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Harvard College Library




During the past year, HCL administrators and staff have dedicated a significant portion of time to change and reform across all the libraries of Harvard. In 2009, the Provost's Task Force on University Libraries was established to make "clear recommendations to the President and Deans to adapt the Harvard Library system to the 21st century and to make a stronger and more efficient system." The Task Force produced a report in November 2010 that outlined core recommendations and key principles informing the work of the Library Implementation Work Group (LIWG) in 2010 and guiding future change. In general, the report is intended to "inform those who will be implementing change within the libraries." Therefore, it provides an overarching framework and guidance to the planning taking place within HCL.

While we await changes that will evolve from LIWG's work, HCL will seek efficiencies in greater centralization of technical and access services, and will advocate for standardized practices and well-defined policies that will enable our distributed libraries to be more effective in meeting users' needs. Our overall objective is to reduce costs in process-intensive work in order to protect the acquisitions budgets to the fullest extent possible. Going forward, HCL expects to align its efforts closely with the plans that are emerging for all of Harvard's libraries. Given that HCL's mission is primarily tied to supporting the teaching and research of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, its academic priorities continue to inform our planning as well.

An organizational development consultant has been engaged to work with the HCL administration to facilitate key elements in a planning process. A set of guiding principles that will form a broad philosophy has been developed to guide the planning. These include:

  • user-centered design (to optimize our services and systems in response to what people want and need for their work, rather than forcing users to adapt to library-driven preferences);

  • an emphasis on engagement and accountability, both for the organization and for individuals within it; and

  • agility, referring to our ability to respond to change, to think strategically, and to create new approaches.

Six areas of strategic importance that will be the focus of HCL's planning efforts are:

  • giving more focused attention to the development of collections and content, both digital and analog, to be an effective participant in moving to a "one-University" collection;

  • continuing to place a high priority on greater centralization of technical services in order to provide the intellectual infrastructure that facilitates access to our diverse collections, continuing work that has been under way for many years but is now feasible with the recent changes at 625 Mass. Ave;

  • striving to achieve a common user experience across all access services points that will include standardization of policies and procedures and centralized oversight of programs;

  • seeking optimal use of administrative support across all units to ensure a shared base of knowledge is in place to work with financial and HR systems, operations, etc.;

  • further developing our organizational capacity for research, teaching, and learning; and

  • enhancing user access to special collections.

It is a time of extraordinary change for large research libraries. The pace of technological change is affecting all aspects of work, from the manner in which content is produced to the ways in which users expect to work with us: they want more, better, faster, virtually, and often on mobile devices, which is fine as long as we can make sure they also know how much there is to use and explore in the physical realm as well. As we move ever more rapidly into the digital realm, many of Harvard's libraries still have significant responsibilities for the legacy collections within our care, and we are constantly reminded of the speed with which digital content can disappear from the net and elsewhere. Our roles in acquiring and organizing content, providing users access to authentic and reliable sources, and teaching effective strategies for searching and using collections and online content are not going away. How we shape our organization over the coming years, and how we anticipate and plan for the skills, knowledge, capabilities, and expertise that will be needed in the future—these will determine HCL's agility, its ability to embrace user-centered design, and its potential as a workplace that fosters engagement.