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Library All-Staff Meeting Summary

A digest of Library all-staff meetings led by Sarah Thomas on September 26 & 30, 2014.

Sarah Thomas at first all-staff meeting

Thank you all for being here today! I thought I would walk you through some slides that show some images and stories of things that are important to the Library.

The Library’s FY15 strategic priorities were identified at a June 2 Library Leadership Team retreat. We tried hard to limit these to ten! Sometimes there is mission creep, and I only have ten fingers and toes and that’s how I try to remember these things. What I hope we can do this year is focus on these priorities, accomplish them and have a wonderful feeling at end of year that we did them and did them well. Some we will complete. Some we will make inroads on.

The first strategic priority is to implement a collection and content development strategy. The Library Board approved the report and recommendations in June 2013, and we are working on them one by one.

Implementing an enhanced discovery and delivery system is the second strategic priority. HOLLIS+ went live in August, and it’s great that we can check off one of the priorities so early in the year!

Open access is the third strategic priority. It can mean different things—access to scholarly literature, but also to open up hidden collections and resources of Harvard’s libraries. Our “Open Your Hidden Collections” initiative is off to a good start, and Peter Suber of the Office for Scholarly Communication promises several announcements of their recent accomplishments during Open Access Week this October.

Planning for a new library management system is another strategic priority. Our system is well past its sell-by date. For this year, we will explore requirements, survey the field, look at different opportunities. Should we adopt a commercial solution? Cloud-based? A collaborative approach? This year, we will scope out the possibilities and narrow down requirements. We’ll make a decision next year and implement following that.

The fifth strategic priority is University-wide research, teaching and learning support. We are beginning to put in place a more ambitious, more coordinated program, taking best practices from one library and seeing how they might work somewhere else.

Understanding and delivering digital objects—our focus here is to streamline how we provide digital objects to our patrons, make it more sophisticated and make digital objects easier to use.

Coordinating digitization is our seventh strategic objective. All of our libraries do lots of digitization. We produce about two million images a year. That’s a fantastic accomplishment! We’d like to make sure that we coordinate efforts so that all two million are accessible and that we can sustain this pace.

Our eighth strategic objective is to manage born-digital. I don’t know much about this field, but I know people in this room can guide me. We are looking at different approaches, and we know we need to focus on this. An important area to consider is how we manage data.

A new Harvard Depository storage strategy and business model—this is our ninth objective. The Depository is filling up—should we build another module? Do we collaborate? The Depository’s business model is important. It accounts for $6 million of our budget, and it also generates revenue.

The final objective on this list is likely at the top of your list—staff development. We have been working on this and I’ll focus on some details later in this talk.

I’d like to run through a few examples that illuminate some of our work so far on these strategic objectives. Collection and content development—to highlight one way we’re building our collections, Haden Guest emailed me recently and asked if I’d like to accept a gift from William Friedkin, the Academy Award-winning director of The French Connection and The Exorcist. He is donating prints of his films to the Harvard Film Archive, and donating materials for his memoirs to Houghton Library. We’re having a small gift ceremony today, and Mr. Friedkin and his wife Sherry Lansing, former head of Paramount Pictures, are here. This gift enlarges thinking on what is part of the Library.

HOLLIS+! Thank you to everyone involved in the selection, implementation of Primo, the communication. This is a pretty flawless case study of the implementation of a new product at a large institution. It was superbly done! We’ve received positive feedback and it’s nice to get fan mail! Well done, everybody!

On open access, here are some statistics on DASH, Harvard’s open-access repository run by the Library’s Office for Scholarly Communication. Open Access Week is coming up in October, and every day during that week OSC plans to have some announcement about open access. The list is under wraps. This slide shares their recent achievements—after a measured beginning, DASH is taking off. The number of articles contributed is up, and users from all over the world share how the scholarship is used. You can see the diversity of people using DASH and how it is helping them.

Our copyright first responders—this is a model of “One Harvard.” Kyle Courtney from the OSC has been marvelous at sharing his copyright expertise across Harvard. But he’s only one guy. So, he is building a network of copyright first responders in libraries so we can leverage the intelligence and experience of our community. This is a wonderful example of how we work together.

This next slide demonstrates two initiatives. First, digitization. The Colonial North American (CNA) project, seeded by the Arcadia Fund, allowed us to inventory materials across our libraries related to CNA and to digitize them. This is also an example of the project dashboards we are creating to document milestones, budgets, risks, etc. in one place.

I mentioned that Depository planning is a key objective, and as part of this, we are hosting a symposium on October 1 and 2 with leading thinkers in the field. Sir Drummond Bone and Debby Shorley will speak on their experience creating the UK Research Reserve, which stores one copy of every journal at the British Library and two copies elsewhere. Other libraries were able to divest some of their print holdings and reduce pressures on space. I hope you will attend these events!

Turning to staff development—I am pleased to share that, as part of our efforts to create a new committee governance system for the Harvard Library, Katie McGrath and Anna Anctil will serve as co-chairs of the Professional Development Standing Committee. Human Resources is also creating an online discovery tool, which is live now. It provides access to resources, including a huge list of opportunities on grant writing.

Something on which I’ve been spending time recently is preparing a presentation to the Harvard Corporation, and I thought I would share some of that with you.

I read tons of documents, reports, etc. on the formation of the Harvard Library, and reflected on my experience here over the last year. I put together some lessons learned. I won’t read through all of this because it’s a lot of text, but comment on each briefly.

Establish the rationale for change and ensure it is embraced by managers and staff throughout the organization. A Task Force Report on the libraries was approved in 2009, but it didn’t permeate widely throughout library staff members. There wasn’t much buy-in from staff members.

One of my mentors once told me, “Sarah, you can pay now or you can pay later.” What he meant by that was if you don’t explain something well at the beginning, you might implement it but you’ll still be explaining later. One way of getting something done is “tell and sell” but I don’t think that works. We need collaborative partnerships to create something.

Have a clear vision of the outcome desired as a result of the change and a roadmap to achieve the goals. When discussions of a new Library organization began, one detail that people held onto was the promised $20 million in savings. Faculty members heard that and said, “Great! We’re going to spend $20 million more on books!” Administrators said, “That’s great! I’ll get $20 million to spend on new projects.” Some thought the $20 million would be spent on innovation and information technology.

Those are all good ambitions, but I can’t find a clear statement anywhere on what we thought we were getting out of this. I can’t find that there was a clear plan to achieve that goal, which leads to ambiguity. 

Part of this is knowing what you want and how to measure what you’re getting. I’m quite comfortable with not having everything else filled out in detail, but if you are doing something that affects so many people, there should be some kind of plan to which various stakeholders subscribe.

Have values that guide actions. Values are really important. People use the word transparency a lot. I have the impression that things were opaque, so I can see the mistrust. I hope that you feel free to ask questions and know that the answers you’re getting are direct, our managers are going to be accessible and we will have staff participation in the decision-making.

Having a single individual who can speak and lead. There were lots of cooks in the kitchen, and I hope we are moving to leadership and decision-making that is more streamlined. You don’t have the perfect organization chart: you have people, and people are what make it work. We should support what brings about the common good.

Establish concrete goals, milestones and metrics. I am big on this, which is why we have a limited number of strategic initiatives, and we will be sharing our progress on them by making dashboards, or one-page snapshots of progress. This allows us to reward success and have consequences for failure to deliver.

Create a realistic budget with conditions for success. We need a business case, we need buy-in. We have some debt, and it’s difficult to start a new organization with debt. We can manage this by being flexible and adapting, through our staff development program.

Communicate simply, honestly, frequently and widely. This is a given and what we try to do every day.

Focus on solving tomorrow’s challenge, not yesterday’s. What is tomorrow’s challenge? We sometimes spend time trying to repair the past, and then we miss what is going on in the present and what might happen in the future. We need to have enough of a horizon that we’re paying attention to those issues.

I briefly mentioned our efforts to put together a new governance committee structure for the Library, and there were many open meetings this summer about this. I shared the co-chairs of the new Professional Development Standing Committee, and I can also share the co-chairs for the other standing committees—Kim Dulin and Dan Hazen for Collections and Content Development, Susan Fliss and Renata Kalnins for RTL, Rachel Howarth and Suzanne Wones for Access and Discovery, Ardys Kozbial and Megan Sniffin-Marinoff for Stewardship and, as mentioned, Anna Anctil and Katie McGrath for Professional Development.

The co-chairs will convene for the first time this week, and begin discussing formation of the Working Groups and Councils.

Several of us have also been working hard on multi-year financial planning for both the Harvard Library and the FAS Libraries. Where should we be in 2020? What is our budget? What will we spend on investments? All numbers—the cart before the horse. We haven’t yet discussed what we want to be in 2020, so in the next few months, we’ll start these discussions on where we see the libraries in five years so that our next financial planning exercise is informed by our ambitions and knowledge rather than by making numbers work on paper.

I’m excited to share some other recent accomplishments. First, Borrow Direct Onsite—researchers at schools participating in Borrow Direct can now use the collections in person, in addition to borrowing them. We’re piloting this at Harvard with Widener Library.

Access to online resources for alumni—a group headed by Betsy Eggleston at Countway Library is working on this and the LLT is discussing. We can extend access to some of our e-resources for free; for some there is a relatively small surcharge; for others it’s more costly. We are looking into funding some experiments in this area using funds from Arcadia.

You may have noticed that we’ve listed some new positions—an assessment librarian, an online learning librarian, a public programming and stewardship officer and a bibliographer for social sciences and quantitative data. The online learning librarian is on board! Kris Markman joined us a few weeks ago. You also hopefully saw the announcement a few months ago that Tom Hyry from UCLA would join us to head Houghton Library. He arrived a few weeks ago.  

New positions, new spaces—these are some pictures of lovely new library spaces. Loeb Design Library repurposed storage space as graduate student workspace, and Tozzer Library reopened after a two-year renovation. What a beautiful, light-filled space!

Before we get to your questions, a reminder about some upcoming events—I mentioned the Depository symposium on October 1st and 2nd. Also, there are two Harvard Library Strategic Conversations coming up. On October 3rd, there is a session on how journal prices impede research access, and on November 4, a session on the future of special collections.

Thank you, and I welcome your questions!

Q. There is so much to learn. Do you have any advice on how we balance our day-to-day tasks and also learning about the field, its future, new ideas, etc.?  

A. I have same issue! I have many more things to do than I have time to do them, and I try to find time to learn new things. Attending the upcoming Depository symposium, for example, might be a good way to do that, or one of the really great Strategic Conversations events. Balance between some reading, some visiting and some thinking. These sessions hopefully give us a broader perspective.

I also try to identify a team I trust, listen to them and delegate certain initiatives to them.

Q. You mentioned professional development in your remarks. Often the focus is on improving skills for a current role, but what about stretch goals and preparing for something else?

A. Hopefully, in any discussion between a staff member and a manager, preparation for both current and possible future roles is discussed. Again, it’s about balance. What can you do to improve today; what might you need to know for your next professional step? We should be able to allow people to explore different types of opportunities. It’s all a question of moderation.

Q. Can you explain what the Stewardship Standing Committee will do?

A. In this case, stewardship is about managing collections, taking care of our collections so that scholars now and in the future have access to them. Each standing committee is tied directly to one of our strategic objectives, and once they start meeting they will develop specific committee charges.

Q. On the “One Library” concept, do you have a sense of whether there is more we can do to alter our thinking on this? Is there more we can do re: “One Harvard?”

A. Yes. There are a million things we could do. It is a question of capacity and focus. In management, you can take something, even something small, that’s ubiquitous and improve that. Or you can focus on things that are really big that might save you time or money and provide major gains in service. We can figure out ways that people can suggest things that will allow us to deliver better services to diverse users.

Q. I feel as though staff members identify as Shared Services or local. I don’t see how we can be one library if there is this divide.

A. I haven’t experienced this. I see more convergence and fluidity across areas, and I think that “shared” and “local” are artificial constructs. It determines where your paycheck comes from, but we are all part of one organization. We work together on committees, HOLLIS+, working University-wide. You might have a different experience. Sometimes there is an old tape playing in someone’s head about what is “shared” and what is “local.” I’m rewriting that and I hope we all are.

Q. Could you talk more about how the strategic goal of coordinated digitization might look? There are huge quantities of things we could digitize.

A. I’ve been contacting libraries to see how digitization has changed their use. At Harvard, we need to figure out what approach would work best for us. Is it boutique or large-scale? Sometimes we’ll be opportunistic, sometimes it will be a hybrid, sometimes there will be a by-the-book protocol.

This project will begin soon. We will look across the libraries with a group of staff members and explore different ideas and then align resources. We’ll see movement on this in the next few months.