a knowledge base of answers to previously asked questions and provided a variety of reporting tools.  Use of QuestionPoint  streamlines services and improves user's experience.

Research Instruction

Library Reference staff participated as legal research instructors in the School's First Year Legal Research and Writing Program.   Librarians taught a series of research classes in the fall of the year that corresponded to the papers the students were writing.  In January, the same group of Librarians provided research classes and individual assistance to the students as they worked on their briefs for the Ames Moot Court program.  The international, foreign and comparative law reference librarians conducted group research classes for the entering LLM students in the Graduate Program in the fall.  All of the reference librarians provided individual research consultations with students throughout the year.  Two librarians were specifically assigned to assist student editors working on Law School journals and students in the School's clinical programs.


The Library began a major overhaul of its collection development practices and began work on its first comprehensive written collection development policy.  The Library had not previously produced a fully articulated written collection development policy for various reasons; chief among them was the fact that it traditionally had attempted to collect legal materials from the world's jurisdictions without limitation.  Given soaring publication costs and the explosion of both print and digital information, this ambitious collection practice can no longer be sustained.  Much of the upcoming year will be spent refining the collection policy to focus on obtaining legal materials that support our faculty's and students' research, those that are not readily available in a stable, citable digital format and need to be captured and preserved, and those that are closely aligned with the Library's historical areas of strength.  

Over the course of the year the Library cancelled a substantial number of print continuations and serials, choosing to rely instead on access to those materials through electronic resources.  This a significant departure from HLSL collecting practices.

Access and Digitization

Several more of the Library's collections were digitized during the past year.  Among them were a collection of documents, memorabilia and artwork from the Ruhleben World War I British internment camp in Germany, a small manuscript collection of war crimes materials from World War II, a collection of manuscript materials and photographs from a the Japanese War Crimes Trial, and a collection of Oliver Wendell Holmes's civil war memorabilia.


A decision was made to close the International Legal Studies Reading Room circulation and reference service points in order to streamline services and maximize savings.   The Reading Room collection was merged with the Library's main reference collection and the ILS service desks were closed in August of 2009.   The Reading Room will be retrofitted as a study space and lounge area for students in the School's Graduate Program, which primarily serves the international students.

Work on a project to move library materials housed in a basement of one of the Law School's buildings made progress.  The materials were relocated to the Harvard Depository.  The closing of this area leaves only one remaining closed stack area on the Law School campus.


With the downturn of the economy, the Law School requested that the Library return one percent of the current year budget to offset loss of current and future income.  This dollar amount did not have a significant effect on the materials and operations budget as most of this was absorbed by salary savings from the above-mentioned vacancies.

The normal budget preparation began with a request from the School for a five percent overall budget reduction.  This dollar amount was realized from contingent worker budgets, general operations and materials.  Later in the fiscal year, the School requested a budget reflecting a ten percent reduction.  This budget was submitted and accepted in June 2009.  The ten percent reduction required the Library to give up four of the chilled vacancies, approximately seventy-five percent of its contingent workers, and $570,000 from the materials budget. 


Going forward the Library faces the challenge to reach its new strategic goals with fewer resources.  Although positions relating to new strategic initiatives can begin to be filled, not all positions will be filled as quickly as originally anticipated.  New project launch dates may be delayed.  Due to the endowment losses, the Library's collection budget will be significantly less than last year's.  The Library has notified other law libraries that the Harvard Law School Library will no longer attempt to collect the laws of the world's jurisdictions, but will instead focus on collecting from those jurisdictions with unstable regimes, where the law is difficult to obtain, or where other measures are not being taken to protect the jurisdiction's legal record.  HLSL will no longer take responsibility for broadly collecting the world's legal output.  Instead, the Library will work with other law libraries to collaborate on collection responsibilities so that jurisdictions are covered and the law is adequately preserved. 


Despite the financial situation the Law Library staff is energized and eager to face the challenges and to seize the opportunities that confront libraries in today's fast-changing world of information.  The Law Library will not remain static but will continue to be reinvented as it grows into its new role.