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Building on Our History and Strengths, Growing Towards the Future

Sarah Thomas shares her vision for the Library at the September 2016 All-Staff Meetings and invites staff to participate in new opportunities.


On September 21 and 22, Vice President for the Harvard Library Sarah Thomas shared updates on library activities, finances, and projects during two all-staff meetings held at Radcliffe’s Knafel Center. The presentation included status updates on areas the Library continues to focus on, such as professional development, rethinking committee structures, diversity in the Library and its collections, and Ivy Plus collaborations, while also exploring big ideas for the future, like game-changing discovery, Library staff professional development opportunities, and a vision for science and engineering libraries.

Thomas began by welcoming new hires and introducing key positions to hire, including the Associate University Librarian for Research and Education. Library staff were encouraged to participate in the nomination process. New positions offer an opportunity to “experiment and adapt in the organization” and to "try out ideas and adjust based on experience.”

Illustrating the effectiveness of one Harvard, one Library, Thomas shared three examples of how collections emergencies teams have rescued our libraries this year, particularly on holidays and weekends. A dedicated team of local library staff, the Library Collections Emergency Team, the Collections Management Team, and Operations join together to protect and preserve our collections at all times. Thomas recognized their service and “acknowledged how people give of themselves and come together from all over to protect and preserve our assets.”

Last spring during a Lunch with the Librarian, Thomas was asked how Library staff could join committees, the large teams of people who dedicate time and experience to help develop policies and practices for the Library. Inspired by this question, Thomas opened up the membership process and has expanded the call for staff to nominate themselves to serve on working groups and committees. Staff are encouraged to contact Franziska Frey if they would like to participate.

Reporting back on the Library Senior Managers Retreat from this summer, Thomas shared the session’s goals: to identify and discuss big ideas as an overarching guide to Library strategy, share and prioritize ongoing and planned initiatives, and review and refine the proposed Digital Strategy.

One big idea discussed was to create a professional development training program for Library staff similar to HUIT’s IT Academy. Currently in development, it will offer skills training and professional development courses. A second big idea involved leveraging collaborations with Ivy Plus on Collections & Service Strategy, such as full participation in ReCAP and continued engagement with HathiTrust and CRL.

When it came to the third big idea, game-changing discovery, library leaders asked, where does discovery happen? What are the possibilities of collaborating with libraries outside higher education? How can we partner with large enterprises to add our value and expertise into search engines? And lastly, how can we leverage our Digital Library Strategy that connects the dots between resources and helps people find the kinds of support we offer and the expertise that exists within the library system?

Katie McGrath, director of administration and finance, gave an update on Library finances. This included performance in FY16 and expectations for the FY17 budget. In the last fiscal year, the Library purchased aisles at ReCAP, saving $22 million on a new HD module; allocated money for a library services platform; and focused on vacancies to reshape roles through attrition. Other non-salary changes such as lease savings and reduced phone and equipment costs reduced the planned attrition need. For FY17, the focus is on short-term priorities and goals aligned with the Objectives in Action. The multi-year financial plan is based on low endowment payouts for FY18. The Library continues to focus on ways to reallocate resources and respond to this University-wide challenge.

The presentation concluded with updates on recent Library activities, such as the progress of the 625 Mass. Ave. renovation, successful fundraising efforts with the Harry Elkins Widener Circle, and deepening our work on inclusion, social justice, and building a diverse workforce. New ways of thinking about the science and engineering libraries resulted from working with BrightSpot, and the recent announcement of the S.T. Lee Innovation Grants represent a unique opportunity for Harvard staff, faculty, and students to participate in improving access to library resources. A new professional development class has also been announced in Research Data Management, with sessions offered in October and November.

“Thank you for all you’ve contributed to helping our students, faculty, scholars, researchers, and global community have a richer access to knowledge and understanding,” said Sarah Thomas, thanking staff attending in person and via WebEx. 

View the presentation slides here.



Q: Regarding the courses in the Library Academy, would staff be used as a resource for developing class material?

Thomas: The plans in progress include the range of our expertise plus what other institutions are doing. Thomas recommended blending staff development needs into your performance goals, letting Library leadership know the kinds of things you think would be interesting as managers think about what they need to have in order to be successful.

Q: Question on the future of print versus digital materials.

Thomas: Referencing the recent research shows people are using materials differently. Collections are shifting to digital materials, but our traditional collections and physical artifacts are just as valuable to research and will be continue to be supported, preserved, and revered.

Q: With the decline of the importance of print resources, there’s a concern that there might not be enough work for all of us. When we spoke one-on-one before the meeting, you provided a reassuring answer to this. Can you please share this reassurance with the group?

Thomas: Warmly responded that there is plenty of work surrounding Harvard Library’s vast collections and there are many opportunities to both learn new skills and build on existing ones.  

Q: How can we showcase student-run digital humanities initiatives, both online and in person?

Thomas: There are opportunities and the Digital Library Strategy will work to take this into account.

Q: Asking for more details on the Library financial model.

Katie McGrath and Sarah Thomas: It’s important to return savings to the Schools so that they will continue to reinvest and see the value of the Library.

Q: Concerns were raised about the 625 Mass. Ave. space.

Thomas: Responded that she understood these concerns, said that they are continuing to work on improvements in a collaborative and transparent way.

Q: With Arcadia funding winding down, staff asked about how programs such as Hidden Collections could possibly be supported.

Thomas: She would like to use examples such as Hidden Collections to develop proposals for future gifts. She encouraged library staff to share with Library leadership collections that could be considered for ongoing funding so we can explore those options.


By Harvard Library Communications. 

Published on September 28, 2016.