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Summary: Sarah Thomas's All-Staff Meetings, February 2014

A summary of comments by Sarah Thomas, vice president for the Harvard Library, at two all-staff meetings on February 27, 2014.

Sarah Thomas

March 4, 2014—Sarah Thomas, vice president for the Harvard Library and Roy E. Larsen Librarian of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, addressed staff members at two sessions in Langdell Hall on February 27, 2014. Her presentation included updates on her visits to Harvard’s libraries, the FY15 budget submission, the Campaign, the Discovery Platform Initiative, the MOU review, staff development and proposals to improve communication and decision-making across the libraries.

A summary of Thomas’s presentation is below and the PowerPoint she used can be found here.

Welcome! I have been looking forward to meeting with you for a long time. I had hoped to hold all-staff meetings in January, but it was very challenging for us to schedule a room since they are held until class schedules are finalized. Thank you to the Law School for making it possible for us to meet here. This space may be too small to accommodate all of us but I see some empty seats so I think we are OK.

I’ve been able to visit many of Harvard’s libraries, including some that are not part of the Harvard Library (HL), like the Museum Archives, and I hope to invite them to our meetings as well. I see Kira (Poplowski) nodding vigorously so I think she will make this happen.

My presentation today has two parts. I will share updates on things we've been working on over last few months and also talk to you about proposed changes in the structure of those who report to me. I have two roles—the vice president for the Harvard Library and the Larsen Librarian of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences—and I am trying to reconcile them. What I am sharing with you today is a work in progress as I try to figure out how to manage that.

Part 1:

Let's start with some updates. Library visits—I continue on my odyssey of visits to Harvard’s libraries. I have been to many but not all. I haven't been to I Tatti or Dumbarton Oaks—I do hope to get to Dumbarton Oaks soon since I am in Washington now and again. I suspect there are others, and if your library was left off or if you missed me on a visit, please let Jenny (Ward) know because I enjoy getting out.

These are some pictures I took during my visits. This is of staff members at the Slavic Division. I had a great visit there. This picture is from the Peabody Museum Archives, which is not officially part of the HL, but we're all part of great big family of librarians and archivists at Harvard. The lower right picture shows Megan and Brooke from the Harvard Art Museums Archives, which is in Somerville. I took a shuttle bus there and it was a whole new part of the world for me. They had fascinating materials and stories to tell.

Something else on which I've spent an immense amount of time, as have many others, is preparing FY15 budgets. I haven’t been through an entire budget cycle yet—this was work on budget submission. Lisa (Schwallie) and her team in Finance did an amazing amount of work crunching all sorts of numbers for the allocation process and then we visited the 11 Schools to present and discuss the budget.

What did I take away from the budget process? You'd think that because I did it 11 times, and had probably 20 rehearsals prior, that I could talk about the allocation and the drivers and how it works but I'd be hard pressed to provide anything but an outline. It is a tremendously complicated approach, and I hope to simplify it.

We reviewed allocation drivers, like number of volumes, net circulation, space, volumes cataloged, etc., and I am wondering if these elements capture the essence of what a library is? Is this a fair sample of what makes a library tick? A group of librarians, administrative deans and financial deans are looking at whether these are the right inputs and how are they weighted and if this produces a fair distribution of costs for the Harvard Library. Despite the numbers, it’s not an exact science and we are looking at this challenge over the next few months.

Something else that I took away is the sense that there are a number of different expectations about what the HL would do. Administrative deans are looking for savings and they will ask why the Library may cost more than it did before. Costs relate to inputs like staff compensation, the work we do, etc., but at same time the allocation model was introduced to switch charges from “the owner pays” to “the user pays” so there is more emphasis on use. Some libraries were investing a great deal in services and some less—a free rider problem. So, there was a shift to distribute costs to introduce more fairness in terms of how things are used.

If your library is paying less now, you're happy. If not, you're less happy. I came away with sense that we would start FY16 planning with the assumption that I would be able to say 1) we were managing the resources given to us carefully and ideally costing less rather than more and, more importantly, 2) we have fantastic services so that people are happy and don't quibble as much about cost. My challenge is how to improve services while containing or even reducing costs. I will invite everyone to contribute ideas.

What do faculty and students want from this new creature, the Harvard Library? Faculty members say greater investment in collections. Administrative and financial deans say savings. Staff members say innovation and staff development. We need to reconcile these imperatives. 

Our FY15 budget submission reflects several priorities. One is workflow analysis, particularly in Information and Technical Services (ITS) to see how resources here can be maximized so we can do other things. There are possible efficiencies to gain through approval plans, automated improvements, etc. which free up staff time. Then what do we do with that staff time?

Workflow analysis will help us get books to shelves more quickly, eliminate backlogs and surface hidden collections. As a former cataloger, cleaning up backlogs and getting books to shelves more quickly is near and dear to my heart. Also, there are so many wonderful collections here, and some are hidden. When I visited the Slavic Division, for example, I learned that they have a collection of ephemera from the pre-Perestroika and Perestroika eras. Imagine what researchers might discover when this collection is cataloged and digitized? What if they could examine this collection as well as items related to the Arab Spring, what’s happening now in the Ukraine? What might it tell us about democratization? We need to open up our collections.

Digitization is another priority. Our Imaging Services team does careful digital capture and for some materials we could do things at a different level. We could also refine workflows. Franziska (Frey) tells me that the cost of digitizing is one quarter what it was just a few years ago thanks to workflow improvements already made. This makes for a more flexible, more responsive Preservation Services.

Another FY15 priority is to implement a discovery system. The access we provide now is a bit clunky. Our users want to be able to have a single search box experience with results that include all sorts of material. A working group presented a careful review of options to the Library Leadership Team (LLT). Tracey Robinson, Franziska Frey, Scott Wicks and I met with executives from the company that might provide a discovery system. We are hoping to negotiate a favorable deal that would allow us to implement it by September—so we would begin the new semester with a “wow.”

Last year, “Towards a Collections and Content Development Strategic Plan” was approved by the Library Board. Unlike some reports that end up dusty on the shelf, a group of library leaders are working to implement its recommendations. One recommendation was to gather all the different collection development policies from all the libraries and overlay them so we can see where there are overlaps and gaps. This process is underway, as are some other aspects of the report’s recommendations, and our goal is to move this forward this year and next.

Collection storage—when I arrived in August, I learned about the possibility of building an eighth module for the Harvard Depository (HD) and including it in the Library’s budget for the coming year. Building another module is a significant investment. HD’s current cost is $7 million annually. Do we really need another module? Matthew (Sheehy) sent me a great report at the end of November and I spent the Sunday after Thanksgiving reading it. In it there are some great ideas and about what is happening broadly with collection storage.

I invited three experts to visit us on March 10-11 and speak to the Library Board and the Faculty Advisory Council, which includes very senior Harvard leadership so we can explore the possibilities. In the fall, I'd like to have a symposium with experts from the US and abroad so we can discuss important issues in collection storage such as duplication, copies of records, digitization, business models, etc. I want this to be an opportunity for us to have a lot of dialogue on campus so that when we submit a request for an eighth module in FY16 (which we will probably do since HD is filling up) we’ll have a better sense of what the future of collection management is.

Matthew also put together a number of articles on collection management, which he says he will post online so we can have a general discussion. (The articles are posted here.)

Another priority for FY15 is staff development and we are investing in this area. The Human Resources (HR) staff will be augmented by an FTE and by a term position to support staff development. Central HR has resources that will be helpful. The HL FY15 budget includes funds for staff development. For Harvard College Library (HCL), there will also be investment in staff development which will benefit all libraries. Between the HL and HCL, there will be more resources devoted to staff development across the libraries.

We will also do an assessment of what kinds of development opportunities staff members need. We are incorporating training opportunities like workshops—e.g. the excellent Data Science Training for Librarians course—speakers, conferences, etc. into our performance review process.

Enhancing communication is also an FY15 priority. You can never do enough! Kira and I have been working on making things more regular, more predictable and more lively. We are looking at new ways to get the word out and to have two-way, multi-channel conversations.

An excellent result from the budget process was that there is money put aside to make certain investments—in a discovery system, in staff development, etc. There are also funds from a University discretionary fund that I requested for digitization of our collections. A shining example of a digitization project is Colonial North America (CNA), to which Bob Darnton, through a grant from the Arcadia Fund, provided seed money. CNA works with materials from across our libraries that are fascinating and vast, and in many cases unknown. We will invest $1 million over two years in digitizing this collection. This seems like a lot of money but the full project is scoped at $7.5 million, which includes cataloging, conservation, etc. The University development team is very optimistic that we will receive donor support for CNA.

The funds from the University’s discretionary fund will support three items: CNA, providing alumni access to e-resources and an online learning librarian, who will benefit all of Harvard’s libraries.

Another item on which I’d like to update you is the MOUs. We are toiling in the vineyards with the MOU review! The MOUs (Memoranda of Understanding) are between the HL and the libraries to which it provides services. We reviewed results at the close of FY13 and, with a few exceptions, met the targets provided in the MOUs. In most cases, we performed 100% as promised.

The MOU review is asking if we are getting what we want. Is qualitative assessment missing? Is service what we expected? The MOU working group is looking at challenging questions. Our proposals will be reviewed by the Schools and we hope to have the new MOUs in place by July 1, 2014.

Our work on the campaign is coming along. The University launched the public phase of the campaign six months ago. I have been meeting with Development. We are not yet fully staffed for fundraising but our Development colleagues have been introducing me to people who could be major supporters. The Library’s Campaign goal is $100 million. I haven’t raised a nickel since I’ve been here, but during the quiet phase of the Campaign, $44 million was raised. So there is new funding coming into the libraries.

We are starting with proposals like CNA, the Digital Library of the Eastern Mediterranean and the HarvardX course on the book. When I am in London in late March, I will meet with someone with a Harvard connection and next week I’ll be in New York City to present a proposal to support opening the Pusey doors, upgrading the exhibition space and creating student-curated exhibitions. I am eager to report successes to you!

I hope you saw that we relaunched the HL Strategic Conversations seriesI asked for volunteers to help nominate speakers to visit and lead dialogues on space, the future of libraries and other topics of interest to those working in libraries. I think this will be really fun and I hope to have them stretch over a year and a half. This is part of our staff development effort.

In terms of assessment, which is such a hot area in libraries now, we are doing at least three things. We will recruit an assessment librarian—the position will be posted this semester. We will administer the Ithaka survey, which is widely used to identify how faculty members use research resources. Susan Fliss is leading this work. Next autumn we will do a LibQual survey, so we will have many data points to use and possibly adapt our services to meet needs.

Also, I am reinstating Lunch with a Librarian, which had been an FAS libraries tradition. I will have lunch every month with a dozen or so staff members and you can tell me what you're thinking about. I’ll get to know you better. Jennifer is finding dates.

Part 2:

President Drew Faust speaks about One Harvard and we are supposed to model one library. We are many libraries with separate identities. This is not a bad thing. Diversity is good. We have different communities to serve. Yet overall, we want a seamless patron experience. No one should need a passport to get into a Harvard library. We are trying to move toward the vision of one library.

I’ve heard that how decisions are made is unclear. Who makes decisions? What is the process? How does everyone understand the priorities? They want a clear, predictable process by which decisions are made.

Currently I have 14 direct reports and work closely with eight teams, like HR and Development. Sometimes I think about myself as a bird, maybe a robin! I have a nest full of hungry chicks to feed so I don’t have the opportunity to focus on strategy and priorities. How can I change this? In some cases there is capacity in both FAS and Central Administration, like HR, Communications, Development, which increases complexity. How can they work together? The communications teams have been meeting together, so has HR. This reduces my direct reports and creates integrated teams.

I am proposing a structure with eight direct reports. The chief technology strategist (CTS) interviews will be held through March and April. The CTS will work closely with Library Technology Services. Other direct reports are Preservation, Conservation, Digital Imaging and Assessment (PCDIA), Research Teaching and Learning (RTL), ITS, Special Collections and Archives (SCA), Administration and Finance (A&F) and Collections.

I would like to emphasize that there are no layoffs associated with these proposed changes.

If you look at the proposed structure from an organizational chart perspective, you’ll see that it’s arranged to reflect collaborative areas. Dan (Hazen), heading up Collections, will work closely with Scott (Wicks), heading up ITS.

PCDIA, led by Franziska Frey, is a distinguished area and I want to continue Franziska’s leadership here. We are also looking at how to benefit from her working with me on priorities. The assessment librarian will report to her, as will program management and administrative support. This creates a group working in support services. Franziska’s wider role will help me and the HL manage a wider array of issues.  

For A&F, Katie McGrath, who is the director of administration in HCL, will be responsible for finance for both HCL and the HL, and the teams will work together. HCL’s budget is $85 million and the HL’s is $65 million, of which almost $30 million is from FAS. The same money is transferred from one tub to the other so it makes sense for these teams to collaborate.

PCDIA and A&F will serve as pillars of support for work done across the Library.

Moving into RTL—Susan Fliss has been breaking new ground in this area and I’d like Access Services (AS) to report into RTL. AS works hand in glove with public service staff members and having the two groups work closely will help move us to creating seamless services.

SCA—this is a somewhat new position. Houghton has been reporting to Dan (Hazen) since the departure of the previous Roy E. Larsen Librarian. Harvard’s special collections set it apart from other university libraries and I have a particular interest here. I would like to balance Dan’s responsibilities and have more involvement with Houghton. I’d like encourage collaboration between Houghton and the Harvard University Archives (HUA)—there are synergies here as well as differences. Megan Sniffin-Marinoff has been a strong contributor to the HL so I would like her to head up SCA. This position will rotate every two years.

I am proposing an HL cabinet that includes these roles (ITS, CTS, Collections, SCA, RTL, PCDIA, A&F), plus a representative from the School libraries and one from the FAS libraries. The cabinet consists of operational managers who manage daily operations of the HL Shared Services and HCL. Their responsibilities also include implementing University-wide library policies and leading the coordination of FAS library policies and strategies.

The LLT was formed in December 2012 and has about 20 members. I am proposing, which is open to discussion, that moving forward it consists of eight library directors, members of the cabinet, a representative from Library Technology Services (LTS) and communications and possibly heads of new or existing committees. The LLT would set the strategic direction for the HL, propose financial priorities and approve library policies.

What is an effective group and who needs to be represented? I welcome your input on this. If you look at the respective roles, I am proposing that LLT does strategy and policy approval. The cabinet does policy analysis, review and implementation. The committees work on policy development, and staff members provide input into policy and implementation.

I am thinking about an assortment of committees—Collections, Digital Access, HD, Discovery, RTL, Access, HarvardX, the Science Council and Special Collections/Archives.

On the question of committees, I know that the previous library committees were disbanded, and I have sympathy with that. Committees can seem like waste of time, yet they can also get work done. We might need a mix of committees and working groups for specific projects, with sunset dates. At the Library of Congress, we had “meetless” months—we didn’t meet at all for a month unless there was an emergency!

What is right for us? I’d like this to be a topic for discussion in libraries so that you can recommend what might work best.

On the question of decision-making—if the issue has a multi-School or University-wide impact, the LLT has decision rights. The LLT can refer something to a standing committee or a working group to research and to recommend a policy for its consideration. If an issue has local or limited impact, it would be decided locally. There are possible shades of grey here but it seems like this might work.

I encourage your feedback. I have discussed these proposals with individuals, small groups, larger groups, deans, the provost, etc. Some of what I shared today is what I intend to do; some is open for discussion—committees, how we work together, membership of the LLT.

I welcome your questions.

Q: You said that administrative deans want savings, faculty want more investment in collections. But all the cross-campus coordination costs money and may not be nimble. In small libraries, we make decisions quickly which is more efficient and costs less money.

A: Your question gets to the heart of the matter. We need to think about how we organize ourselves so we can realize savings. I am not envisioning layoffs and there are ways in which we can become more efficient, whether that’s using approval plans, changing the ways we catalog. Those are two things I am trying to do. I would like to figure out how to save money by changing processes. I also take advantage of departures. If someone retires or leaves for another job, it’s an opportunity to shift that position to a high priority area. I have been part of organizations that have had a decline in staff and also increased services and I am hopeful we can accomplish that here. We also hope to grow the pie, through the campaign, for example. I am optimistic.

Q: Have you given thought to having a grants librarian?

A: Megan from HUA and I are cooking up a grants program. She is doing some heavy lifting exploring which grants we might target and be successful.

Q: What is the status of the HL process of normalizing salaries?

A. Meetings with HL Shared Service heads (Franziska Frey, Matthew Sheehy and Scott Wicks) are occurring regarding the position description process that was undertaken for each of their areas. In the next few weeks, employees who participated in this process will be hearing from their managers about next steps. There is money in the budget to absorb costs that may result from this process.

Q: I spoke with two people about your proposal and both expressed concern that HCL is over-represented in the new structure. What is your response to that?

A: There are checks and balances built into this structure. HCL and the HL are working on things for which they have budget responsibility. The cabinet includes representatives from Schools as does the LLT. Also, the committees could be chaired by staff members from the Schools. A&F, Collections and RTL are HCL. PCDIA, CTS and ITS are HL. Special Collections rotates between the HL and HCL.

Q: Could some positions on the LLT be representatives from non-exempt staff?

A: That is an open question up for discussion. We will consider it.

Q: Where is the Office for Scholarly Communication (OSC) in this?

A: This is very much open for discussion. I am considering having OSC report into Collections. Many university libraries locate similar units there. At Oxford, our scholarly communications division was under ITS, but ITS also controlled the collections budget so it was different.

Q: What is the timetable for these changes?

A: Somewhat organic. If something is easy to do, we’ll do it quickly. If it’s harder because more people are involved, there are more open questions, etc., it might take some months.

Q: Do you anticipate physical movement of office space for any of this?

A: Yes, I do expect some movement will occur as we try to group people who need to work in close proximity. Logistically this is a big step so we might do it opportunistically.

Q: HCL and FAS are heavily represented. Do the sciences have a smaller role?

A: There are science libraries in FAS but we might need a bigger role for sciences. This is a pertinent question that we should discuss. What is fair? Is there a gap we should plug?

Q: Your presentation focuses on the internal management of the Library. Have you thought about collaboration outside Harvard? Where are collaborations external to Harvard represented?

A: Conversations about collaboration go on now in Resource Sharing, with Borrow Direct. There is a global trend towards more collaboration. Part of me says that we need to work on getting our own house in order so that we can speak with fewer voices—this will help facilitate more collaboration.

Q: How does the Library Board fit in? What is their role?

A: The Board is an important part of the Library’s structure. We would not move forward with certain things without guidance from the Board. The Board has representation from the provost, the executive vice president, the university librarian, ad deans and faculties from different Schools. I use it as a communication device, as a sounding board and, for certain things, seek their recommendation and their approval.

Q: Will members of the LLT each have a vote? How will they make decisions?

A: I’ve been a librarian for a long time and I have hardly ever had to take a vote. Libraries typically aren’t that type of organization. You usually get a sense of the room and determine whether to move forward.

Q: I am getting the sense that our accountability is to our users. But as practitioners, I’m also wondering if we are accountable to strategies like the transformational strategies that have been vetted?

A: We have strategies that we support but in some cases they are less measurable than others. I’d like to work toward having them sufficiently measurable so we can track our progress. For example, the OSC is working on a set of metrics to evaluate their progress. This might be things like the percentage of faculty deposits in DASH or the impact of the articles available in DASH, etc. We have a ways to go in our accountability here. My experience in six months is that we have a lot of priorities and balls in the air. We have made a lot of promises. This is burdensome, in a way, because I am worried that we can’t deliver. I’d like to have strategic priorities that are reasonable; have slightly fewer things so we can say what we are doing definitively and by when and who is responsible.

Q: On the cabinet, will the School representatives have a charter like the Affinity Groups did and represent several libraries, or will they represent their School?

A: School library directors meet with me on Thursdays and this serves as a conduit from the Schools. We want a healthy representation of different viewpoints so we don’t fall into the trap of assuming that everyone has the same views.

Q: How we distribute materials has changed radically in the last 10 years. Is there a potential for hub libraries as central service points with extended hours to serve a larger community with by-request materials?

A: Use patterns have changed radically at various libraries. This is open for consideration, and that is the kind of question that Access, RTL and Collections all consider. This is a good question for us to take up as a community. I’d like to hear from you and make decisions based on your best input.

If you have questions we were not able to answer here, please send them to Kira or me. We will make sure they are answered through the Library Update or in some other way.