Harvard University Library reorganization starts with early retirement offers

Even the libraries at the most prestigious of all the Massachusetts colleges are not immune to staff reductions.  The President of Harvard University, Drew Faust, sent an email last Wednesday that outlined her future vision for the Harvard Library.

The email discussed the history of the Harvard Library and how it has always been the finest library at any university in the world.  Faust also brought up the findings of two studies that the University had conducted over the last couple years that carefully examined its library system.

The studies were the Library Task Force and the Library Implementation Working Group (LIWG).  The detailed studies came to the conclusion that the Harvard Library would have to undergo significant changes if it wanted to remain the world’s preeminent university library.

In particular, Faust noted the disadvantages of the current policy of “coordinated decentralization” that the University uses at its 73 libraries.  She expressed that the University needed to unify its libraries.  This would the Harvard Library to make strategic decisions about new technologies, gain economies of scale, avoid duplications in services and acquisitions, and drastically reduce overhead costs.  Faust pointed out that Harvard uses 29 percent of their library budget on materials while other university libraries use an average of 41 percent of their budget.

Faust stopped short of providing details on the changes, but it was clear that she wants a unified Harvard University Library with lower overhead costs.

The Harvard Crimson reported today that Harvard University is offering a Voluntary Early Retirement Incentive Program to library employees.  Library staff need to have worked for at least 10 years and need to be at least 55 years old to be able to participate in the program.

According to the article, there are about 275 library employees that are eligible out of a total of 930 full-time employees.  They would receive 6-12 months’ pay depending on experience.

There seems to be a lack of details coming from the University as what their future plans are.  There have been no announcements as to how many employees the Harvard Library will ultimately employ once they operate as a unified entity.

The lack of information has caused library staff and concerned students to protest the proposed changes.  A large crowd of library staff and students gathered last Thursday night to protest potential library layoffs.  On Sunday, a small group of Harvard students claiming to be part of the Occupy movement entered the Lamont Library Cafe and plan to stay there until 10 PM this Friday in protest of any library cuts.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Harvard University Library system ends up if Faust’s changes are successfully implemented.  Her arguments for a unified library system instead of 73 independently operating libraries makes a great deal of sense.  Library systems all over the country reap great benefits from operating as a unified entity.

The President of Harvard revealed that she wants spending on materials to be a much larger part of the library budget.  All we know so far is that that means Harvard Library will have less librarians.