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October Update from Sarah Thomas

Autumn leavesDear Colleagues,

I hope you enjoyed your Columbus Day weekend. I am happy to be back in the US and to have familiar holidays. Although I loved being at Oxford, it was strange to be in a place where people didn't celebrate Thanksgiving, and of course, the 4th of July was definitely not mentioned.

A lot has been happening in recent weeks. Following the announcement that I was appointed as the Roy E. Larsen Librarian of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, I have been absorbing more information about the FAS budget and the work that has been going on with FAS library restructuring. I moved into Widener 110, about 30 feet away from where my desk was in Room 191 when I was in charge of departmental library cataloging. You might wonder how I will balance the responsibilities of two roles. There are opportunities for greater synergy and I expect to identify the overlapping issues to accomplish more as one person than if the roles were divided. That's what we're trying to do with the Harvard Library. The dual roles will help ensure that our strategies are aligned and that we work together, avoiding duplication of effort or conflicting approaches.

I’ll also be spending time at 90 Mt. Auburn, and I’ve asked to have many of my meetings scheduled outside of my offices so I can be sure to gain perspective on the whole library systems. To my great disappointment, the Biblioteca Berenson director, Michael Rocke, is coming to Cambridge at the end of October, so perhaps my visit to I Tatti will have to be postponed?

What are the overlapping issues that I referenced above? At the School level and the University level, we are entering into active fundraising on behalf of Harvard’s libraries. Service innovations developed locally could have broader applications, and professional development activities can be leveraged for the benefit of all staff members. Our communications efforts can be strengthened if we collaborate more fully. It does take time and patience to establish channels in collaborative endeavors, but with intelligent design and persistence, we can create superior results. 

Our aim will be to manage our resources as wisely as possible and to contain expenses so the cost of Shared Services to the Schools is affordable and reasonable. Currently we are preparing the FY15 budget. Money is tight. We need to align the resources we have with what we collaboratively identify as the highest-priority needs. To that end, the Library Leadership Team will review our strategic goals and the very large number of objectives we have, sharpening our focus on the most important things—those activities that will mean the most to our users and stakeholders. When I learn about all the initiatives we have under way, I wonder how we can do justice to all of them. Jim Borron, who leads project management, notes that we often underestimate how much it will take to achieve milestones. As a consequence, we can find ourselves stressed and behind on some critical efforts. The Library Leadership Team is considering an approach to vet proposals for initiatives and the resources needed to bring them to fruition. We should have a methodology agreed and be taking the first steps toward prioritization by mid-November. We should be able to succeed in our highest priorities. That might require us to defer some projects in order to be confident that we meet the targets we set for ourselves. If we can demonstrate success in delivering our services effectively and efficiently, our credibility across the University will be high as will our user satisfaction levels.

Coming up later this month, the Work Group reviewing the Affinity Group model will report its recommendations. The review group has been consulting widely. Once these recommendations have been received, we will move to the next step of ensuring we have a body for the Harvard Library that shapes policy and strategy effectively in a timely manner.

I expect to put together a group of advisors and policymakers that will be smaller than the Library Leadership Team who can help me work through various issues.  The Library Leadership Team will continue to meet, and I imagine a two-way flow between the LLT and the Cabinet. I’ve been reading the responses (anonymized) to the Affinity Group survey and meeting with FAS staff who have been working on the FAS Libraries restructuring. There is a strong need to clarify organizational structure, the pathway to decisions, and who has the decision rights. In the next few weeks I’ll be asking individuals and groups to comment on some initial drafts of an organization that is an attempt to unify and make more coherent the way we do our work. Once LMT has discussed the report on the Affinity Groups, I’ll be in a position to issue a refined draft on which I will ask a wide number of groups for input.

As the semester progresses and my commitments increase, the pace of my visits to libraries has slackened. I can report that I have visited 44 libraries (formally) and that there are many others in which I have attended meetings. The most recent visits were to the Fine Arts Library and the Loeb Music Library, where I captured many staff members in photographs and saw a fascinating array of items from the collections.

I've also been travelling—to New York, to attend a meeting of the Mellon Foundation Board, of which I am a member, and to Washington, DC, where I renewed my acquaintance with the Association of Research Libraries at their fall meeting. This week I’ll be hosting Roly Keating, the chief executive of the British Library, as well as attending meetings of the Library Board and the FAS Faculty Council. Saturday I'll be in Northampton at Smith College, my alma mater, where Kathy McCartney, former dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, is being inaugurated as president. Drew Faust is one of the featured speakers. Later in the month I will visit the Arnold Arboretum and attend the launch of the Digital Public Library of America at the Boston Public Library.

Soon we expect to post some key positions: the Florence Fearrington Librarian of the Houghton Library, and the roles of Chief Technology Strategist and User Experience (UX) and Assessment Librarian in the Harvard Library. These will likely be posted in November with interviews taking place in January. I am also working with the Graduate School of Education on a recruitment strategy for the leader of Gutman Library.

In the background, there is work being done on the Campaign, including developing texts for websites and brochures, and scheduling meetings with donors and library supporters here and in New York. The Campaign should help us in our quest to pursue innovation, to expand our collections, and to safeguard our holdings. I look forward to having some positive news to report in the coming months.

There is much more under way, so please read the Harvard Library Update to learn about other activities.

I wish you a happy and productive week.