November 24, 2017

Harvard Task Force Urges Centralization, Collaboration, and Access (vs. Acquisition)

By Norman Oder

Merging of info technology, tech services; more collaboration with MIT, consortia

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  • "Excesses" of local tech customization
  • Centralized negotiation with vendors
  • Time to join BorrowDirect?
  • Disincentives to storage?

A Harvard University Task Force on University Libraries (announced in March) has released a report [PDF] aimed at building a 21st-century library, knitting together the university’s robust and disparate library units, collaborating with peer libraries, and emphasizing access to materials rather than acquisition.

“The digital revolution has fundamentally changed the way human beings collect and disseminate information, and scholarship is increasingly crossing academic boundaries, opening new areas of research that require new resources,’’ said Provost Steven Hyman, who named the eight-member Implementation Work Group to pursue new funding and operating models.

Core recommendations verbatim
The task force makes five core recommendations (excerpted by LJ):

1. Establish and implement a shared administrative infrastructure.

Administrative services that will be markedly strengthened by centralization include many information technology functions; most preservation functions; and certain significant technical services such as acquisitions and cataloging.

2. Rationalize and enhance our information technology systems.

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.

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. This review should begin with an immediate evaluation of the manner in which Harvard Depository is financed. The current model combines disincentives to storing materials at HD with procedures that punish the most generous providers of materials.

4. Rationalize our system for acquiring, accessing, and developing materials for 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. 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 libraries and other 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, such as MIT. In other instances, this collaboration should include entering into new or expanded consortial arrangements, such as BorrowDirect. [LJ adds: Other Ivy League institutions, but not Harvard, participate in BorrowDirect.]

Core principles
The report lists three basic principles:

The University as a whole, the schools, and the libraries must work together to build the foundation from which to develop a 21st century library system.

The work undertaken must be user-centered and aligned with the research and teaching missions of the University.

Strategic investments must be made in human capital to achieve these objectives and reforms.

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