Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Harvard Report

Harvard's Report of the Task Force on University Libaries is now available. http://www.provost.harvard.edu/reports/Library_Task_Force_Report.pdf

Very thoughtful and appropriate to Yale University Library, too. The library there and here needs to align its resources to support access to scholarly resources rather than to amass and store collections.

New funding and operating models are needed to focus the library on services in an age of digital tools.

Its 5 recommendations (for "Harvard" read "Yale"):

1. Establish and implement a shared administrative infrastructure

The fragmented organization of the Harvard libraries represents the fossilization of contingent historical decisions, based on past circumstances and actors. This structure now impedes nimble, effective, and fiscally responsible responses to twenty-first century challenges. We recommend reforms focused on administrative services that, when unified, will provide better and more cost-effective service to faculty and students.

2. Rationalize and enhance information and technology systems

This focus on systems improvement will not succeed, however, unless paired with changes in the model for decision making and funding. A widely distributed “veto” and excesses of local customization have impeded the effective development of technology infrastructure both within and outside Harvard’s libraries. The Task Force believes that Harvard must develop a robust, shared information architecture to guide future development and to orient investments in innovative projects. Core systems must be standardized across Harvard libraries to enable the University to collaborate internally and externally more effectively than we do today.

3. Revamp the financial model for the Harvard libraries

The current system of financing library materials and services impedes efforts to collaborate across the different parts of Harvard University, and often establishes incentives for actions that aid one part of the library at the expense of the whole. This phenomenon is most clearly reflected when content costs are shifted from one unit to another.

4. Rationalize the system for acquiring, accessing and developing a “single university” collection.

The Harvard University Library system needs to rationalize the manner in which all parts of the University collect and provide access to materials, and orient its focus more clearly toward ensuring access, as opposed to the current default model of building collections by acquisition. This shift is already in prominent view in many disciplines of the natural and social sciences, where ownership of materials has given way to providing access to materials that may be housed on a publisher’s server, at other institutions, or in other countries. Many fields, including the humanities, will continue to depend on physical materials, but the emphasis on ensuring access in perpetuity to materials should nonetheless increasingly supplant acquisition in the case of widely available resources. The University’s efforts to build a single, shared collection must also be coordinated more effectively. A centralized purchasing and licensing office that negotiates with vendors should be empowered to speak to vendors with a single voice whenever possible. Longer-term efforts to reform the scholarly communications and publishing system, such as the University’s leadership in the open access movement, should continue to be emphasized and supported from within the library system.

5. Collaborate more ambitiously with peer institutions

Harvard should enhance its efforts to work with other libraries and cultural institutions to build a sustainable information ecosystem for the 21st century. In some cases, this collaboration will mean building upon existing efforts to work directly with partner institutions.

As described above, Harvard’s information technology systems must be improved to become more interoperable, internally and externally, in order to facilitate external collaborations with the goal of maximizing access to scholarly materials for our faculty and students. Throughout the library system, Harvard must be more ambitious in its efforts to work with external partners to share costs and resources to improve library collections and services to current and future users.