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Graduate and Professional School Libraries

Harvard Law School Library

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 mission of the Harvard Law School Library (HLSL) is to support the research and curricular needs of its faculty and students by providing a superb collection of legal materials and by offering the highest possible level of service. To the extent consistent with its mission, the library supports the research needs of the greater Harvard community, as well as scholars from outside the Harvard community requiring access to its unique collections.


Align the operations of the Law Library with the strategic initiatives outlined by the director.

1. Provision of information and services in a digital age

We have focused on implementing and expanding our open-access policy; identifying, digitizing, and making important materials from our special collections available on the Internet; enhancing our stewardship of e-resources; seeking new collaborative partnerships with other law libraries; and starting an innovative Library Lab to explore different and experimental ways to leverage what libraries offer.

2. Enhancement of services to the Faculty

HLSL has expanded support for empirical research and other interdisciplinary research, and is continually striving to strengthen and improve our document delivery services.

3. Participation in curricular reform

In response to the HLS curricular reform initiative, the Law Library has begun to provide assistance for the five new programs of study. We are adding support tailored to new first-year courses and to the Legal Research and Writing program, as well as making changes to our processes and collections that reflect changes in legal education, including clinical instruction and additional international offerings. Academic Technology has been integrated into the public services unit of the library, and there has been emphasis on the enhancement of those services.

Implement the new organizational model.

When HLSL undertook a major reorganization, the 11 existing departments, or "silos," were reconfigured as five broad, interconnected units. More than half the staff physically moved from one office to another, all job descriptions were rewritten, and reporting relationships changed. A special emphasis was put on streamlining technical services processes.

Hire new staff.

On July 1, 2009, HLSL had 81 staff members (approximately 78 FTE). Since then, we have hired 21 people who are completely new to the organization and we have promoted seven additional staff members.

Collection Development

HLSL has publicly posted its new collection development policy that reflects a hybrid print-digital approach; the library has reached out to other law libraries, on both a local and a national level, to collaborate on collection development and shared resources ("radical collaboration").

Public Services

We have made study space available in the library 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; document delivery services have been expanded to include students in the SJD, or doctor of juridical science, program and select fellows. We offer Scan and Deliver services to patrons, and we have Kindle e-readers available for circulation.

Technical Services

Acquisitions, receipts, serials, and cataloging have been reorganized to streamline processes and to reduce the number of times that each title is handled between selection and the shelf.


HLSL started a Library Lab to address what Director John Palfrey describes as a need for "...a theory of innovation at the highest level...We set out to free staff to do things that were different and experimental—and to think very broadly about incorporating research that we have about how people find information these days." The HLSL Lab is the model for the new University-wide Library Lab established in July 2010.


HLSL staff members are active in University-wide library committees. Committee areas that have been particularly active this year include collection development, e-resources, macros, and public services.


After a very busy year to transform our new and untested model into a highly effective organization, we believe that we are on track in establishing our mission. We continue to strive to develop a more efficient, nimble, and responsive library that serves the needs of the community and allows us to react to future challenges in this rapidly evolving library environment.

For the Future

In 2010–2011, our two overarching goals at the Harvard Law School Library should be

  • to demonstrate the effectiveness of our new organizational structure on behalf of the communities we serve and
  • to grow collectively and individually as a learning organization.

The implementation of our reorganization process, carried out over the past two years, is now behind us. Through much hard work, we have improved our operations in many areas already. Other challenges remain ahead of us, as they will throughout the transition period that libraries find themselves in generally. We ought to focus on continuing to make operational gains, to meet existing and new challenges as they arise, and to improve our skill sets and competencies as individuals and as an organization. Increasingly, too, we should work toward defining the kind of future that we hope and expect libraries to have—and to build that future, along with our partners.