Harvard Library revealed its new organizational structure on February 10th. The restructuring, which is based on the 2009 recommendations of a library task force, focuses on eliminating redundancy across the university’s 73 libraries through the creation of shared services departments. These perform functions previously duplicated at every library. As part of the restructuring, the university has offered 275 voluntary buyouts to library staff.
“The majority of people who work in the libraries will learn in the next two weeks whether their role will remain associated with their local library or be designated as part of the new shared services structure,” Provost Alan M. Garber said in a letter on February 10.
A university spokesperson declined to comment on the number of positions that are likely to be eliminated as a result of the reorganization, saying only “the needs of the new Harvard Library are still being assessed, and the university will share details with staff when they are final.” However the Boston Globe reported on February 13th that Harvard offered voluntary buyouts to 275 staff members, or more than one quarter of the library’s 930 full time employees. (This number is already substantially down from the 1,200 full-time employees cited in the 2009 report.) The buyout offering includes six month’s pay plus two weeks for each year of service above 10 years, up to one year’s base pay. Employees must decide whether to accept by April 2.
A library staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “275 voluntary buyouts is insane. […] Not everyone will take it but […] we’re already short staffed, what […] will happen if even half of those people leave? Also, voluntary buyouts scream of budget-based layoffs, not efficiency-based ones as were claimed.”
Despite the large number of voluntary buyouts offered, the transition team has also raised the possibility of involuntary layoffs. Employees have been asked to fill out a profile which amounts to an internal resume on a voluntary basis, as LJ reported, and are being offered group resume workshops.
“We’re very concerned about what’s happening and deeply frustrated at this point that we haven’t been able to get a more respectful and constructive conversation or negotiation going,” said Bill Jaeger, director of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW), which is the only union to represent a significant number of library staffers. The union represents about 450 library workers; the credentialed librarians are not unionized.
“Our member’s attitude toward all the stated goals of the reorganization is very positive,” Jaeger continued. “All of the things that are cited anecdotally in Garber’s letter are in fact true problems. But we have no idea why it is a goal to have a smaller workforce or how that fits with the other goals that have been laid out. Digital infrastructure is not going to build itself and the collection is not going to develop itself.”
According to Jaeger, there are already severe understaffing problems in several key areas such as technical and access services, because Harvard already cut 21 percent of its library assistants in the past three years. The union is developing a campaign to make this case to the Harvard community, including faculty and staff as well as students.
According to the organizational chart, shared services will consist of University Archives, Access Services, Technical Services and Preservation, Conservation and Digital Imaging. They, IT, Support Functions (Finance and Projects & Programs) and five affinity group heads will all report to the executive director.
The affinity groups “represent different academic sectors,” according to the Harvard Crimson. Individual libraries will be grouped according to their collection needs, content or service areas, and specialized activities. The grouping is in addition to a relationship with the library’s home school, not instead of it, and libraries will be able to switch groups over the next 45 days. According to a university spokesperson, the affinity group heads will be announced by the end of February and will not have any direct reports.
In addition to economies of scale, the reorganization is designed to improve user experience by replacing more than a dozen access policies with one, allocating more resources to process so-far inaccessible parts of the collection, launching a new library portal, self-checkout and mobile checkout; and offer “greater and faster access” to materials housed outside Harvard.
Among the goals of the strategy are to encourage collaboration between the library and the schools to create a single point of procurement for e-resources and implement a system-wide collection development strategy, to “design next generation search and discovery services,” and to “accelerate digitization and digital preservation.”
There is no timeline in place yet for the collection development strategy: “The first task of the affinity group heads will be to create a university-wide collection development strategy. Once they are in place, a timeline will be developed,” said the spokesperson.
Also still in progress is work on a financial model for the library. It “continues through university-wide conversations,” said the spokesperson, “and we anticipate finalizing it in summer 2012.”
Criticism of the reorganization has focused less on its aims than on a perceived lack of transparency or engagement with the library staff and the wider university community, and on the proposed reduction in workforce. More than 100 protesters gathered outside Harvard’s Holyoke Center last week to object to the plan, according to Harvard student paper The Crimson. Nor was this the first protest of the proposed reorganization: on January 25, about 20 staff members picketed a library staff meeting. More than one petition is being circulated as well.
The most recent protest of the reorganization is an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Occupy New Harvard Library is taking place in Lamont Café. A Harvard library staffer, whose name is withheld to protect him or her from possible reprisals, said that the Occupy participants are not being loud or disruptive, but that Harvard police are maintaining a multi-officer presence and asking students who have already swiped into the building to show ID, both contrary to usual practice. “There’s definitely a chilling effect,” she told LJ. Harvard officials have also been tearing down Occupy signs, according to Harvard Magazine, and threatening Occupy participants with loss of library privileges if they remain over night, according to the Crimson.