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Librarians' Assembly Addresses Front-Line Collaboration with Faculty

The Fall meeting of the Librarians' Assembly, held on December 11, 2003, at the Gutman Conference Center, was entitled "Front-Line Collaboration: Harvard Librarians Discuss Librarian/Faculty Collaboration in Support of the Teaching and Research Goals of the University." The event opened with state-of-the-library comments from Sidney Verba, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library. Assembly speakers included Ardys Kozbial, visual resources librarian at the Frances Loeb Library of the Harvard Design School; Carrie Kent, head of research services, and Mary Beth Clack, research librarian, both of the Harvard College Library; and Melissa Shaffer, acting executive director of the Baker Library of the Harvard Business School. James Engell, Gurney Professor of English Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature, served as moderator.

In his remarks, Sidney Verba reported on the Library Digital Initiative (LDI) and shared the results of a favorable outside report on the project. "The nice thing about the review by this outside committee of the LDI is that Harvard now is a leader, a place to which other libraries turn, in terms of their capacity to manage digital information," Verba said. "The LDI has created an infrastructure for acquiring information, making it available, and what may be the most important thing—preserving it for an indefinite future. The next stage of the LDI, as the provost has asked, as that committee suggested, and as we think is appropriate, is taking this capacity and making sure that it is being used. That is, we now have the capacity to store and make available visual material, finding aids, various kinds of materials—and now we just want to make sure that the faculty is aware of it, to work with the faculty, to work with researchers, to work with users of the library to make sure that it is used." He described one LDI-related initiative, the Open Collections Program, which is an effort to compile digital libraries related to specific topics, the first of which is "Women Working." Verba also commented on changes to Harvard's agreement with journal publisher Elsevier (see A Letter from Sidney Verba).

Following Verba's remarks, Ardys Kozbial opened the Assembly program itself. Kozbial spoke on an LDI grant-funded program at the Loeb Library's Visual Resources Department that will allow it to digitize a portion of its collection. Because digitization is not possible for the department's entire collection of some 225,000 images, the priority, Kozbial explained, is to digitize those images most used by faculty and students. Kozbial and other staff members are sitting in on a set of six core classes required for all Design School students. "Our priority is to figure out which images are actually seen in class. Those are our first priority," she said. "Then we come out with a list of sites that are taught and sites that are referred to—buildings, landscape forms, and so on. We have a master list. We digitize what's seen in class first, and then fill in the rest."

HCL's Carrie Kent and Mary Beth Clack jointly described the role of research librarians in Widener and detailed some of their experiences with students and faculty. Kent also filled in some of the history of the liaison program in Widener Library, which provides support for teaching and instructional services to students. Recalling the creation of the program in 1991 and its evolution to its present state, she noted that today, nearly every one of the FAS humanities departments has a liaison. She noted that the librarians become important parts of their students' academic lives, a development that she had not foreseen when she developed the program. "For the students and faculty, it is personal. Entrusting your academic future and research to another person is difficult and oftentimes dangerous," she said. "My liaisons need the freedom and time to grow their programs. They also need my support and sometimes my protection. . . . It has changed how I hire. Yes, academic credentials are very important. Yes, library experience is very important. But the ability to teach brilliantly, and the ability to develop and sustain these relationships, are just as, if not more, important."

Clack spoke on three closely related abilities which she feels are most important to liaison work: outreach, building credibility, and allowing reflection on accumulated experience to inform adjustments to the program. Clack said that one of her outreach methods is to make an effort to attend lectures by visiting scholars at the Barker Center for the Humanities. "I've found that this is really an excellent way to learn more about what current trends are in study and research in the field, to meet scholars from other universities . . . and it's also a time to see more students and faculty. They approach you, they ask you questions, they remember that you were there. You're definitely where they are, which I think is the big key to this work," she said. "So going to the Barker Center convinces me that we're even more effective when we meet students where they gather, seeing them in their context, observing their relationships with their colleagues, how they frame questions and opinions, learning what they're passionate about. The more time we spend being part of their world, the more prepared we will be to make relevant contributions to the academic community that we serve."

Melissa Shaffer, the Assembly's final speaker, discussed the Harvard Business School's hierarchical thesaurus project. The purpose of the thesaurus, Shaffer explained, is "to reflect the business management knowledge base—the research and the study—that's going on at Harvard Business School. It will include terms that are prevalent in academia—the work of the Business School itself—but will also include terms from corporate and popular business culture. We knew we couldn't just build an academic list of business terms. In order for this to be used with all of the information out there, the relationship between 'sixth sigma' and 'quality management'—all of those popular business culture terms—had to be a part of the thesaurus." Once the Baker Library team had the thesaurus down to between 5,000 and 10,000 terms, business school faculty were invited to select terms that they felt they needed to build their own taxonomies. Shaffer cited an example that underscored the need for a unifying document: "One faculty member used the word 'acquisition' to describe their work. When we first showed this to the faculty research directors, they said, 'Well, that's not really right, isn't acquisitions like mergers and acquisitions?' But no—this faculty's research is about procurement. Being able to put it in context, to 'see' references and look at terms within the hierarchy of the thesaurus, adds context and meaning to the information that's available on this site." Shaffer stated that the thesaurus, when completed, could easily be made available on the HOLLIS portal.

Commenting on the Assembly overall, Moderator Engell noted, "These wonderful talks have exemplified not just front-line collaboration, but collaboration in the supply lines and also collaboration back in the general headquarters. . . . Certainly, librarians are acting and thinking more like teachers and teachers are realizing how important it is to recognize that fact."

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Last modified on Tuesday, January 20, 2004.