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A Letter from the Director of the University Library

Dear Colleagues:

A few months ago, I called a special full-day meeting of the University Library Council. I felt that, as a group, we were due to step back from immediate concerns and review our priorities, individually as well as collectively. Common problems are the most salient for the ULC as a group. But our solutions to common problems are obviously informed by distinctly different situations within the individual faculties. In calling our retreat, I hoped to achieve two outcomes. The first was an increased mutual awareness of each of our situations. The second was a set of agenda items for the ULC for the coming years.

In advance of the retreat, each ULC member wrote and distributed a presentation on individual goals and common issues. Topics overall tended in the direction of common problems, though the individual/collective distinction was by no means absolute. Certain issues reverberated through all of the presentations. These included:

  • the future of the Library Digital Initiative;
  • the need for coordinated collection development and management, with an equal emphasis on traditional and digital holdings;
  • the effects of budgetary constraints and the need for budgetary models that take better account of the varying financial situations among the faculties;
  • the need for an effective, long-term response to current issues in scholarly communications.

Topics that might easily have been covered—with world enough and time—included the role of Harvard's libraries in distance learning, long-term staffing issues, improved delivery systems, copyright questions, library security, and the role of the libraries on the future campus in Allston.

While the ULC retreat did not result in any extraordinary news or any groundbreaking decisions, it has helped us to review our most common assumptions and to establish an agenda for the future. Some of our agenda items will continue to be the ones listed above, as well as:

  • security issues;
  • establishment of communications with the president and the provost on the libraries' potential role on the Allston campus;
  • a reevaluation of the delivery system from the Harvard Depository and the calculation of costs;
  • coordination with the faculty on scholarly communication issues.

Month by month, the ULC meets on pressing matters that, in recent years, have ranged from Harvard's next-generation integrated library system (the Aleph system that will go online on July 8) to human resource questions raised by the University. We continue to progress, to use a term coined years ago by University Librarian Keyes Metcalf, through "coordinated decentralization." Our retreat helped to establish the context in which we can take coordinated, decentralized action: we defined the common issues that Harvard's libraries face, and that we will address to benefit Harvard now and in the generations to come.

Sidney Verba
Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library

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Last modified on Thursday, April 18, 2002.