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FY15 Review and FY16 Look Ahead from Sarah Thomas
 

September 2015

Dear Colleagues:

As the new academic year picks up its pace, I want to take the opportunity to reflect on the year that has closed—noting with pride some of the many accomplishments you have helped bring to fruition—and to look ahead to FY16.

This year is the centenary of Widener’s dedication, offering an opportunity to reflect on the library’s significance to Harvard over the past century, to pay homage to Harry Elkins Widener and his mother, Eleanor Elkins Widener—without whom 20th-century scholarship would have been very different for faculty and students—and to think about how libraries are evolving.

In April, we held an event which was in essence the kickoff for a year of celebrations of Widener’s 100th. “Celebrating Harry Widener” featured a talk by Houghton Library’s curator of modern books and manuscripts, Leslie Morris, describing Harry’s growing development as a collector of illustrated books and literary editions. Her remarks built to the conclusion we knew, Harry’s fateful voyage on the Titanic on a distant April night, brought imminent to us.

We marked the centennial of Widener Library’s dedication two months later by opening our doors to students, faculty, and staff from across the University. More than 1,500 people gathered for the festivities, which included a behind-the-scenes tour of the Conservation Lab, where expert staff care for the library’s collections; a look at the building’s original blueprints, shared by University archivists; and a rare chance to step past the velvet ropes into the Memorial Room to see Harry’s collection up close. Sweet treats and a jazz trio enlivened the atmosphere, but it was the guests who supplied the energy and excitement. Widener Library means a great deal to many people, and the celebration of its 100th anniversary illustrated this on a grand scale.

Accomplishments in Academic Year 2014–2015

Working together, the community of libraries at Harvard and our partners are proud of our many accomplishments in academic year 2014–2015. Select highlights include:

Governance Structure. The libraries of Harvard are now united through a common governance structure developed over the past year with considerable staff input. We are working harmoniously and constructively to shape common policies and priorities. Five standing committees that parallel our strategic objectives have been established and approximately 60 staff from across the Harvard libraries are now serving on them. Five councils representing disciplinary and format groupings are envisaged as opportunities for interested staff to participate in discussions relevant to their work. Councils are open to all members of the Harvard Library community. Each of the councils—science; special collections and archives; arts, design, and music; social sciences; and IT—has begun to form and meetings are beginning to be held. We now have the structure for broad participation in shaping the future of the Harvard Library.

HOLLIS+. In December 2014, HOLLIS+ became the primary Harvard Library catalog, enabling joint search of books and articles. The upgrade also introduced support for special collections and archives material. With this new functionality, scholars are able to search and display digitized manuscripts, books and images from the Library’s special collections along with archival finding aids from the Harvard University Archives and many other collections.

Hidden Collections. We continue our major push to open “hidden” collections that parallels and augments national and international initiatives to unlock the vaults of libraries’ accumulated holdings. Collections are being described and digitized in a way that benefits users of both paper and digital works. Now maps can be more readily discovered and cataloged, and used online or in our reading rooms. Teaching using authentic objects—newspapers, diaries, correspondence, photographs—is on a sharp increase. Such activities bring together the best of Harvard—creative teachers, knowledgeable researchers on the faculty and in libraries, remarkable collections, and incomparable and inquisitive students. It’s a privilege to be part of such deep and exciting collaborations.

Review of the Harvard Depository and Storage Strategies. The Harvard Library is engaged in a review of the usage and business model for the Harvard Depository as well as our plans for future management of collections storage. In March 2014, we invited a trio of expert advisors to review our plans for growth and service, and in October 2014, we held a major symposium to review trends in management of large print repositories, which set the scene for this in-depth analysis. As part of the review, a consultant has been working with the Library to analyze current use patterns, costs, and the business model for the Harvard Depository. The issue of offsite shelving cannot be considered in isolation, as it is tied into ways in which we build, preserve, manage, and provide access to information. Even as HD strategies are analyzed, the Library continues to evaluate opportunities for collaboration and shared infrastructure with other national partner organizations such as HathiTrust, the Ivy Plus libraries, and the Center for Research Libraries.

Improving Access. Harvard’s consumption of electronic resources is increasing as students and faculty alike want 24/7 access from locations around the world. Much of the world’s knowledge remains in printed form, however, and to facilitate access to those materials, the Library has three very popular services.

  • Harvard Direct allows users to request books from one of Harvard’s libraries to be delivered to the library of their choice. A volume from Widener travels to Baker Library at the Business School; a book from the Fine Arts Library can be picked up at Widener, allowing easy side-by-side comparison with items from multiple repositories.
  • Borrow Direct is another service that leverages the power of collections at Ivy Plus institutions. The Ivy League plus the University of Chicago, Duke, MIT, and Johns Hopkins share 50 million volumes, with requested items arriving in two to four days. If Harvard had purchased the books it obtained through Borrow Direct last year, it would have required over $2.5 million in acquisitions, processing, and storage costs.
  • Scan and Deliver enables students, faculty, and staff to request that a chapter of a book or a journal article be digitized and sent to them electronically in 24 hours.
Investments in Online Learning and Assessment. Harvard Library filled several 21st-century roles in support of online learning and assessment. Chief among those hires were an assessment librarian who leads in the development of a data-driven approach to achieving library objectives and meeting user needs; an online learning librarian who leads collaborative efforts in the development and delivery of innovative e-learning programs and services across Harvard’s libraries; and a user experience specialist who helps develop and coordinate programs focused on improving the user experience across the library system. One initiative that crosses from the last academic year to this one is the establishment of a user research center at Harvard Library, housed within Lamont Library, which opened in late August. The center provides equipment, space, and training resources for performing systematic, forward-thinking, and user-centered assessments of library services, spaces, and digital resources.

Looking Ahead to Academic Year 2015–2016

We are innovating and expanding services to connect users with the information they need as easily and productively as possible. That means buying books, securing access to electronic journals, and building the technological and physical infrastructure to help people find them. We know Harvard’s libraries will continue to collect books and build the unique and distinctive collections that have made research at the University so fruitful. This creates a special responsibility to preserve the record of our civilization so it may be consulted by successive generations of students and scholars.

As Harvard Library looks ahead to FY16, strategic objectives identified in this fiscal year are maintained with one notable change: a new objective, managing data, will be added to the list to replace the objective of enhanced discoverability and delivery following the successful implementation of HOLLIS+. One of the first steps toward activating this strategic objective took place over the summer: an internationally attended data management symposium presented jointly by Harvard Library and Purdue University Libraries.

We continue to evaluate the options for a new library services platform to replace the system that underpins our catalog and online functionality. This is a necessary capital investment to ensure that all our libraries can offer advanced online services.

We’re opening up access to Harvard collections internationally by transforming them into online resources. A number of alumni have already contributed to projects such as the Colonial North American Project, which is digitizing over 500,000 pages of rare and unique holdings from all of Harvard’s Schools. We are about one-third of the way to our goal. Thanks to Arcadia and other supporters we will have processed materials from the Archives, Houghton, and the Law School by the end of 2015.

We are creating virtual and physical spaces for discovery and learning. Today’s libraries combine the traditional retreats for quiet study with interactive and collaborative learning commons exhibition galleries, and classrooms for teaching with collections or offering instruction on information management. Whether renovating Cabot Science Library or the Frances Loeb Library at the Graduate School of Design, programming information spaces for the Allston campus, or upgrading Lamont Library to help undergraduates succeed in their studies, we have bold plans to make Harvard’s learning environment an integral part of 21st-century education and research.

And finally, we continue investing in expert staff to lead the advancement of these ambitious goals. We are fortunate to have a strong collective of staff who are expanding their skills on the job and through professional development opportunities. Whether through the Strategic Conversations series, data science workshops, onsite symposia, or specialist training, we are rich in opportunities to grow. Today’s libraries are undertaking more than ever before. We are partners in the academic enterprise, contributing copyright knowledge, technological skills, and domain and disciplinary expertise. Harvard’s libraries serve the Harvard community, and today, through the application of technology, the larger world.

In the coming year, we’ll build on these achievements and continue to advance our strategic aims. I’ll look forward to hearing how our users respond to all the activities we have underway and to your ideas for further development. I hope you have a wonderful semester ahead.

Best wishes,

Sarah E. Thomas signature

Sarah E. Thomas
Vice President for the Harvard Library and University Librarian
Roy E. Larsen Librarian for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

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