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March 2016 All-Staff Meeting

Staff from across the Harvard Library community assembled in Austin Hall at Harvard Law School on March 23 for an update on current and future library activities.  

Reflecting upon the present state of Harvard Library, Thomas shared that the organization now has a balanced budget and a staff-designed governance structure that is “a springboard for transformation of what we need in the Library.”

The library results of the Harvard-wide employee engagement survey were presented. While the results reflect the responses of just the staff in the Harvard Library and Harvard College Library, they can be considered as a fairly representative proxy for the University library community. Most like the work they do (81%) and understand how work priorities support the organization’s overall priorities (78%). Staff members believe that managers treat them as individuals (77%) and trust their manager (75%). The majority of library staff are proud to work at Harvard (72%) and think of their work as more than “just a job” (71%). The survey also identified areas of improvement in career development and open communication. Thirty-five percent of library staff believe they have career opportunities at Harvard and 26% believe that senior leaders drive high performance; 30% of staff members believe that senior leaders communicate honestly and 36% believe that they act in accordance with Harvard’s core values.

The Library will respond to this input by:

  • working with managers to increase communication with staff and senior managers
  • promoting Harvard and Library values
  • digging deeper into issues of trust
  • ensuring that individuals take personal responsibility in developing their careers, and creating an environment in which contributions matter

Also discussed were two word clouds making use of staff input. In September 2015, staff were asked to describe the Library in one word. The most commonly used adjectives were dysfunctional, complex, and big. In November 2015, when asked to use one word to describe the Library as they would wish it to be in five years, the most popular terms were collaborative, accessible and funded. “We need to chart a path from where we are to being this kind of library,” Thomas said.

Katie McGrath, Director of Administration and Finance, led a portion of the presentation on finances, focusing on the shared services organization. The Harvard Library shared services organization (“the Harvard Library”) represents approximately 40% of total Library spending across the University. The Harvard Library shared services organization includes Access Services, Arcadia-supported projects, Information and Technical Services, and Preservation, Conservation, and Digital Imaging Services, as well as other teams. Collections spending and Research, Teaching, and Learning are generally supported through Schools’ individual library budgets.

Between the Library allocation and Harvard Depository and Digital Repository Service fees, Schools contribute 74% of the revenue of the Harvard Library. Gift funds from Arcadia, which are scheduled to be completed in November 2016, are the next largest single source of revenue. (Editor’s note: During the March 23 meeting, the ending month for Arcadia funding was incorrectly stated as June 2016. The correct month is November 2016.) Like most areas of the University, spending at Harvard Library is largely driven by staff costs, followed by space and occupancy costs, such as leases. For the first time in its brief history, Harvard Library began the fiscal year (FY16) with a balanced budget.

Since then, changes in spending have included:

  • A purchase of space at Research Collections and Preservation Consortium (ReCAP)—this has increased spending as compared to budgeted amounts this year.
  • Delay of decision on a Library Services Platform—this has decreased spending as compared to budgeted amounts this year.
  • Focus on vacancies as an opportunity to reshape the organization through attrition—this has decreased spending as compared to budgeted amounts this year.

The cumulative result of these changes are that FY16 revenue is expected to exceed spending by 4.5%.

McGrath shifted to a discussion of Harvard Library’s multi-year financial plan, explaining that there are several reasons to achieve savings. First, the desired rate of investment currently exceeds what Library revenue allows for in some areas and that there must be a focus on savings. For example, collections spending is growing 6% annually, but none of the revenue sources are growing at that rate. Second, Harvard Library cannot rely solely on new resources to fund priority projects and must find savings within existing structures. And finally, the Library allocation model rebalanced Library spending across all Schools so that most Schools have experienced an increase in library costs over the last several years. Harvard Library’s multi-year financial plan assumes that it returns over $21 million in savings to the Schools over five years, via a reduced Library allocation. One way to achieve this savings is to assume that full-time employees trend downward through attrition. The trajectory of the downward trend in full-time employees will be impacted by the ability to achieve savings in other areas, such as reduced lease and utility costs. It will also depend on the actual timing and salaries of positions that become vacant. Library leadership is thinking strategically about how to fill vacant positions, focusing on staffing needs that align with the Library’s strategic objectives.

Harvard Library’s upcoming participation in the Research Collections and Preservation Consortium (ReCAP) in Princeton, New Jersey was highlighted. Sarah Thomas announced plans for Harvard Library to purchase four aisles with space for approximately 1.75 million volumes at the repository that will be phased in over time. Topics that rounded out the meeting included the desire for increased diversity at the Library. The Administrative Fellowship Program is working with Harvard Library to address this and Harvard Library is supporting the National Diversity in Libraries Conference at UCLA in August. Thomas provided an update on the library campaign. Nearly $64 million has been raised so far towards the goal of $150 million; the introduction of the Harry Elkins Widener Circle, consisting of unrestricted, current-use gifts to the library, will include an inaugural event and donor recognition wall in Widener. A version of the Harvard Library Objectives in Action was also shared, a one-page document that summarizes activities in support of the organization’s five strategic objectives.

Download the Objectives in Action PDF at the bottom of the page. 

The presentation concluded with recognition of staff accomplishments, congratulating Cheryl LaGuardia as the winner of the 2016 Isadore Gilbert Mudge Award, and Ann Whiteside, winner of both Art Libraries Society of North America and Visual Resources Association 2016 Distinguished Service Awards.

In the question and answer session that followed the presentation, staff inquired about the plans for the 625 Massachusetts Avenue location regarding building maintenance issues and the upcoming renegotiation of the lease. Thomas said that the building operations team was at work examining the issues and that an update on the building lease would be available in 4-6 weeks. It was noted that open calls were not held for staffing the governance committee in the past; the review working group will consider how best to staff committees to advance initiatives. Questions about professional development being the responsibility of the individual were raised; many find it hard to take advantage of professional development opportunities when the workplace is understaffed. Thomas clarified that it is important to rethink processes so that staff have the capacity to participate in professional development opportunities. The individual must set goals and determine a career path, managers should act as guides, and senior leaders must set priorities and the structure for professional development to occur. 

Sarah Thomas concluded the all-staff meeting by thanking all those who attended in person and via WebEx. There were approximately 300 people in Ames Hall and another 120 attending via WebEx. 

Article written by Harvard Library Communications.
Article published on March 30, 2016. 

PDF icon Harvard Library Objectives in Action585.14 KB