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veritasHarvard University Library Notes, For Harvard Library Staff, Number 1336 March 2007

Harvard University Library Notes / March 2007 / No. 1336

A Letter from Sidney Verba: On the ULC Review of the Library Committee Structure

Dear Colleagues,

The University Library Council (ULC) has proposed changes to the committee structure through which the Harvard library system operates. The ULC envisions an overall structure that will simultaneously increase clarity and facilitate meaningful oversight. Committees will be fewer in number and stronger in their connections to the ULC.

We will shift to the new committee structure incrementally: while there will be no single cutoff or cutover date, the ULC fully expects the new structure to be in place and fully functional by the beginning of the fall 2007 semester.


About two years ago, the University Library Council began a review of the committee structure in the University Library. Such committees provide the coordination that is necessary given the decentralized nature of Harvard and its library system. At the same time, there were concerns about the committee system, including concern about the number of committees, that some were inactive, that some were not adequately monitored or not properly connected to other relevant committees, and that some did not have the correct membership.

There was also concern about the balance of committee work and the main jobs of individuals. The committee system had not been reviewed for a long time. It needed such a review.

The ULC conducted a large survey of the committees, gathering material on all of them: their sizes, their charges, their modes of operation, their agendas, and so forth. The survey confirmed that there were indeed many committees.

It also revealed that the system was working fairly well. The committees did important work and usually did it well. There were, however, some problems of the sort mentioned above that deserved addressing. And though there were a lot of committees (some of which were not perhaps needed), there were gaps in the structure that needed to be filled by new or restructured committees to match the changing nature of the library. And there was an overall lack of clarity on the structure of the committee system. The committee system, it was clear, could use some more attention.

Proposed Structure: A Work in Progress

The proposed structure in the committees of the University Library and the University Library Council is a work in progress. We have devised an overall structure. We will be working during the rest of the academic year to fill in the details vis-à-vis specific committees. We need to stress that, though we are trying to create a structured relationship among committees and groups so that the relations among them are transparent and predictable, we are anxious not to create a rigid organizational system. The structure will change over the coming months and it will retain the vital interpersonal connections that make the Harvard University Library system work effectively.

A few other general points:

  • One of the main functions of our committees is to communicate and coordinate across the various faculty libraries in our decentralized system. Committee membership should come from across the University, but not every committee needs representatives from each of the library "tubs." Committee members serve not as delegates from their home bases (though they bring important perspectives from home), but as members of a broader University-wide library community.
  • In general, committee membership will be determined in communication with (and with the "advice and consent" of) the relevant oversight bodies (the ULC and the coordinating committees, in particular).
  • Part of the more detailed review of committees will be a consideration of the current membership and whether changes are needed to maximize a committee'sfunctioning. In general, reasonable rotation of committee membership will be introduced.
  • Committee membership should emerge from the relevant library groups involved in particular areas. But to avoid conflicts with the requirements of one's "home" job, such membership and its connected time constraints must be communicated to and approved by the relevant home supervisor.

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

For more information, visit http://hul.harvard.edu/resources/committees.html.

HUL's "Committees" page includes links to the current as well as the proposed committee structures. Additional materials will be posted on an as-available basis.


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