April 24, 2018

John Palfrey | Movers & Shakers 2011 – Change Agents

Library Journal March 15, 2011: John Palfrey , Mover & Shaker


With the publication of Born Digital, a seminal study of Internet use by the “digital natives” who’ve grown up with it (and one of LJ‘s Best Sci-Tech Books for 2008), John Palfrey got on the library world’s radar the same year he joined the field.

In 2008, Palfrey, then executive director of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, was appointed—by Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, then dean of Harvard Law—as both vice dean of library and information resources at Harvard Law and the Harvard Law Library’s director.

“On so many of the most pressing issues in my field, the librarians were the heroes—and they were often there first,” says Palfrey, who has taught at Harvard Law since 2003″ From copyright to privacy, information literacy to new cues related to credibility…I came to see a big role for librarians in shaping important aspects of our future. I jumped at the chance to work in the library field, at a place that I loved.”

“Palfrey is inspiring his staff to invent ways to bring all of the value of libraries—their holdings, their metadata, the scholarly communities of which they are the center—to the Internet,” says Kim Dulin, the library’s associate director for collection development and digital initiatives.

One of his key projects is the Harvard Library Innovation Lab (which Dulin codirects). The lab creates open source software applications for scholars and researchers. Two in the works are ShelfLife, which “hacks,” or remixes, library data so users can discover “book

neighborhoods”—semantic webs of books—using a visual browser, and LibraryCloud, a web data server that aggregates metadata about book usage and relationships from across multiple libraries.

“Librarians have to get in front of the digital mob and call it a parade,” says Palfrey, a self-described political junkie. “We have to build the hybrid analog-and-digital libraries that will be core learning environments for our communities for the foreseeable future.”


John Palfrey, Harvard Law School Library, Boston

CURRENT POSITION Vice Dean for Library & Information Resources at the Harvard Law School/Director of Law School Library

DEGREE J.D., Harvard Law School, Boston, 2001; M.Phil., Historical Studies, University of Cambridge, 1997

KEY INITIATIVE Harvard Library Innovation Lab

FOLLOW @jpalfrey; blogs.law.harvard.edu/palfrey